Sylvia Martinelli  with her gluten-free cheese puffs.

Sylvia Martinelli with her gluten-free cheese puffs.

‘Follow your business dreams’

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows businesses nominated for 10 awards.

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows businesses will be noticed in the next few weeks, accounting for 10 nominations in this year’s Small Business B.C. awards.

Casanova Printing, S&B Gluten Free, Left of the Dot Media, SocioVisual, The Village Space, and Yo!, an Internet company, are all nominees. Corporate Mainland Move Management Services and Golden Ears Cheesecrafters are also nominated.

Once nominated, the businesses will try to get as many votes as possible through either e-mail or social media, allowing the selection of the Top 10 in the contest on Dec. 12.

For one of those companies on the list, growth required hands-on demonstrations so people could smell for themselves.

Silvia Martinelli and her husband Bruno Waqued started S&B Gluten Free two years ago and nominated the company themselves.

The company name, though, doesn’t say as much as the product they make – Otimo Brazillian Style Cheese Puffs.

Silvia brought the food idea from her native Brazil and is slowly educating and introducing the new product to greater Vancouver.

“It’s something I grew up with. Most people don’t know what they are.”

The cheese puffs are made from manioc root, similar to cassava, says Silvia. Manioc root is a food staple and has been used there as a flour for centuries, so Silvia imports the gluten-free flour to Vancouver, mixes in fresh Canadian milk, eggs and cheddar cheese and makes the cheese puffs, known as pao de queijo in Brazil.

The puffs aren’t so much a fast food you’d eat at the office, but more an appetizer to be warmed, then served at home. The frozen puffs are put into the oven for 20 minutes, allowing the savory scents of bread and cheese to waft throughout the house as guests arrive.

To get her product distributed, Silvia has been selling the cheese puffs at farmers’ markets, including the Haney Farmer’s Market. She also has 40 small stores in the Vancouver area carrying the product.

For Canadians not used to the Brazilian cheese puffs, she finds it best to demonstrate personally.

Silvia says she’s always giving away the product so people can see and taste for themselves.

“My whole marketing is towards sampling.”

At about $7 a bag, she knows the price is high. That’s largely because of the locally made fresh milk, eggs and cheese that are the other three major ingredients.

“Those are very expensive in Canada.”

In Brazil, there’s usually only one flavour, but here she offers cheese balls in garlic, basil and tomato and jalapeno varieties.

The company has a location at the north end of 256th Street in Maple Ridge and wants to keep growing.

“We’re actually planning to expand to many locations in the Vancouver area, so we’re targeting big chains.”

Silvia has a few other tips to other people pursuing their business dreams. Know the difference between perseverance and stubbornness, she says. The latter means making the same mistake time and again and getting the same result.

Joining with the other businesses to create buying groups for the raw materials in order to get better pricing is another good thing.

“Dreams are never easy, so ignore the excuses and starting asking yourself, ‘How can I?’ This will show you new ways and create new opportunities.

Don’t get put down by discouraging comments, “until you do it, you will never know,” she says.

Another tip, if you have good employees, it’s important to keep them.

“I get my employees to work with me and not for me – and that makes all the difference.”

Silvia’s is not the only local firm up for an award.

Hopcott Farms and Bayline Construction in Pitt Meadows also were nominated for a Small Business B.C. award.

The total of 10 companies nominated from the area, is an impressive number, compared to Abbotsford, which had four and Langley two.

Other businesses can still be nominated, until the Nov. 30 deadline. Winners will be named Feb. 26 at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel.

 

The award categories are:

• Premier’s People’s Choice Award;

• Best Community Impact Award;

• Best Company Award;

• Best Concept Award;

• Best Emerging Entrepreneur Award;

• Best Green Business;

• Best Immigrant Entrepreneur Award;

• Best International Trade Award;

• Best Online Marketer Award;

• Best Workplace Award.