Finding foods that are healthy, but also delicious seems like a never ending battle. “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” as former Dragon Kevin O’Leary has said many a times.
Casalinga Food Services is working to do exactly that and joins a league of Vancouver startups that have had the opportunity to slay the dragons with the whole country watching. It’s safe to say, their cabbage rolls made us proud.
Who are you? Tell us about your business and what inspired you to create it.
My name is Dustin Coelho, my two business partners are Trish Bell and Vikram Vij. Trish and I auditioned for Dragon’s Den last year in Vancouver and then we were invited to Toronto to pitch to the Dragons on CBC Dragon’s Den. We secured a deal on the show with local chef extraordinaire Vikram Vij. After completing the due diligence process, we then created our new company DTV Food Group.
Our business is food, specifically focusing on our signature cabbage rolls. Our goal is to create healthy and delicious meals that you can enjoy with your friends and family, guilt-free, every day of the week. That is why we created DTV Food Group. The vast amount of highly processed unhealthy foods in grocery stores allows people to easily make unhealthy choices. We saw this as an opportunity. Our meals are made as healthy as we possibly can without compromising on flavour, and we promise that will always be the case.
We have packaged our delicious pork, and soon to be butter chicken cabbage rolls, in retort pouches. This allows us to provide fully cooked meals with a shelf life of several years without the need for refrigeration until you open our product; and it makes the perfect product to stock up on in case of emergencies. Retort products are very popular in Asia and Europe and we hope to start a trend of moving away from canned goods.
What has been the most challenging part about running this business and how have you addressed it?
Having no experience within the food industry has been a big challenge. To take a product from the idea stage all the way to the retail market is a monumental task. Vikram and Trish have their own businesses to run so this task was all on me. Being thrown into the fire, while intimidating, is something that I actually highly recommend. I learned everything down to every little minute detail that it takes to get a product ready for retail stores. The experience and knowledge gained was immensely invaluable. I dealt with it by leaning on other experienced leaders that were at my disposal.
Vikram has been a great mentor; he has his own successful line of products in retail stores so he has been a great shoulder to lean on and learn from. We are lucky, that I can readily admit. Vikram has his own line of products in retail stores and we are trying to emulate the success that he has created. Thus he is literally the perfect partner for us. All of the Dragons are special and bring different things to the table but Vikram was the Dragon we were most hoping to secure a deal with. As soon as he tasted our product and loved it, Trish and I exhaled a sigh of relief. It meant the world to Trish when Vikram, one of the greatest chefs in the world said that her cabbage rolls are delicious.
How has Vancouver’s rising startup community played a role in the development of Casalinga Food Services?
Trish has been the owner/operator of Casalinga Foods for 20 years. Vikram, Trish and I created a new corporation for our products, DTV Food Group (our initials) with Casalinga brand products as our main focus. The support we have received from the startup community has been tremendous. This actually surprised me a little. The amount of time, guidance, support and mentorship provided from experienced individuals has blown me away. Everybody is happy to lend a helping hand. I am sure I have been a bit of a nuisance to some as I always have a lot of questions.
I truly appreciate all of the time that people took out of their busy schedules to lend a helping hand. I definitely recommend anyone needing guidance in our industry to check out the BC Food Processors Association.
What core problem is your company specifically solving and/or what’s the main value you provide?
We are making healthy and delicious meals that everybody can enjoy. Whether you are at your desired weight, or trying to gain or lose weight, or maintain your weight our product is for you. We specialize in ready-made meals in retort pouches. Retort pouches are a type of food packaging made from a laminate of flexible plastic and metal foils. Our fully cooked pork cabbage rolls and soon to be butter chicken cabbage rolls can sit on your shelf for several years without refrigeration until opened.
Food from retort pouches taste better as they require less cooking time than cans, and they’re a healthy alternative to canning. The food keeps its natural flavour, texture and nutritional value. To heat our product, you just place the pouches in boiling water for eight minutes, then tear open the pouch and enjoy our cabbage rolls. Our goal in the future is start a non-profit and provide our nutritional cabbage rolls to starving people around the world. Our product contains an item from every food group, with the exception of dairy. They would provide a healthy and nutritious meal and be a great alternative to plain white rice, which is a common product provided to people in need around the world. I know that we will accomplish this goal sooner or later.
How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur and what challenges did you personally overcome to succeed?
When I first started taking business courses at BCIT, I decided to supplement my schooling by purchasing highly rated business books. I purchased my first business book called The Radical Leap and I was absolutely hooked. Business books were my drug and I couldn’t wait to get another fix. I found something that I loved, every area of business interested me and I wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible.
I remember a few years back going for a walk with my wife Taylor and telling her that I was going to come up with a new idea every day for a product or service. I came up with an idea for a food product and started to research local companies and that is when I contacted Casalinga Foods. I think I said something like I had a potential million dollar idea. Trish, the owner of Casalinga Foods responded to me saying that she would be glad to meet with me and that she had a potential multi-billion dollar idea. I thought she was mocking me! We met several times and the relationship grew and several months later we were in Toronto together pitching to the Dragon’s on CBC’s Dragon’s Den.
