Nikos Mantis sees Pinetree Catering, the business he opened in 2013, as a grand opportunity for him and his growing team to build community through food, putting the long- and short-term good of Thunder Bay right into his bottom line where the rest of us can see it and be inspired, motivated, and – most often – made very, very hungry.
We live in a world where foodservice businesses often find themselves competing to offer the lowest prices. Under this model, family farms are being squeezed out of existence, kitchen environments can be stressful and toxic and people are losing the ability to delight themselves with the products of their home kitchens. This model isn’t good enough for Pinetree Catering or its offshoots Local Motion Food Truck and Sapling Bakery, where Nikos’ triple-bottom-line approach has taken root and scattered seeds of change throughout the community.
From the start, Nikos wanted three things from his business: to create closer ties within the community, to offer work conditions he can be proud of, and to support food education and literacy to help people take back the food skills we’ve been shedding since the invention of the TV dinner in the 50s. In just five years he’s made remarkable change in our community on all three fronts.
Closer ties within the community go hand-in-hand with Nikos’ procurement model, which uses as much locally-grown food as possible. He plans carefully and works closely with local farmers to ensure he knows what they’ve got to offer and they know what his needs will be. As well as reducing food miles, the relationship supports revenue streams for area farmers and also promotes awareness of local foods. You’ll regularly see mentions of Tarrymore Farms’ beef, Thunder Oak’s cheese, Veg-e-tate Market Garden’s greens and pork from Walkabout or Sandy Acres Farm on the Local Motion menu. His suppliers also benefit from having an ace team prepare their products, giving many people their first taste of local meat or produce under delicious conditions and encouraging people to buy farm products themselves.
Although he didn’t mention it, Nikos’ direct dealings with the farm community mean that a larger-than-average percentage of his customers’ spending supports the local economy. Studies have shown that farmers who sell directly to consumers tend to buy more supplies locally as well as employing more local labour, so dollars spent with them generate twice as much economic benefit as buying from a grocery store. When you use Pinetree’s catering services, order from the food truck or take home a loaf of crusty bread made with Brule Creek flour from the bakery, you support an amazing team at Pinetree as well as the farmers, processors and other small businesses that help keep them in business.
In April Nikos was recognized by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce as the 2018 Business Person of the Year. His entire acceptance speech focused on the people around him who made it possible. That’s not surprising, considering his second goal for the business is to create ideal work conditions for himself and his team.
Having worked in a variety of institutional and commercial kitchens, Nikos has developed strong feelings about mutual respect and safety in the kitchen that have translated into a safe environment where staff can ask for what they need to enjoy and excel at their work. He also recognizes excellence, fosters creativity and creates opportunities for staff to pursue their own goals; the opening of Sapling Bakery served to showcase the talents of lead baker Megan Paxton and let her train her own baker apprentices, as well as supplying baked goods for the other two operations. Chef Errol Hoeppner, a recent arrival to Thunder Bay, has migrated into a position as Pinetree’s food production lead, where his meticulous nature and love of a challenge help maintain the consistency and quality Pinetree’s customers have come to expect. Co-owner Shawna Deagle initially worked as Pinetree’s Services Manager, where her good nature, good taste and organizational skills soon gained the trust of Pinetree clients looking to hold their dream events.
Nikos’ approach to team-building has led his team to become a collaborative group of skilled individuals constantly teaching and learning from one another. Knowing he’s got a competent team in the kitchen, he’s been able to work on other projects – particularly his goal of promoting food literacy.
In addition to the cooking classes Pinetree offers the public, Nikos was responsible for developing the Get Fresh Café cafeteria program at Lakehead Public Schools in partnership with Roots to Harvest. The project featured a menu revamp and intensive hands-on staff training as they replaced highly processed foods with fresh, made from scratch, local food offerings in high school cafeterias across the Lakehead Board. He’s also run many volunteer cooking instruction and kitchen competency training sessions with organizations like the RFDA, Our Kids Count and Roots to Harvest, helping those organizations spread food skills and the use of local ingredients widely throughout the city.
When you choose one of the Pinetree Catering businesses, you’re also putting your money where your mouth is, helping to build community and putting the good of Thunder Bay into your bottom line. By supporting this local business you also support local farmers, other small businesses, the growing team of foodies working alongside Nikos and a broad portfolio of community work that helps to improve the eating habits and the food knowledge of local youth.