By Heather Exner-PIrot
May 22, 2020
May 18-22 is Women Entrepreneurs Week in Saskatchewan. To celebrate, we are interviewing Indigenous women who have started their own businesses.
Can you tell me about your business, Chester Knight’s Bannock Bistro? How long have you been operating?
It’s a catering business. We cater to businesses, schools, functions and special events like receptions and weddings. And every meal includes bannock – either baked or fried. We started off with the catering business in 2014, and then started serving at powwows in 2015.
We also provide traditional foods in our catering. One thing that has led to is catering feasts. At first, I was uncomfortable doing feasts and getting paid for it. I grew up traditionally, so I understand the protocols. But after a few times, it was clear that it was the clients’ preference, so it became a part of our business.
We also have a food truck. We started out with a food trailer, but it was too small for many of the opportunities we were seeing. So we upgraded to a food truck. We’re not operating yet this year – still waiting to start up after COVID. There are very strict rules and permits required in the City [of Saskatoon] for food trucks. But we are looking forward to the season. Last year was our first running a food truck in the city, but before that we did festivals and powwows.
What attracted you to becoming an entrepreneur?
Chester, my business and life partner, went through a six month business course through Praxis, that covered how to start up a business, how to write a business plan. All the main steps. We decided we wanted to open up a restaurant. He didn’t really know how to cook! So I stepped in and took over the day to day operation of the business. As he got busier with his music career, I got more involved in the bannock business.
What do like most about being your own boss, and what have you found most challenging?
I like the flexibility – I can schedule my own time. I can also concentrate on the areas of the business I’m most interested in, and can experiment with new things.
The most challenging part is getting paid. Sometimes you have to wait a long time to collect. But in the meantime, you need to buy enough inventory for the next orders. You have to budget very carefully. Once we had 16 orders over a five-day period, and it was very challenging to multi-task, such as getting the inventory organized, preparing the menus, organizing delivery times and maintaining the necessary cash flow.
But still we’ve been able to grow. We got a second delivery van, and as I mentioned, a food truck.
What advice would you give to other Indigenous women who are thinking of starting their own business?
I think if someone is thinking of starting their own business, they have to think about what they like doing, and develop that into a business. If you have a hobby and think it can be turned into a business, just pursue that. Then you will love what you do. But you need to be prepared that it will be very time consuming.
My other suggestion is to keep a side job while you’re starting up your business. It’s hard to have the funds available early on. I think you should maintain a side job until the business is able to sustain itself.
Before the Bannock Bistro, I was working at TCU Place in the banquet department that catered large events. And that gave me great experience. It helped me develop a variety of skills useful for catering. It really helped with making my own business a success.
Where do you want your business to be in 5 years’ time?
I would like to open up other Bannock Bistros in P.A. and Regina. We would like to have both our units – the food truck and food trailer – operating and busy. Last summer I had to choose between events because we didn’t have the capacity to run both at the same time.
We are already looking for a new location for the restaurant. There’s been a lot of uncertainty with COVID – I was hoping to move in the Fall, but we will have to wait and see. I think the food truck should do good business this Summer though.
The hardest part of expanding is finding a good bannock maker. I’m picky. Some of my regular clients can tell when I’m not the one making the bannock. I give the cooks the ingredients and measurements, but it can still turn out differently.
What’s your favourite kind of bannock?
Fried is easier to worth with. Oven bannock can turn out different depending on the oven. But fried turns out the same every time. But I like both fried and baked. Baked is most delectable with a variety of soups and stews. Fried bannock lends to greater creativity on how you can serve. For example, you can have a variety of Indian Taco dishes. You can also make different types of burgers. This year our food truck will be offering our popular bannock burgers. There will be our Bistro Burgers, Cowboy Burgers, Dragon Burgers, Cheese Burgers and Plain. You can also create new desserts with fried bannock. The sky is the limit.