Putting a spark in her bark Garson entrepreneur works to perfect her confections as they gain wider market exposure
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/12/2022 (187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
GARSON — We have some good news and some bad news.
The bad news is, if one of your family’s preferred, yuletide treats is peppermint bark, a sheet confection similar in presentation to peanut brittle that typically pairs chocolate with shards of candy cane, you may be out of luck, no matter how naughty or nice you’ve been.
That’s because for the second winter in a row, there is a global candy cane shortage, as production of peppermint oil continues to be down significantly, owing to supply-chain issues.
Now for the good news; Jenna Cadorath is the founder of Bonbon Bark, a four-year-old venture that offers four varieties of gourmet bark, none of which calls for candy canes as an ingredient. For example, Tasty Turtle, her top seller, combines unsweetened chocolate with walnuts and cocoa butter, while her gluten-free Rockin’ Raz bark contains raspberry, lemon, almonds and soy.
Sure, she could have taken a more traditional approach when she founded her biz in the summer of 2018, she admits, seated in the Garson home she shares with her husband, their two children and a husky-German shepherd cross. Except where’s the fun in that?
“From the get-go, my goal has been to create unique, funky flavours that would hopefully appeal to kids and adults alike,” she says. “That goes for my packaging and social media, too. I wanted everything to have a youthful, Willy Wonka feel to it. When you’re buying something like bark, you’re indulging yourself. So why not have fun with it?”
Stop us if this sounds familiar: the holidays are right around the corner, the staff lunchroom is overflowing daily with homemade goodies brought in by co-workers, and you’re busily flipping through recipe books, trying to decide what you can conjure up that will compare favourably to your fellow employees’ tarts, kebabs and meatballs.
Such was the case five years ago this week for Cadorath, who, back then, was the manager of a Portage Avenue steak house. It’s not that she was uncomfortable in the kitchen, far from it. She can’t recall a time when she wasn’t hanging around her mother’s apron strings as a child, asking to assist with lunch or supper.
Still, she wanted her office contribution to be both delectable and in keeping with the season, which was why she went with peppermint bark, substituting pretzel morsels and chunks of Oreo cookie for the aforementioned candy cane.
Was it a hit? That was difficult to tell. Everybody’s mouth was too full gobbling it down, to offer a review, she says laughingly.
Skip ahead a few months. Cadorath, who was living in Charleswood at the time, had long been a fan of large, urban markets such as Third & Bird. Whenever she was shopping for locally produced foodstuffs and fashion items at those types of events, she would think how satisfying it must have been for the sellers to have come up with an idea for this or that, and to have seen it through to fruition.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit — I ran a home-based daycare for five years — and was forever scratching my head, trying to think of something unique I could create,” she says. “That’s when I remembered how much everybody loved what I’d brought to work that day, and went, ‘What about bark?’”
(What about it, indeed? If you’re unfamiliar with bark, the reason it’s called that is because when it’s made properly — that is, by melting chocolate over pieces of candy and/or nuts, then breaking it into thin, individual pieces, after allowing the lot to cool — the resulting portions resemble a tree’s craggy, outer surface.)
It took a few months of figuring out what worked and what didn’t, but in July 2018, Bonbon Bark made its official debut at, of all places, a takeout joint’s parking lot. Cadorath had noticed the owners of St. James Burger & Chip Co. on Ness Avenue were letting budding business owners set up for free there, so she approached them, asking if she could give it a shot, too.
Sadly, burgers and bark didn’t prove to be the world’s best combo. After managing to sell all of five bags over a two-day span, she vowed to do better the next time.
Sales definitely picked up at a pair of Christmas markets in the Morden/Winkler area that November, but her big break occurred 11 months later, when she successfully applied for Scattered Seeds’ October 2019 event, held at Red River Exhibition Park. At one point during the weekend, a person in charge of a neighbouring booth asked Cadorath if she could watch her spot, while she ran to the washroom.
She was answering a question on her co-vendor’s behalf a moment later when a person approached, wanting to know whose booth “that is,” as he nodded at the balloon-laden, Bonbon Bark display. She told him it was hers and asked how she could help him out.
That was when he presented her with his business card and announced he was a purchaser for Sobeys and Canada Safeway. Also, he wanted to learn more about her bark, feeling it might be a perfect fit for his company’s buy-local initiative.
She tried to play it cool, only her cheeks were hurting from smiling, ear-to-ear, she says. “I was actually a bit embarrassed when the other girl came back and asked how things went while she was gone. ‘Pretty good,’ I told her. ‘I think I just got my bark into Sobeys.’”
“Jenna definitely has a great-tasting product and packaging that pops on the shelf,” says Matthew Sobocan, local development manager for Sobeys stores in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario. “She has made it very easy for consumers to identify her product while they are shopping, by using bright, impactful colours that I am sure catch a customer’s eye.”
Sobocan says close to 40 Manitoba Sobeys, Safeway and IGA outlets currently carry all four varieties of Bonbon Bark, and he’s confident many people, young and old, will have a package or two waiting for them in their stocking on Christmas morn.
“I do enjoy chocolate, and though I don’t eat a lot of it, I have tried Jenna’s product. For me, I enjoy her new raspberry variety the most.”
In addition to an ever-growing retail presence, Cadorath also fields orders via her website (bonbonbark.com). To date, she has shipped bark to sweet-tooths in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, some of whom have gotten back to her to comment how her output reminds them of what their mother or grandmother used to make at Christmas, with Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
On Sunday, she will be peddling her wares at the St. Norbert Farmer’s Market, as part of a Third & Bird winter pop-up sale. If you’re there and are wondering who that is next to her, offering free samples of S’mashin’ S’mores bark (the only thing missing is a campfire), that would be her 11-year-old daughter Paisley, who often plays the role of royal taster.
“My daughter loves coming to markets with me, she’s very spirited, very into theatre and acting, and I couldn’t ask for a better salesperson,” Cadorath boasts. “And my son Kowen is similar to his father, who works in business development. He’s always going, ‘Mom, if we do things this way, we can get so much more done.’ He’s forever giving me great tips.”
As for future plans, well, get a load of her tattered notepad, packed with ideas for new recipes and such.
“I call it my master book; it has all my jottings, right from Day 1,” she says, adding her present goal — circled at the top of a page — is to expand outside of Manitoba, by introducing Bonbon Bark to more retail stores, from coast to coast.
Lastly, she has a word of advice for anybody whose wish this Christmas is to run their own business, one day.
“I remember early on, feeling like such a beginner, next to so many incredible makers, but you just have to leave that feeling at the door,” says Cadorath, who presently works out of a commercial kitchen located in Cook’s Creek, 11 kilometres from her home. “It’s still hard to believe that girl who stood in a parking lot for two days and sold five bags is the same girl who can now walk into a grocery store and spot her stuff on the shelf. If you have a dream, go for it.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.