This April, Alexander Gatensby spoke with KDFN Citizen Teresa Ward of Grandma Treesaw ’s Bannock and Catering Services. They talked about how she started her own business and what she’s cooking up for the future.
AG: How did you start your business?
TW: Around 2011, I started selling my bannock because I needed to make ends meet. I opened up the back of my truck, put the tailgate down, and started cooking bannock right on the tailgate with a propane stove.
The line-ups were getting longer and people were starting to know my bannock. And I went to a lot of community events like the Adaka Cultural Festival, hand games tournaments and anything else I could think of. It was popular, so around 2014 I decided to put the mix in a bag and sell it in stores. It’s not a bad little business but I wanted to go a little bigger, so I went into a Yukonstruct boot camp for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
I got into the bootcamp, and they helped me develop a business plan. They helped me really look at my business, inside and out. At the end, I had to make a pitch deck — a brief presentation about the business — and they invited all kinds of people from around the world to come see it. Through the presentation, I ended up with the opportunity to get my bannock into the US. So, now we’ve developed a new bag, a new brand, and a new logo. We’re looking to sell online too.
AG: How did you come up with the recipe for your mix?
TW: The recipe is a Teslin-Tlingit-style bannock. Throughout the Yukon we all have our certain ways of making bannock. Teslin has a unique style of deep-fried bannock. The rest of the Yukon, they do it with a little bit less oil.
AG: Where did you come up with the idea to start selling bannock mix?
TW: I came up with the idea in the summer of 2013. Customers and clients told me they would really appreciate being able to open up a bag of bannock and just make it. So, I created the bannock mix bags. You just have to add water to it and follow the instructions.
AG: What was the process like bringing that into reality?
TW: It was a lot of work. You almost have to be a mathematician just to figure out the nutritional facts table. It takes a long time and I am still working on it. I got it into the Yukon stores, but now we’re exporting and there’s a lot more process to that.
AG: What does your day to day look like in your business?
TW: I work at Yukon University part time because I still have to pay the bills. So I work on my business just about every weekend, and after work I’m in meetings, I’m on webinars… I take anything I can find to help me make this better and easier for me to understand. How to read financial statements, how to do finance, learning QuickBooks, how to promote, how to market, how to work with my team in Whitehorse and my team in the US, and my person in Vancouver. There are a lot of Zoom meetings to make sure we have everything in the bags down, packed, and ready to go into the US.
AG: What is the cultural significance of bannock?
TW: I’m really passionate about getting First Nations’ foods, like bannock, into our stores. We see a lot of foods from different cultures, but I would like to see more First Nations foods and share Yukon First Nation culture with the rest of the world.
AG: Why do you think it’s important to share First Nations cultural foods with the world?
TW: It’s just important to get that out there to show people that we have a unique food as well. Bannock is sold all over the place, but being able to get ours from the Yukon is really cool.
AG: Why are you doing this? What’s driving you to grow your business?
TW: I am doing it for my grandchildren, so they can have a piece of this in the future. They ’re the most important thing to me.
AG: Do you have advice for people who want to start their own business?
TW: My advice is that if you’re committed, then you’re committed. If you don’t commit yourself it doesn’t work.
In Whitehorse, you can buy Grandma Treesaw ’s Bannock at Independent, Bigway, Stacy ’s Butcher Shop, and Hougen’s Sportslodge.
Check out her website at yukonbannock.com