Local donut business is fostering community while promoting inclusivity with vegan and gluten-free options
Alyssa Lancia, the founder of Darling Donuts, grew up in Stoney Creek. Her family ran a banquet hall and as such, she learned the ins and outs of running a business at an early age. Her interest in business continued as she studied business Human Resources at Western University.
After graduating and beginning to work in HR for a few years, she questioned if this field was what she was truly passionate about. Lancia remembered how she loved to bake and play around with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan recipes during university due to her gluten intolerance.
“I've always had a love and passion for baking and cooking. When I was at Western, I remember. . .there'd be a lot of exams and midterms. I would procrastinate [because] I hated studying. So, I would just start baking random recipes from Pinterest,” said Lancia.
To help reignite her previous passion for baking, she got a mini donut maker and started bringing mini cinnamon sugar donuts to events and birthdays. During the Thanksgiving weekend of 2018, she then also began selling them on local Facebook mom groups . She received a huge, positive response and her business took off from there.
“I realized people like food [and] many things where you don't have to commit to [something] like a big slice of cake or a big donut. You can have a mini bite, not feel guilty and then try a lot of flavors,” said Lancia.
Darling Donuts is currently run in Lancia’s home and makes made-to-order mini customizable donuts. Pre-orders are collected through its website and Lancia recommends customers to pre-order their donuts at least two to four weeks in advance as she only bakes Fridays to Sundays.
Gluten-free and vegan options are also available to ensure everyone in the community can enjoy them.
By catering to customers with various dietary restrictions, Darling Donuts aims to bring together a community of people to enjoy their products. They hope their donuts can satisfy people’s sweets cravings and create special memories with every bite.
“Although we sell a product, we're about bringing people together to enjoy our sweet products [while] enjoy[ing] a lot of flavours and a little bit of sweetness in their life,” said Lancia.
While they have a set menu on their website, they are also open to new, customized flavours for their customers. When they release new flavours, they always include a gluten-free version and a vegan version so more people can enjoy them. Most of their products are also nut-free, though, they are not a nut-free facility and there is the possibility of cross-contamination.
In the future, Lancia hopes to collaborate more with other small businesses. She recently started “Work Nights”, a night where female small business owners can network and have fun once a month.
“It really got us a lot of positive traction to show [that] we're not just about sell, sell, sell, but it's more about what we're doing in the community . . . and it gets people to connect with you,” said Lancia.
More towards the future, Lancia hopes to continue to be able to showcase fun, new, exciting flavours while also working on automating their process to make it more efficient and move their business outside of her house.
The newly opened local restaurant creates a space that highlights popular Asian street foods through their own family's recipes.
Food allows for culture and traditions from one part of the world to be shared with communities in a completely different one. Fisticuffs is a local restaurant that is bringing Chinese-Malaysian snack foods commonly found in Asian night markets to the Hamilton community.
The restaurant’s menu is inspired by recipes from co-owner Caitlin Chee’s late grandmother. Chee operates Fisticuffs with their spouse and their vision is to combine the feelings of comfort a home cooked meal brings with a modern dining experience.
“[Fisticuffs is] inspired a lot by my family, bringing together those childhood memories for me of the comfort home cooking has. But it's also about bringing in the familiar with the new and making a really fun modern dining experience,” said Chee.
A large portion of Fisticuffs’ menu contains very popular east Asian night market snacks and a unique selection of beers.
One popular snack plate is shrimp chips, while another is satay, grilled meat served on a skewer. Satay alone makes up one section in their menu. Fisticuffs also offers a vegetarian version of this, which instead has grilled eggplant on the skewer.
Overall, their dishes strive to emphasis popular Asian street food dishes with their own twist.
Before opening their restaurant last November, Fisticuffs used be a pop-up vendor. Their very first pop-up was with the Toronto Brewing Company. Through these pop-ups, they formed meaningful connections with other business owners and learned about others’ experiences opening restaurants.
Chee and their partner also found other businesses they encountered were often connected with breweries in Hamilton a food vendor. Then, following the same footsteps, Fisticuff also eventually found themselves in Hamilton.
