A small business selling delicious authentic Lebanese food in the Saint John City Market is expanding to locations across the province less than a year after its launch.
Deanna Dempsey is part of the COVID-19 pandemic trend of people who quit their soul-sucking day jobs to kick-start their dream careers.
Last September, in the thick of the pandemic, Dempsey decided to pursue her lifelong passion. With help from her grandmother Penny Christie, the duo began cooking up take-out ready Lebanese food from recipes passed down from their family.
“The pandemic kind of lit a fire in me,” said the 29-year-old. “I didn’t want to do the sit-down restaurant, so I thought, ‘Well, takeout is very popular right now. People can’t go into restaurants, so maybe now is the time to introduce it.’”
Using her grandmother’s secret recipes, she launched LebanOn The Go in October. She started operating out of The Cornerstone in uptown Saint John and in March set up at the city market on Saturdays, selling a wide array of salads, appetizers and dishes. Her grandmother is the head chef.
“February hit and the whole model changed,” said the mother of three. “There was one store that said, ‘Those fatayers you do, they are a mini gold mine. I want to sell them.’ And it spiralled from there.”
A big customer over the summer was the Old Well House Café in Grand Manan, which bought about 3,000 fatayers, a tasty pie that can be stuffed with different fillings, most popular being spinach or meat.
The Saint John native learned some of her business savvy from a career as an account manager in the sales department for Xerox but said she always wanted to work for herself.
The large and connected Lebanese community in New Brunswick also played a role in getting the word out about her business.
“That’s what led me to get as far as I have,” she said. “They’ve helped me spread the word and all of the recipes came from their great-grandparents as well because we’re all connected.”
While she can’t give details about the current contracts she’s working on firming up right now – some are with well-known companies in the province – she did say the products will be sold from Saint Andrews to Miramichi and “everywhere in between."
“My goal is to get further up north because my husband is actually from Dalhousie,” she said. “The plan (is) to be in one spot in every city in New Brunswick.”
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal