Shortt’s story: a tale of fresh foods, gourmet gifts

Busi­ness built around lis­ten­ing to cus­tomers and ‘re­ally try­ing to de­liver’

Waterloo Region Record - - FRONT PAGE - Brent Davis, Record staff

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.

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