Bullock’s Bistro is about to pour its brand further as it prepares to build a new Yellowknife production facility to bottle its sauce.
The owners of the Old Town fish restaurant recently bought a plot of land in Kam Lake, where in August they will construct a plant capable of producing at least 3,000 bottles per day in its early days and rising from there.
The two-storey facility will house bottling machinery on the 305-square-metre ground floor, while the 152-square-metre second floor will accommodate a break room and office space.
The move also includes the formation of the Great Slave Lake Bottling Company, but the popular herb and garlic salad dressing and teriyaki fish sauce will remain under the Bullock’s name.
In hard times, make sauce
In an era fitting of the old aphorism “when life gives you lemons,” owners Jo-Ann Martin and Mark Elson found themselves using the restaurant’s pandemic closure period last spring to make and test sauces.
“It’s something we’ve kind of tossed around for a few years, and wondered how big we wanted to go,” said Martin.
In just a few months it grew into a small side business. In May 2020, they began selling the sauces in stores in Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith.
They’ve since widened their customer base and ship the sauces to retailers in Inuvik; Cambridge Bay; Mill Bay, B.C. and in the Northern Store in Cartwright, Labrador, where Martin is from.
Demand exceeding supply capacity
With their current capacity of making about 300 bottles of sauce per day at the restaurant, they’re only just managing to keep up with demand and need to produce more to satisfy the supply chain.
“Once we figured out a proper plan and had a business plan in place and we knew we had a viable product then we decided to pursue building a facility. Once the plant is ready … we can make up to 10,000 bottles per day,” Martin said. “It’s an incredible opportunity and if it hadn’t been for the pandemic we wouldn’t be where we are because we would be dealing with our day-to-day business. The pandemic gave us time to plan and organize and do a lot of the legwork to get it up and running.”
Martin has been discussing wider distribution with interested managers of distribution centres on Vancouver Island and in Winnipeg. Once production at the new Utsingi Drive plant ramps up, she hopes to ship mass quantities of the sauces out to those centres as well as to Arctic Cooperative stores.
10,000 bottles of sauce, 15 new jobs
The initial target after the facility becomes operational at the end of August will be 3,000 bottles per day. Six months in, Martin foresees production doubling or even tripling, in tandem with staffing that will start off with about five workers and is anticipated to eventually reach about 15.
“The plan is to produce as much as we can here for Western Canada and then once we get a good market set up with different grocery chains or stores or distributors across Western Canada, we know eventually we’ll need a distribution centre in Alberta,” she explained.
Since the bottling company will be a new business, its revenues on paper won’t count towards those of Bullock’s. But if they were included on a balance sheet, Martin expects earnings to make up for the economic losses of Covid-19 at the restaurant, which saw sales drop by as much as 75 per cent compared to pre-pandemic times.
“It’s a new venture and we’re super excited and a little nervous because it’s a big one,” Martin said. “I think we have lots of opportunity. I think it would be really cool to have a different type of economic venture in Yellowknife.”