Shortt’s story: a tale of fresh foods, gourmet gifts
Business built around listening to customers and ‘really trying to deliver’
WATERLOO — Dana Shortt has always taken a hands-on approach to running her business.
In the early days when she was just starting out, there was no other choice.
“I was the cashier, I was the receptionist, I did the ordering,” she says with a laugh.
But even as Dana Shortt Gourmet and Gifts fine food store has expanded, and as staffing levels have grown to about a dozen year-round employees — soaring to 25 or so in the hectic lead-up to Christmas — Shortt is anything but an absentee owner.
Owing to her culinary background, Shortt takes the lead on recipe development for the dozens of fresh and frozen entrées, appetizers and soups on offer at the Erb Street shop.
She’s the creative force behind the eyecatching in-store displays of oils, vinegars and gourmet foods and the business’s online presence.
And although much of her work takes place behind the scenes these days, she’s not shy about rolling up her sleeves to lend a hand with day-to-day tasks in the kitchen or in the store when things get really busy.
“I’m very, very hands on,” Shortt says. “I love it.”
Still, she’s quick to credit her team and a supportive family and friends for their roles in her success.
Shortt’s retail story began in 2004, when she opened the doors to a small storefront space in the commercial complex at 55 Erb St. E. in Waterloo.
With a commerce degree in hotel and food administration from the University of Guelph and a culinary management diploma from George Brown College in Toronto, Shortt already had catering experience when she opened the retail store.
“I knew I wanted to come back and start it here.”
Over the years, Shortt gradually phased out catering services as her company grew in other ways — with the purchase of (and expansion into) the gift basket business next door, for example, or the introduction of a tasting bar that showcases more than 40 olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Shortt breathed new life into the 2,000square-foot store in 2015 with an extensive renovation that opened up the ceiling, removed a wall and added new lighting, shelving, coolers and kitchen equipment. A new logo and branding complemented a refreshed, industrial feel.
“It was a complete floor-to-ceiling makeover,” Shortt says. It never lost a day’s business, having secured a temporary location in the plaza.
Among the biggest draws for the store’s loyal clientele are the fresh and frozen foods made from scratch with quality ingredients in the on-site kitchen.
There are more than 300 items, from cheese tortes, quesadillas and soups to mouth-watering entrées like coq au vin, cashew tofu curry and lamb shepherd’s pie.
“We do use a lot of local suppliers in our products,” says Shortt. “It’s something we’re really proud of.”
Menu items change with the seasons, incorporating local staples like Barrie’s asparagus, Herrle’s corn or Abe Erb beers.
“If you can’t do it yourself, or don’t want to do it, we’re your solution,” Shortt says. Delivery is also available.
Gourmet grocery items and food-related gifts are available alongside the specialty oils and vinegars. Chocolates and candies from Reids in Cambridge and Rhéo Thompson in Stratford are perennial favourites, and have starring roles in many of Shortt’s signature gift baskets and boxes.
Shortt has made a point of giving back to the community through the years, in recognition of the support it’s given her. “There’s so many wonderful things this community is doing, and I want to do my part.”
Earlier this year, Shortt was named Mompreneur of the Year, the top honour from the Mompreneur Showcase Group, a membership-based network that supports female entrepreneurs in Canada.
“I didn’t think I’d win,” she says. “There are so many amazing women doing amazing things … It was a real honour to be recognized.”
So what’s next for the busy mother of two?
Working with local grad students from the Digital Innovation Skills Certificate program, Shortt expects to launch a new e-commerce website in June that will initially showcase the store’s gift baskets.
Eventually, she’d also like to build an offsite production facility that would allow her to ship to more than one location if she chose to open another store. That would also free up additional space at the Erb Street shop.
“It’s kind of neat to think ‘Well, what’s next?’” Shortt says. “It’s about listening to my customers. It’s listening to what they want, and really trying to deliver.”
Dana Shortt launched her own business in 2004. Today, Dana Shortt Gourmet and Gifts sells fresh and frozen foods, oils and much more.