Thompson Tran has always been passionate about people, profit, and the planet! Growing up in an immigrant family full of hard-working entrepreneurs, Thompson worked since age six to help support his family. As an adult, his family gave him that money back to invest in himself and create a business opportunity that aligned with his beliefs. “I wanted the freedom to make choices that reflected my beliefs in food literacy, sustainability, and providing a sense of community,” he explains. With Thompson’s dream and entrepreneurial spirit, the Wooden Boat Food Company was born!
The Wooden Boat Food Company started in 2015 as a small boutique catering company in Port Moody, BC. In 2017, the Wooden Boat Food Company kitchen and take-out restaurant was opened with the mission of becoming zero-waste. Thompson built a commercial kitchen himself in Waterloo, Ontario and opened a second location in St. Jacob’s shortly after. He found success through the creation of his award-winning sauces; Nuoc Cham which is a Vietnamese dipping sauce, and Ot, which is a sweet chili sauce. While Thompson was originally heavily focused on selling these delicious sauces, he quickly realized that customers loved the flavourful and delicious dishes that accompanied them, and thus created a profitable business plan that included both through his restaurant. Everything seemed to be going well for Thompson and the Wooden Boat Food Company!
However, during the pandemic, the food industry was suffering and restaurants were required to close for health and safety reasons. While this was a significant obstacle for many, Thompson found a creative solution to keep the lights on and continue to serve his customers his delicious food. He began offering catering services and pop-up stores where consumers were required to pre-order; limiting the number of spaces and inventory. He also shifted some of the company’s focus to selling sauces in retail stores and created a feeling of exclusivity by only opening a few days a week once restrictions lifted. This decision led to success during the pandemic, as the Wooden Boat Food Company’s business doubled and “instead of opening five days per week, [they] opened three days per week and sold out, creating the sense of FOMO (fear of missing out)”.
After this, Thompson made the difficult decision to not reopen his restaurant, but instead convert his kitchen space into a rental commissary and incubation kitchen space. He was considering this idea prior to the pandemic as a response to a market need for entrepreneurs, as many new startups do not have the capital investment for their own kitchens. The ongoing financial struggles of restaurant owners during the pandemic highlighted the need for this type of common area, so Thompson took this opportunity to completely change his business plan. While closing his kitchen was an emotional decision, Thompson decided that from a practical standpoint, it was time to pivot the focus of the Wooden Boat Food Company and cater to what the market needed most. Thompson’s decisiveness and practicality allowed him to find a creative solution to move his business forward despite the challenges he faced during this difficult time.
As a small business competing against big corporate players, The Wooden Boat Food Company had to overcome many challenges including price-sensitivity and lack of capital. Since participating in Innovation Guelph (IG)’s Startup program, Thompson has gained a lot of applicable advice that helped his business to adapt and grow. He has taken advantage of the mentorship the program offers and has learned a lot from his mentor’s wins, mistakes, insights, and experiences. Like over 70% of entrepreneurs, Thompson often felt lonely but his journey with IG taught him that he is far from alone. Through the Startup program, he has met many entrepreneurs who not only share his interest in food, but also needed a kitchen for their products. Thompson’s involvement in IG’s Startup program has allowed him to find like-minded individuals and provide solutions for his new friends in the industry!
The success of the Wooden Boat Food Company is sure to continue, as Thompson plans to scale his business to a larger building so he can expand his offerings to entrepreneurs using his kitchen commissary. His goals are to increase efficiencies, reduce redundancies, and continue to improve his sustainable practices so he can have an even more positive impact on the planet. Thompson is on the path to achieving all the goals he has had since he was six years old – he is running a profitable, sustainable business that has created an incredible sense of community! Thompson’s advice for upcoming entrepreneurs is simple – “always move forward”. He attributes his ability to learn, grow and make timely decisions to his company’s success and the best is yet to come for both Thompson and the Wooden Boat Food Company.
Learn more here: https://www.wbfood.ca/