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Cedar Valley Selections Grows Retail Production in New Storefront

Thursday, February 1, 2018

From farmer’s markets to a storefront café and production facility – one Lakeshore, Ont. business is gearing up to bring its Mediterranean food products to the masses.

Since 2016, family-owned Cedar Valley Selections has been selling its homemade, Arabic, fattoush salad dressing in Windsor-Essex. Tossed with romaine lettuce, fresh vegetables, and crispy pita chips, this tangy dressing is used in fattoush salad often featured at many of the area’s Arabic eateries. But it’s a product whipped up by home cooks – often without a set recipe – and is rarely seen packaged on retail shelves.

The idea to bottle the homemade dressing came to then 16-year-old Lakeshore student, Ameen Fadel, in 2015. Ameen’s guidance counsellor at Belle River District High School encouraged him to participate in the school’s Student Ventures entrepreneurship program, where he received business training from the Small Business Centre, and $3,000 to start his own business through the program.

Ameen’s mother, Surria, had made fattoush salad that was enjoyed by friends, teachers, and his hockey team’s families. It had always been a hit, so he approached Surria for help producing a bottled version of her salad dressing.

“[Ameen] basically harassed me for six months until I came up with a recipe,” recounts Surria. “Once we started playing with the recipe I started sampling it to the neighbours and friends.  I was basically trying to find out what the need was, what the palates of [Windsorites] are like … that helped me tweak the recipe to what it is now.”

Ameen went to work researching packaging and designing the label. By January 2016, the recipe was perfected and can boast that it’s free of gluten, sugar, preservatives, and that it’s vegan friendly. Ameen then, as Cedar Valley Selections, began selling the dressing to high school teachers and introduced a new product: seasoned pita chips, fried in health-conscious coconut oil.

Before long, Ameen’s father and sister also came on board to help grow Cedar Valley Selections well beyond the student entrepreneurship program. They began selling the dressing and pita chips at local farmers markets, trade shows, and retailers. Their products are now sold in 21 stores and markets in Windsor-Essex County and London, Ontario.

“Ever since I was in Grade 10 … I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Ameen, 18. “And now that people are responding the way they are … how interested and in love with the product they are, I knew I wanted to keep it going.”

“I try my best to balance it,” added Ameen, regarding juggling the business along with fist year studies in business administration at the University of Windsor and playing hockey for the Lakeshore Canadiens.

“It if ends up becoming a large company than it’s worth it in the end.”

While this is Ameen’s first foray into the food industry and entrepreneurship, Surria, a native of Iowa, grew up with a family that owned many restaurants. Going into food production, however, presented some different challenges.

“There is a big difference in working out of a restaurant facility and feeding people freshly made food … and going retail.  Because now I have to make sure that dressing is going to last on the shelf before someone buys it. … that was a big project for me, just doing the research on how this works, how to bottle it, how do I get it tested?” said Surria.

“If I’m working at restaurant and you come in to get a sandwich, I don’t have to put a label on that.  There’s (government) requirements on the label, and nutrition facts.  It’s a whole different ball game.  It was a huge educational experience,” she added.

Demand is growing for Cedar Valley products, and Ameen said they want to introduce up to 15 new products, including hummus and garlic sauce. The goal is to eventually land their products in national grocery chains.

In January, Cedar Valley moved production from a rented kitchen to their own storefront café at 25 Amy Croft Dr. in Lakeshore.

“The customers love it so far, it’s been going well,” said Ameen.

The café serves up soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts and has a retail space for their products. Cedar Valley will be hosting a grand opening event later in February.

“I think people come back to our products because it’s fresh … and we don’t use preservatives, fillers or unhealthy oils,” said Ameen.

Surria added, “Our mission and our vision is to get those healthy alternatives out to the general public, so we can feel better, be healthier and feel good about what they’re eating.”

Ameen and Surria Fadel are WindsorEssex Small Business Centre clients that received training through the Starter Company program. You, too, can receive support in launching or expanding your small business. Contact the WindsorEssex Small Business Centre for more information.