So far the response to Fisticuffs from within the Hamilton community has been quite positive. Both Chee and their partner love that there are people who are trying a new style of food and bring a positive attitude. They hope that these folks will continue to come to the restaurant in the new year.
“I know that a lot of the people who come into our doors may have never had the type of food that we serve or even some of the more experimental beers . . . But everyone’s been excited to try new things and I really appreciate how busy we’ve been and how much people have been writing about us,” Chee said.
Chee has also loved the response from the Chinese-Malaysian community in Hamilton. Many family friends from their childhood would visit the restaurant and recall eating some of the menu items in Chee’s grandmother’s home over 30 years ago. Their grandmother was a respected figure within their own Chinese-Malaysian community as she hosted many Chinese-Malaysian immigrants when they first arrived in Canada.
“[Our customers include] really old family friends that I haven’t seen since I was a young child. I’ve had people come in and be like, “We met you when you were a kid at your grandma's house. Do you remember us?” which has been really cute,” Chee said.
Fisticuffs is hopeful that the past months will continue to reflect the response they will receive in the new year. Currently, they are developing new ideas to keep Fisticuffs unique and ever-changing, including preparing their first five course dinner menu to celebrate Lunar New Year at the end of January. They hope to continue having themed dinner nights and bring the Hamilton community together at the restaurant.
“Fisticuffs is vibrant. It’s a fun space. We’re trying to create an environment that people. . .can come and make the night whatever they want it to [be],” Chee said.
As Fisticuffs continues into its first year of business, they hope to inspire people to try new foods and find comfort in their food. Ultimately though, Chee just wants the restaurant to be a place where people can come to relax and eat good food.
Community Fridges HamOnt makes food more accessible within the Hamilton community.
Community fridges are free, accessible fridges holding food for the community to take and replenish. Community Fridges HamOnt does this within Hamilton
, at three different locations.
Jacqueline Cantar, one of the founders and program coordinators, and the team began their work in the midst of the pandemic, near the end of 2020, when food insecurity was a highly debated issue. The Community Fridges HamOnt team is entirely volunteer-based, contributing whatever resources they have to keep the fridges functional.
“Community Fridges HamOnt is a mutual aid group in Hamilton. We are not a charity organization; we are entirely volunteer, community run. That means we are just neighbors looking out for each other and trying to contribute whatever it is we have available,” said Cantar.
Their goal for the fridge is to make food accessible within the community. They keep the fridges open 24/7 to ensure that people can come and stop by when it is convenient for them. Additionally, a lack of restrictions encourages people to give and take where they can.
“It’s just about assessing about what you have that you can share, and also taking what you need when you need something,” said Cantar.
The initial community fridge in Hamilton was inspired by Community Fridges Toronto which began in summer 2020. The Community Fridges HamOnt team started with a simple group chat, comprised of strangers who wanted to make a change. Together, with lots of planning, they opened their first community fridge in Hamilton.
Social media was also vital in making their vision a reality.
“We started as a group chat of people who didn’t necessarily know each other but wanted to organize and at least launch the first community fridge which then pretty quickly turned into three locations—just by utilizing group chats and social media,” said Cantar.
To maintain the fridges, several factors are involved. Namely, the fridges all follow and keep up-to-date with the public health guidelines. Their volunteers also visit locations one to three times a day to ensure the fridges are filled with food that is safe to eat and can be stored for longer periods of time.
“We as an organization work together to create donation guidelines that’s in reference to public health guidelines as well. All of our community fridges are public health certified. We have a huge volunteer team that’s really committed to keeping things clean and safe,” said Cantar.
Fridges like these are very important for the ever-present issue that is food insecurity. In 2021 the Hamilton Food Share found a regular visit to a foodbank usually means getting food that could support them three to five days, however, 61% of people go to a food bank only once a month usually not getting enough for the periods in between.
Cantar speaks to how the community fridges are not the solution to food insecurity, just a step in the right direction. Although the community fridge can help someone at a particular moment, there are other ways to support people experiencing food insecurity so they don’t have to rely on community fridges. Issues like minimum wage and affordable housing also have an effect on someone's ability to get food.
“Community fridges are a really good example of the ways of people can come together and take care of each other. But we do need our government to make changes that can actually provide concrete solutions to the problems that are continuing to get worse for people that are in need,” said Cantar.
Community Fridges HamOnt provides Hamiltonians with a safe way to collect and donate food and support the local community. It sets a path for sustainable food sharing and contributes to the fight for tackling food insecurity. Nonetheless, it is still important to remember this is not a solution and bigger changes at the policy and government levels need to be made.
C/O Maarten van den Heuvel
The importance of food and the culinary arts for reclaiming culture
By: Ahlam Yassien, contributor
Whether it be during times of holidays and happiness or in times of grief and sorrow, food has long since been instrumental in bringing people together for centuries. Culture is at the core of cooking. As such, cooking also has the potential to unify different cultures through differences and similarities in their food. Engaging in the culinary arts as a person of colour can play an integral role in reclaiming culture and reconciling different aspects of one’s identity.
For first generation immigrants, cooking can also serve as a connection to one's homeland, foster a sense of belonging and offer comfort in times when a community may not be established or be missing.
When Hana and Bobby Saputra, founders of Indonesian’s Flavour, a catering business in Hamilton, moved to Canada in 2014, finding authentic Indonesian food was a challenge. This inspired them to start their business.
“We first started our business in 2019. As new immigrants in Canada, we all always feel homesick and our backhome-foods is one of the things that can heal our feelings . . . Bobby, the owner and chef of Indonesian's Flavour, tends to do his own experiments and cook Indonesian cuisine at home. People always love and praise the food [and the] authenticity of the taste. It happened for a couple years until, one day, we decided to make it as a business,” said Hana in an email statement.
Indonesian’s Flavour is taking their culture from home and into the community of Hamilton. As a result, it has not only been able to bridge these cultural gaps, but also further strengthen the relationships between marginalised communities through food.
“Maintaining the culture is important to keep the taste authentic . . . Understanding the culture for each area demographically is very important. Through our foods, we would love to introduce our country Indonesia and our culture to the Canadian market so people can experience the diversity of Indonesia through our foods,” explained Hana in an email statement.
Furthermore, in the case of second generation immigrants, particularly in a westernized society, cooking and food offer an opportunity to reclaim a connection to culture and identity. Growing up, second generation immigrants may have been subject to insensitive or tactless comments, or even bullying, because of what they bring for lunch, resulting in embarrassment and shame.
“I often loved bringing Pakistani food to school for lunch, as I believed it was a beautiful representation of my culture. However, I quickly realized at a young age how my culture’s food was considered “gross,” “weird” and “unappetizing” among my classmates,” explained Ayesha Arshad, a second-year electrical engineering student and a second generation immigrant.
In the face of these experiences, cooking and maintaining a sense of connection to culture through food can be seen as a form of advocacy and direct resistance to westernization. It can also be a way of reconciling one’s culture with their Canadian identity.
“As I attended more cultural events, I realized how food played a pivotal role in maintaining a sense of my culture while living in western society. Food is a beautiful way of expressing one’s culture and makes me feel connected to my family and Pakistani roots all while being a Canadian citizen,” said Arshad.
As a student studying away from home, food can be a way to connect with family and friends in times of loneliness. By cooking beloved dishes from home or trying a new recipe with friends, there are opportunities to reclaim and explore cultures and to create new memories and connections.
C/O Yigi Chang
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Ark & Anchor Espresso Bar remains a beloved café and community hub
Nestled between King Street West and Queen Street North is the Ark & Anchor Espresso Bar. Established in the fall of 2015, the café is not only a hotspot for avid coffee drinkers in the Strathcona neighbourhood, but also an important community hub for folks around the city.
Partners Patrick Guilbault and Yigi Chang are the faces of Ark & Anchor. With over 10 years of barista experience, Guilbault is in charge of brewing all the coffee and tea beverages in the café. Chang, on the other hand, is interested in health and nutrition and works in the kitchen, baking delicious pastries and fresh food items for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Chang also has a background in illustration and is the artist behind the incredible murals found throughout the building.
Although the couple is originally from Toronto, they were drawn to Hamilton by their friend who moved to the city in 2014 and introduced them to their current café location.
“We had already been looking for real estate in Toronto [to open a café], but it was all completely out of our reach. But we were able to find this beautiful building here and all the stars aligned,” said Guilbault.
The same friend who showed them the building gave the couple inspiration for the name of the café as well. While doing research about the neighbourhood, they were inspired by the Scottish Rite located kitty corner to the café and the symbol of the ark and anchor from Masonic history, which represents well-grounded hope and a life well spent.
Although Guilbault and Chang had no intentions of picking a religious name for their business when their graphic designer friend drew the ark and anchor logo for them, they felt it was too beautiful to pass up. The symbolism also resonated with their story.
“[The ark and anchor] means being comfortable with taking things with you as well as leaving things behind and it felt really great as an idea for us moving cities and all that kind of stuff,” explained Guilbault.
Since the opening of the café, the couple’s vision for the business has been to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space. It serves as a hub for everyone — from those seeking a space for studying, having meetings and hanging out with friends to those looking for a community. Community is an especially important part of the café’s culture.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous clubs and events were hosted at Ark & Anchor, such as the Ship’s Log Book Club, Monday Night RPGs for monthly role playing games and On Board for board game nights.
They started the clubs about four years ago due to high interest from their customers. The couple had also been wanting to create a space for sharing books and playing games for folks who aren’t comfortable participating in evening culture or can’t stay out too late.
“My big reason for wanting to [start the book and game clubs] was I was finding it was hard to find spaces for games and book clubs that weren’t nighttime spaces. So, if you didn’t feel like you had to get a beer or you had to get dinner. We were able to use the top [floor] of the coffee shop as more of a clubhouse to come and play games,” said Guilbault.
Maintaining and promoting inclusivity and safety of the space was crucial to the clubs’ operations. For instance, at the beginning of the Ships’ Log Book Club meetings, the captain’s code was read out loud which outlined zero tolerance for transphobic or ableist comments or harassment of any kind.
“[We had] a couple book club members say, ‘The fact that you’ve actively said nobody is going to do this, we are not only going to save space for you, but keep safe spaces for you, made it a lot more inviting,’” said Guilbault.
However, since the pandemic, the clubs have been put on hold. The last book club meeting was in February of 2020. There are a few members who have continued to hang out and play games online, however, the book club did not make the transition to a digital platform.
“It’s been really hard with adjusting to the pandemic because for everybody who was coming to these events, it was really like a big community thing for them. [But] it just never really made the switch to digital,” said Guilbault.
Guilbault and Chang unfortunately don’t have the capacity to run the clubs again themselves while running the business, citing concerns about long business hours and overworking. However, they hope members will continue the clubs in the future.
“The dream is that some of the community members will pick up the mantle and say, ‘I’m willing to organize more, I’m willing to do more,’ as we kind of move into the next stage of things,” said Guilbault.
Despite all the changes and challenges to the café amidst the pandemic, the community has been supportive and patient. Currently, the couple is working hard to keep up with the new developments and residents entering the neighbourhood. They recently reorganized the second floor of the café to allow more indoor seating with proper physical distancing and are open from Tuesday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Guilbault emphasizes Ark & Anchor has not forgotten about its community. As life slowly returns to normal, more people move into the area and with enough demand, Guilbault and Chang are open to launching more community-focused programming and use their spaces to serve the interests of the community.
McMaster graduates share their love for Asian desserts while sharing their culture with the Hamilton community
Food is a powerful unifier that transcends all cultural or language barriers. Sharing food can open people’s minds to diverse traditions and values while also encouraging empathy and tolerance. Even if you have never travelled to another country, you most likely have had foreign food and learned about its significance before.
For immigrants, eating traditional cuisine is especially important as it helps them to carry a piece of their culture with them wherever they go. For others like Jia Tian, the co-owner of an East Asian gourmet bakery, MySweeTooth, eating Chinese food and other treats from her childhood serves as a means of coping with homesickness.
