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Riding on the shoulders of Canada's dragons

Nonna Pia's may or may not have a deal, but in the meantime the company is forging its own path



Norm and Natasha Strim used to order their Italian vinegar in five-litre containers — the backbone of their one-of-a-kind, made-in-Whistler balsamic reduction.

Six months ago they started ordering in 220 litre drums, straight from Modena, Italy to the Port of Vancouver.

That gives just an inkling of their whirlwind, roller-coaster ride since March when they first went before Canada's dragons on the CBC hit show Dragons' Den to ask for money to take their Nonna Pia's balsamic vinegar nationwide.

"Whether or not we got a deal on Dragons' Den, we can't talk about that," said Natasha Strim.

"(But) we are thrilled with how everything went when we filmed for Dragons' Den. It couldn't have gone better. We are extremely excited to see our segment aired on the upcoming season of Dragons' Den beginning mid October.

"(And) the mentoring and help we've gotten since (we filmed)... I guess we're sponges and we just take as much as we can from people!"

Since they filmed in Toronto in March, and were put through the paces by some of the top business minds, Nonna Pia's has quietly grown from strength to strength.

At filming, they were in 358 stores, mostly throughout B.C.

Since then, the Strim's have closed two major deals, most notably in the last month, with Loblaw's and Sobey's in Eastern Canada. Their store count will soon be in the range of 1,500.

"We've been told that in the history of Dragons' Den we've shown the most growth for a company between filming and airing," said Strim.

And they've had to roll with the punches when things haven't panned out as planned too.

For example, the goal was to find co-packers in the east — a company that would make manufacture and package the balsamic reduction according to Norm's recipe and specifications.

But with 12 hours needed to cook the balsamic reduction, co-packers were hard to come by.

"It's all about kettle time," said Norm.

So, on to plan B — renting the space beside their Function Junction kitchen and making it all in Whistler.

"Now we're producing everything for all of Canada and the States in Whistler," said Natasha.

The second space is acting as warehouse space. They're used to storing 120,000 to 150,000 bottles in inventory.

"With these new accounts, we're going to have to sit on at least 400,000," she added. "Now we're trying to make up all this product, and that's just to service the stores. That's not even taking into account that in six weeks we may go live on television and everything will need to double!"

Until they hear about an airdate, it's full steam ahead to meet the commitments of the last six months.

Norm added with a smile: "We've accomplished what we set out to accomplish with the help of the Dragons, without the help of the Dragons... if that makes sense."

Stay tuned to the Pique for updates on the airdate and a potential Dragons' Den deal... or not.