As creators of the iconic pastry often cited as one of the most popular sweet treats in Canada, Pam and Grant Hooker helped put Ottawa on our national culinary map. The original ByWard Market BeaverTails® location opened in 1980, but you can now find their delicious pastries at over 100 locations across North America as well as in Japan, South Korea and Dubai. Ottawa At Home spoke with the Hookers about their sweet success.
WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THE BEAVERTAILS® RECIPE? The pastries we call BeaverTails® are pretty true to my German/Ukrainian grandmother’s recipe. She served them to us as a breakfast treat and as kids we could eat as many as we wanted, typically devouring four or five in one sitting.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO START THE BUSINESS? We sold our first BeaverTails® pastry in 1978 at a community music and crafts fair in Killaloe that we had helped organize. As was the case in my grandmother’s kitchen, people just couldn’t get enough of our hot, fresh, delicious new food item.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOU WERE ONTO SOMETHING REALLY BIG? After experimenting with BeaverTails® at a few other small community fairs, we moved to Ottawa, and in June of 1980 opened the booth that you can still see in the ByWard Market. It was a slow start there, but that winter we built another booth on Dow’s Lake for Winterlude. We had the same reaction we’d had in Killaloe and our faith in the possibility of a BeaverTails® business was renewed. Our daughter hand-painted a sign inviting people to visit our ByWard store in the spring, and it paid off.
DID YOU EVER ENVISION SELLING ALL ACROSS CANADA AND AROUND THE WORLD? We had no formal business training. We chased permission to be part of our first Winterlude because our ByWard store was closed for the season and we were in debt. We just started climbing step by step, always making sure that the product we served was hot, fresh and offered with a touch of friendliness.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO START FRANCHISING? After over a decade on the Rideau Canal Skateway and in the ByWard Market, things were ticking along. We met Robert Libbey and felt he could successfully package our experience for others. BeaverTails Canada Inc., our franchising company, was born and in a few years we had 40 franchises. In 2002, three young people who had been working for us in Montreal for over a decade wanted to purchase controlling interest in the franchise company. They continue to amaze us and have grown the company to 118 stores.
ARE YOU STILL INVOLVED WITH THE COMPANY? We hold a significant minority position in the franchising company, but play a minimal role. We retained exclusive rights to the business in and around the National Capital Region and are still passionately involved with our stores in Ottawa, plus booths at major local festivals and fairs. We’re fortunate to have brought Andy Cullen back to help run our local operations so we can spend time enjoying our 30-year old boat in Florida, our 40-year-old motorcoach on the west coast and our log house in the woods where we first prepared BeaverTails® dough