Tian moved to Canada from Hong Kong when she was in high school and later studied electrical engineering at McMaster University. At the time, she never imagined she would be opening an Asian fusion bakery in Hamilton with her life-long partner, Peter Sun, who moved to Canada from Shandong province in China in grade 13 before majoring in economics at McMaster.
After Tian graduated from McMaster, she proceeded to start her graduate studies. However, she began to doubt if electrical engineering was what she truly wanted to do. She knew she wanted to pursue a career she had a passion for, but her passion was in baking — not engineering.
Moreover, she missed all her favourite treats she had in Beijing and wanted to pursue her dream of running her own shop where she could share her pastries from her culture, from strawberry whipped cream chiffon cakes to mouth-watering cream puffs. As difficult as it was to decide, in 2009, she took a step-back from her studies to enter the food business industry.
“It was not easy because I needed to tell my parents about my decision — that part was definitely not easy. But I guess once you know what you want to do, you just go full speed on what you want to do and put your whole heart at it,” Tian said.
With unfaltering support from her husband Sun, who also re-directed his career path to join her in her goal of running a bakery, Tian began working at various shops including the Williams Fresh Café at the Hamilton Health Sciences building.
“Peter supported my decision and my dream. He’s very supportive. We ended up doing this together because he wanted to make sure that I get to realize what I had a vision for. So, he worked with me and I couldn’t have done it without him. He really brings a different perspective and [skillset] when it comes to running a shop,” said Tian.
The couple first opened MySweeTooth online in 2013 and on Jan. 8, 2020, they finally launched their brick-and-mortar location on Main Street West. They chose to stay in Hamilton as Tian had an uncle living here and it was important for her to stay close to family. She also preferred Hamilton’s small-knit community and quieter, slow-paced atmosphere coming from the busy and loud city of Beijing.
Besides recreating her favourite childhood memories and flavours through MySweeTooth, Tian’s other goals for the business included sharing and representing East Asian culture in Hamilton through food. For example, for Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Day, which is a day when the moon is believed to be the brightest and fullest and families get together to celebrate, they sold mooncakes and shared the cultural significance of the holiday.
Since MySweeTooth opened, it has received lots of positive attention. Just a quick scroll through the comment section of the bakery’s Instagram page is enough to demonstrate the enthusiasm and love their customers have for their delicious treats.
Nonetheless, operating their physical location during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult. In addition to coping and adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, they were confronted by hate from members of the community who were disrespectful towards their COVID-19 store policies. In September, their window was vandalized over their sign asking customers to wear their masks and stay six feet apart inside. Though Tian emphasizes most people have been kind and supportive, she posted the image of the vandalism on the shop’s Instagram page to highlight some of the challenges small businesses and other hospitality services have been facing during the pandemic.
“For us, of everyone who we’ve met, the vast majority of people are very supportive and understanding. We are happy to see that because we understand the community is also suffering right now. So, we are doing whatever we can to also give back to the community and to remind people that although it is difficult for us, it can be more difficult for some of us than others. There are people who lost their jobs, lost their homes and [are] living on the streets because of COVID-19,” explained Tian.
Tian and Sun’s response to the hate is another example of their tenacity and their work towards fostering community. Since the beginning, MySweeTooth has always been about repping Asian culture in Hamilton and sharing its traditions. During your time in undergrad, it is perfectly normal to feel confused about your identity or uncertain about your career path. To all international or immigrant students or those who may be struggling to fit in, Tian shares a message about the importance of not losing your heritage and believing in yourself.
The story of MySweeTooth is one about love, passion and community. Tian and Sun have demonstrated these three ingredients are everything you need to achieve success and happiness.
C/O Visual Stories on Unsplash
A&C editor shares a recipe for red pepper, cherry tomato and mushroom gnocchi
When I moved back to Hamilton earlier this year, I was really looking forward to cooking for myself again. This gnocchi recipe is one of my favourite things to make, because it’s full of vegetables, comes together quickly and also often makes more than enough leftovers for a busy week. It’s also the perfect recipe for students who have come back from reading week and are now busy with assignment deadlines and midterms to study for.
Like store-bought gnocchi, the recipe is also versatile and it’s easy to make adjustments depending on what other ingredients you have on hand or how much time you have. For example, if I’m in a rush or when they’re not in season, I substitute some tomato sauce for cherry tomatoes, adding it after the red pepper and gnocchi. Or if you want to add some leafy greens, you can omit the cherry tomatoes and add some chopped baby spinach after the mushrooms.
As it is, provided you can find vegan gnocchi, the recipe is also vegan, though if you like you’re welcome to add cheese or some chicken to it as well to suit your tastes. My sister loves this recipe and she’ll often add heaps of Parmesan to her servings, though, to be fair, she does that with just about every food she can. Feel free to make as many substitutions as you wish and to make the recipe aligned with your tastes.
The Chef: Arts & Culture Editor, Nisha Gill
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 3 - 4 servings
It’s important to take breaks from studying and engage in activities you enjoy and find fulfilling. For seasoned chefs as well as those looking to improve their culinary skills, this quick recipe is the perfect way to get busy in the kitchen in between studying and enjoy a great meal!
Please comment down below with your twists on the recipe or let us know what recipes you would like us to see featured next in our next issue of In the Kitchen with Arts & Culture.
C/O Joshua Zuckerman
Feeding yourself on a student budget is difficult. It can be especially hard to find affordable meals that produce lots of portions. This Bolognese sauce recipe was made with student budgets in mind.
Our chefs this week have worked hard to create a recipe that removes dinner time stress from people's plates (pardon the pun), without sacrificing quality. Not only can it be made for under $20, but it can produce up to eight portions.
The Chefs: Matt Dunbar and Michael Abbott
Matt Dunbar and Michael Abbott spent the last 10 years building up their successful catering business, No Small Feast. But despite catering events for organizations such as Spotify, Microsoft and BMW as well as foreign dignitaries, they weren’t pandemic-proof.
The dynamic duo pivoted their business to survive during the pandemic. They launched Provisions, a frozen upscale comfort food line for home delivery to the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area.
The Recipe: Bolognese Sauce
This is the black-tie version of a classic Bolognese sauce. Even though you can make this recipe for under $20, it will taste like you need to add a few more zeros to the price tag. Makes easily enough for four portions, and another four that live in the freezer for another day. Add any pasta you would like or have in your kitchen!
By: Serena Habib, Contributor
Butter slathered on toast during mornings with grandpa,
Soccer games followed by cotton candy ice cream,
Pilsbury croissant scented moments with grandma,
Family Second Cup runs for hot chocolate with whipped cream.
Sleepovers with strawberries wrapped in homemade crepes,
Love in grandma’s curries, which made them preeminent,
Candid photos from feeding each other birthday cake,
Little did she know that a maelstrom was imminent.
Love stopped. Love shuddered. Love got lost in the rain.
Food led to fights over mealtime. Love was enveloped in pain.
Mentally preparing herself for Christmas baking,
Running the chocolate chip calories away,
Laughing at dinner while silently aching.
Food-flavoured love was simply not okay.
She watched the boy she loved post pictures with his loved one
Sharing desserts and dinners she would never be able to eat,
She wanted so desperately to be lovable,
But love drifted away, perpetually out of reach.
She had lost love: she did not deserve it.
She would only have the muffin when she aced her test,
A test with a framework built upon inadequacy,
Years of high standards, and pressure to be the best.
It was love in her aunt’s heart when she tried to feed her oil,
Though she really needed buckets of self-acceptance instead,
From her father’s love formed a focus on body image:
A love that filled family vacations with dread.
Her mother’s love induced carbohydrated commands,
Threats that saved her from withering away,
With loathing she ate her way back to rationality —
This led to a love that would never go astray.
Pancakes with peanut-butter mornings of hope,
Cotton candy ice cream to celebrate her nineteenth,
Love for herself, her family, her journey —
Though her journey might never be truly complete.
For sometimes she feels herself slipping through her fingers,
She sees her reflection and bursts into tears,
But then she grabs some hot cocoa and her purple pen,
Reminding herself to push through her fears.
