Women-led entrepreneurship: Cooking up change in the food industry

Feeding connections

When Pam Fanjoy first started taking cooking lessons, she never imagined it would evolve into the social enterprise she runs today. At the time, she was a full-time clinical social worker running her own practice, and her culinary classes at George Brown College were merely a hobby.

Prior to her graduation, she spent four months in France polishing her cooking skills to open The Friendly Chef Adventures Inc., a kitchen store, café and culinary studio in Erin, Ontario. The culinary studio gave Fanjoy the opportunity to take a closer look at the impact of nutrition on mental health. Fanjoy had proven that engaging youth with an activity during therapy was highly successful, so it occurred to her to use the kitchen studio as a space to work therapeutically with transitional aged youth from the community, using food as a new tool to create conversations that otherwise may prove difficult.

Fanjoy’s innovative culinary counselling turned out to be very effective at helping people manage their feelings and life challenges, and it provided valuable lessons about the importance of food, nutrition, and coming together over a meal. Seeing the success of culinary counselling, Fanjoy decided to use the Fanjoy brand to formalize her sessions into what’s known now as the Fanjoy Junior Chef Culinary Life Skills Programs.

Fanjoy_ButterChicken

Shaping a growth strategy

In 2016, Fanjoy wanted to expand her facility’s capacity by moving her business and opening a 30-seat rustic country restaurant in Erin, Ontario. Despite being a business owner in social work for over 20 years, starting a restaurant was considered high risk and Fanjoy struggled to secure financing. Fanjoy’s relationship with Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) began in 2021 after the pandemic hit and her mortgage came due. To support Fanjoy in her expansion plan, VCIB provided a $300,000 loan for mortgage refinancing and a $50,000 line of credit to assist with ongoing working capital requirements.

“VCIB came to the table for me. They listened to what my plan was for the business, they validated the experience I brought to the table. VCIB valued the ingenuity and resourcefulness that I demonstrated during the first year of COVID, and they engaged in conversation with me. It was a very different experience than any conversation I’d had before.”

As Canada’s only values-driven Schedule 1 bank, VCIB’s mission is to finance lasting change by supporting organizations that work towards uplifting their communities. With an 80% retention rate among participants, the new Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Center has had an immense success in Erin. Looking ahead to a post-pandemic world, Fanjoy is more committed than ever in carrying her vision even further.

“As a chef and social worker, I believe we need a radical recovery from COVID. Human connection is at the core of the Fanjoy brand. Everyone now knows the experience of loneliness if they didn’t before – and we are in a unique position to offer a way of healing moving forward.”

This fall, Fanjoy has plans to expand into the Guelph region. Further into the future, she hopes to see Fanjoy and its culinary counselling programs expand nationally.

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Click here to learn more about the Fanjoy Junior Chef Program.

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