Timing is everything, had I contacted somebody else and not Trish, I would not be where I am today. I owe her tremendously. Passion, dedication and determination are all traits an aspiring entrepreneur should have, but there are moments in life that can change your destiny. You have to keep your eyes open and take advantage of these opportunities, they may pass you by without you ever realizing it.
The biggest challenge I had to overcome was the risk factor. What if this doesn’t work out? What if I spend years on this and it fails? Being an entrepreneur means taking risks, going all in. You have to dedicate all of your time on your idea, if you work on it part time you will never accomplish your goal. I dedicated over a year of my life working on this all day everyday unpaid. That was a calculated risk and I had tremendous support from my wife and the rest of my family.
What entrepreneur has inspired you the most for running your business and what makes them so special?
It may sound like a cop out but Trish and Vikram have inspired me the most. Trish is by far one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met. She gets up before 6 a.m. and gets straight to work. She manages her business and cooks food all day long working 14 hour days for over 20 years. Casalinga’s meal delivery service, catering service and food truck is all managed by Trish herself. She truly is an inspiration. To me, she is one of the perfect examples of true entrepreneurship.
Vikram is also by far one of the hardest working individuals you will ever meet. His schedule is hectic, to say the least. I give him a call and depending on the day of the week he is in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa or Edmonton and everywhere in between. His passion is his restaurants and his Vij’s At Home product line. If he’s in town, he is either at his food production facility in Surrey or at his restaurant My Shanti in Surrey or Vij’s in Vancouver. He’s as hands on as it gets. Vikram and Trish motivate me every day and are two of the greatest examples of entrepreneurship you will ever find.
What Vancouver celebrity/influencer would you most be excited to have as a member of the team and why?
Trevor Linden would be an amazing addition to our team. He was one of the greatest leaders everm on and off the ice in the NHL. He is a leader with an air of gravitas, he commands respect and is a pragmatic thinker. That’s why he was named the President of the NHL Players Association for several years of his hockey career. Then you have the success Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness has been, and last year named the President of Hockey Operations for the Vancouver Canucks. That is one impressive CV. Within the community he is an inspiration and without a doubt one of the greatest Vancouverites ever. His charity work is second to none in Vancouver. He seems like a great human being and he would be an amazing part of our leadership team.
If you could tell your younger self something what would it be?
To pursue your dreams. I think that growing up as a youth in this day and age in such an expensive city like Vancouver, too many of us worry about job security, benefits and how we are ever to have high enough paying jobs to support ourselves. After graduating high school when I was thinking about what to do with my life and what to study in college, I never once thought about pursuing any of my dreams. I kept thinking about different career paths, jobs that I may enjoy doing that paid well. In my mind I was thinking “realistically.”
I don’t have any regrets but if I can offer any advice it would be to pursue what you love doing. If your dream is to be an actor, a singer, a politician – then go for it and go all in to accomplish your goal. If your dream is to own a convenience store or own a janitorial business and you accomplish that goal then you are a success. If you follow your passion no matter what it is and you do what you love, then to me you are the definition of success.
What are some accessible resources used and winning habits you have developed to learn and grow as an entrepreneur?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are more willing to help and offer their advice than you may think. There is a lot of help and resources you can use in this digital landscape we currently live in but I believe people are our best resource. Listen, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
True entrepreneurs’ first thoughts are not about making a ton of money, they care most about wanting to make a difference. They want to do something that, as corny as it may sound, changes the world. If your biggest goal is to become rich, you almost certainly never will be.
Optimism is a great trait to have, realistic optimism that is. Leaders who are positive are much more effective than pessimistic entrepreneurs.
Time management is something that I developed that has really helped me out. I am most productive between 8 and 10 a.m. and between 1 and 3 p.m., so that’s the time when I focus on my most important tasks of the day. Find your regimented schedule.
What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
I said this previously but I will say it again, do what you love! You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I am sure you have heard that many times before but it is absolutely the truth. Focus on your business 100 per cent, go all in. You will fall, everybody fails and that is a part of being an entrepreneur. Learn from your mistakes and get back on track. Network as much as possible. Successful people usually love to share with you their experiences and will provide valuable insights.
Self-improvement is something every entrepreneur should focus on all throughout their life. I am always trying to improve and better educate myself, perfection is impossible and that means that everyone has room to improve. Lastly, do things outside of your comfort zone. If you have a fear of public speaking, don’t shy away from it, push yourself into those kind of situations. The only thing you have to lose if your fear of it. You will start to become more comfortable and you will drastically improve on these skills.
Don’t be afraid of rejection. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes that has rang true for me in my life so far.
“As I look back on my life I wish I would have realized that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.”
*Vancouver Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs and startups that are making a local and even a global impact. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send an email to casey(at)vancitybuzz(dot)com to explain why you’re a fit.