by Gloria Welton
Recently announced by Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is a facility called Food Works, which is being developed by the Central Development Corporation in collaboration with the Food Island Partnership.
The project will turn the space previously occupied by Transcontinental printing company into a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) certified food processing facility that can house multiple tenants.
Chef Sarah Bennetto O’Brien, Owner of The Handpie Company, is the first business to sign a lease. She plans to expand her business by adding to the capacity of her present facility in Albany by occupying space in Borden-Carleton.
“I have been planning an expansion for three years, so the opportunity to come into this food hub is ideal for me, my staff, and my business,” says Sarah. “As a result of the expansion, I will be hiring 20 more staff.
“The current facility in Albany will be where all the sweet hand pies are created. Any flavors that are just for distribution on PEI will stay at this location, and research and development and retail will be there too.
“The new location in Borden-Carleton will be for straight production. The head office team will also be there working on marketing, administration, human resources, sales and distribution, and food safety.
“Because of our new designation, we are now a CFIA-certified food processing facility. With federal food safety standards approved and in place, we will be distributing throughout Canada. The first year we will hit the Maritimes, and then to move into the rest of Canada.
“ADL Foods is our product distributor for the Island. They pick up from our facility once a week and bring it to their warehouse and distribute it across PEI to their wholesale customers. ADL cares about supporting local and they are leaders in the industry.”
About the staff
Sarah says since they opened in 2017, she has focused on offering year-round employment and operating as a close-knit group. “I love to be supportive and build a strong team.
“During times such as the summer when productivity ramps up, and now with this major expansion, we have such a strong staff base. Day after day, our work ethics, company values, morale, and motivation is very strong. Staff really portray that it is not just a job. The company is engaged in the community and in the lives of our staff.
“One of my existing staff members will be the General Manager of the new facility. At least three Production staff will move to the new facility.
“I continuously offer my staff the opportunity to be heavily involved in the decision-making and direction of the company. It is amazing to me that we have come to this stage in the business. I credit my staff during a very difficult time such as the pandemic to keep working with me in amazing ways while expansion is taking place.
“It is certainly still hands on production, but I reward staff with leadership roles, more responsibly, and research and development potential. I need this leadership and I look for ways for staff to grow with the company.”
Sarah has been able to work with Detry Carragher, an award-winning chartered professional in Human Resources and owner of a consulting company called Carvo Group.
“Detry was recommended to me while I was working on the expansion. I was running into challenges with hiring. When I met up with Detry, I knew her services were exactly what I needed as I gear up to triple my staff numbers.”
“The Handpie Company truly lives its employee brand, and many people are already familiar with not just what they do, but who they are,” says Detry. “This says a lot about the work culture that Sarah and her team have created. This helps when promoting openings with the company.”
“It is hard to find people to hire with any type of relevant experience and the food industry is very competitive for anyone who already has the skillset and experiences,” says Sarah. “Many people have left the food services industry or are actively looking to leave.
“People my age who have been in the industry for about 20 years are at the make it or break point in their career. A lot of people are transitioning into advisory roles, or they are working in institutional food service. They are looking for more structure, better hours, and better benefits.
“I realize all of this, so we have worked hard to offer staff what is best for their career. Full-time employees receive health benefits after three months. That is something I have never found in this industry in my 20 years, up to the point when I created it myself.”
Sarah says they need to get very creative with recruitment and retention. “I tend to bring in people who have a broad outlook on food services, so they know why they do what they do.
“We plan to hire a person to do a dual role of Human Resource and administration. I prefer to call this person a Company Culture Officer – someone who will make sure all aspects of hiring and maintaining staff are considered.”
The new staff will cover areas such as production, marketing, sales and distribution, and food safety.
A career path that is right for her
“I feel that entrepreneurship really suits me,” says Sarah. “It took me a while to figure out that owning my own business was even a possible path for me.
“I am extremely enthusiastic, and an engaged person and I never found the right fit as an employee. So being a small business owner and being constantly involved and learning and getting better has been amazing. Everything that I put in I get out tenfold. It is incredible to be your own boss and get such reward.”
How to apply
Hiring opportunities will be advertised at www.handpie.ca/jobs