Tracy Hrehirchuk knows what foods her teenage customers like best because she uses her own two teens as tasters.
With the help of her 16-year-old son Ethan and her 14-year-old daughter Anya, plus three students in a youth leadership program, Hrehirchuk serves up hot breakfasts and lunches at her Purple Cow canteen in Sanford Collegiate’s lunchroom.
"I try to balance the healthy stuff with what they will eat," she said.
Her daily menu features a fresh-fruit smoothie — with the favourites being raspberry limeade and the mixed berry Purple Cow — homemade soup, salad and hot entrées, including shepherd’s pie, lasagna and sloppy joes. She stocks the canteen with freshly-made sandwiches and a selection of homemade muffins and cookies.
"That’s my main focus — to offer healthier options," she said.
Watching Hrehirchuk quickly dish up meals and ring up sales, you wouldn’t know that this is her first year inbusiness. Previously an educational assistant, Hrehirchuk said she helped a student learn cooking skills. She was looking for a career change, and wondered if she could turn her love of cooking into a money-maker.
It was when she first visited Sanford Collegiate for a parent-teacher interview that she discovered the school’s canteen was available.
For Hrehirchuk, it’s the perfect match: working during school hours; working with her children; getting to know their friends and the school staff; and being off work when her children are off school.
"It’s been really good to get to know the kids," she said. "I love being here."
After she decided to take over the school canteen, she realized she had a lot to learn about portions, ordering supplies and preparing large quantities of hot food. She is grateful for advice she received from Helen Klassen and Laurie Schroeder, who run the school canteens in Carman and Elm Creek respectively.
She quickly renovated the Sanford Collegiate canteen before September, and was pleased that the school replaced the stove. Despite having a small workspace and not much storage space, she’s been able to meet the students’ and staff’s demands.
Principal Brad Curtis joked that teachers don’t mind forgetting their lunches at home now because they’re able to buy Hrehirchuk’s food.
Hrehirchik’s day starts with the drive from her home in La Salle, arriving at school before 7 a.m. She begins preparing the hot lunch entrée and serves breakfast items to students before classes begin. When the morning bell rings at 8:50, she saiys it’s a race to get the soup, salad and entrée ready before noon. After the lunch rush ends about 1, she mixes up muffins and cookies, does some food preparation for the next day’s lunch and writes up her supply lists. She usually buys most of her supplies in Winnipeg each Monday evening.
Now that she has a daily work schedule set up, she’s looking for ways to promote her business. She’s developed $40 pre-paid cards for students’ use. Next on her list is setting up a website.
Like most entrepreneurs, Hrehirchuk isn’t content with the status quo and is already exploring the possibility of expanding her business to other schools in the area.