With her passion for science, Lisa LeShane of St. Johns, Newfoundland has always liked experimenting.
But it wasn’t until she started working in restaurants in university that her interests shifted from the lab to the kitchen.
She began working in the food industry during her undergrad as a bartender and server. Eventually, she moved into the kitchen and started playing around with different recipes.
“I’m not one to be idle, and I found myself with some spare time and berries,” says Lisa. “And there’s nothing quite like a grilled cheese for comfort food!”
Pretty soon, she stopped experimenting and started slinging her gourmet grilled cheeses under the name “Oh My Cheeses” as a side job at the St. John’s Farmers Market. Her sandwiches quickly became so popular that she decided to take her side hustle up a notch.
In 2017, she bought a food truck, moved her side hustle to the Port Rexton Brewing Co beer garden and the rest, you could say, is history.
It was a strategic decision to move her business from St. John’s to Port Rexton. The brewery is about three hours away from where she lives, but it’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. And what goes better with a pint of beer than a hot, gooey, grilled cheese sandwich?
Plus, Port Rexton’s craft beer works well with Oh My Cheese’s unique approach to the classic sandwich.
“We try to source local ingredients, such as blueberries, partridgeberries and chanterelles, pair them with a quality cheese and grill it on homemade sourdough bread,” says Lisa.
Some of their more popular offerings include a blueberry balsamic jam, cracked pepper and old cheddar sandwich and a pickled beets, goat cheese, prosciutto sandwich drizzled with a balsamic reduction.
“I try to find inspiration from what I can access locally, but also from recipes handed down through my family,” explains Lisa. For example, Oh My Cheeses recently added a moose donair to the menu as Lisa used to hunt with her family growing up and developed an appreciation for game meat. They’ve also expanded their menu to include fancy fries.
While the business has grown immensely in just a few short years, Lisa has also faced her fair share of challenges. For example, her decision to move her business so far from her home means the long travel times can be wearisome. However, she’s recently hired more staff, which she hopes will ease her commute.
Additionally, thanks to Futurpreneur’s Start-Up Program, she has had the support of business mentor to guide her through the first few years of owning a business.
“I had a great mentor that allowed me to bounce ideas off of them, and gain insight due to their experience,” says Lisa.
She’s been fortunate to have the support of her local community as well, which has seen a boon of new business open in just a few years.
“The Bonavista Peninsula is a mecca for young entrepreneurs, having seen over 30 businesses open in the past five years, most by young entrepreneurs, many of whom are female,” says Lisa. “My first year, I was given advice I didn’t even know I needed. It kept me going.”
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, what has inspired her the most to keep growing her business are her many satisfied customers.
“I love that people love our food,” says Lisa. “People often look at the menu and are shocked that a grilled cheese could be so adventurous. Sometimes, they are a little hesitant to step out of their comfort zone, but it is always rewarding to see them come back just to say how much they enjoyed it.”
If you’re thinking of starting a business like Lisa, she has these final words of advice:
“Ask for help and be prepared. That sounds cheesy – see what I did there – but it’s true. I spent three years making grilled cheeses at local markets before I made the decision to expand. It wasn’t something that was done on a whim, but it was something that I fell in love with and wanted to continue on a larger scale. I try not to keep the menu stagnant, so I never get bored, nor do the customers! If you have a great idea [for a product-based business], testing it out at Farmers’ Markets or local fairs is a great way to find out if other people think it’s a great idea too!”
Written by: Jasmine Williams, Social Media and Content Specialist, Futurpreneur Canada