And sometimes she can’t, and her family is hurt,
As if she doesn’t love them by not trying the homemade cake,
Or they commend her on her weight gain at Christmas dinner,
And a mended part of her begins to break.
But love is eternal; it’s patient and enduring.
With each winter, it reveals itself more.
Meals filled with laughter and fond reminiscing
Are love’s subtle ways of winning her war.
Escarpment Kombucha Co. is hand-crafting small batches of kombucha for the Hamilton community
As the only kombucha brewers local to the Hamilton area, Escarpment Kombucha Co. owners Robyn Starkey and Andrew Ernest are setting a precedent. They started their company in January 2020 and currently operate out of The Kitchen Collective on King Street East to brew and bottle their small-batch kombucha.
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. Starkey describes kombucha by noting that it is to tea what wine is to grape juice. Starkey and Ernest’s mixture undergoes two rounds of fermentation before it is strained, carbonated and transferred to a keg for distribution.
Starkey is originally from Mississauga, attended Dalhousie University for creative writing and English, then graduated to become a legal assistant. At the same time, Ernest became the manager of a coffee shop in Halifax. Together, the couple discovered a shared interest in home fermentation as a healthier alternative to sodas and juices.
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Upon settling in Hamilton, Starkey and Ernest decided to turn their passion project of two years into a business. Once a small studio apartment operation consisting of a bookshelf of kombucha for friends and family, the two put pen to paper in order to turn their dreams into a reality. The company’s name pays homage to the geography and wildlife of the Hamilton area by referring to the Hamilton escarpment.
“I think that Escarpment Kombucha Co. is trying to take kombucha at the local level and bring it to the city of Hamilton. We're trying to make a product that is as sustainable and delicious as possible without sacrificing on the health benefits. If you think you don't like kombucha or you've never tried it before, this is the kombucha you should try,” said Starkey.
"If you think you don't like kombucha or you've never tried it before, this is the kombucha you should try,” said Starkey
Ingredients for the kombucha are sourced locally wherever possible. They use tea from Toronto-based company Lemon Lily Tea. Fruits are sourced from Boreal Berry Farm in Warren, with seasonal ingredients from local farmers including Sunfire Herbals in Hamilton and Baba Link Farm in Flamborough.
“[Sourcing locally] is really great because if we make relationships with local people, then we get to be harvesting, processing and turning the ingredients into kombucha and selling them. It's a really satisfying part of the process . . . My favourite part of the summer was when I had an entire table of drying sumac and mint that I picked and there [were] hops in the cupboard, waiting to go,” said Starkey.
If you’re looking for a new flavour to pick up, a fan favourite is the raspberry lavender, made with raspberries from Boreal Berry Farms and lavender from Weir’s Lane Lavender in Dundas.
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Starkey’s personal favourite experimental flavour is pear hops, a seasonal variation which she described as cidery, with a hint of beer taste. Currently, they are in the process of experimenting with seabuckthorn, a sour berry that Starkey described as the liquid version of sour patch kids candy.
The company’s products are available at 17 retail locations near the Hamilton area and they currently offer free contact-free home delivery, which can be set up on a recurring basis for customers’ weekly, biweekly or monthly fix of kombucha.
Their kombucha is offered in growlers, a more sustainable option packaged in reusable glass bottles and sold at a discounted price to encourage zero-waste alternatives as the company works towards entirely zero-waste packaging. They currently utilize compostable seals and all of their bottles are returnable or reusable.
“We've only been in business for one year, but I would hope that [students] can see that the process of starting your own business and coming up with a big dream pays off. It’s really just making lists and getting it done and finding people to help you navigate. This is not what I went to school for — I was not a business student — but I really value that I was able to figure out what we were doing,” said Starkey.
“We've only been in business for one year, but I would hope that [students] can see that the process of starting your own business and coming up with a big dream pays off."
Escarpment Kombucha Co. is a testament to the importance of following your passions, which for Starkey and Ernest is brewing one small batch at a time. They have created a tasty and healthy beverage that they hope people in Hamilton and beyond will enjoy.