Food Innovator Julie Gryba

When Julie Gryba moved back to Saskatoon after spending seven years in Alberta, she had no idea that she was about to become an entrepreneur. She’d been an electrician, and her husband worked in the oil fields. While on maternity leave with her third child (her kids are now aged eight, six, and three), Gryba’s sister Caitlin Olauson approached her about starting a food business, which proved hugely successful.

Wanting to help others succeed, their entrepreneurial activities grew. In January 2017 the sisters, along with a partner, started a hub and incubator for other local food entrepreneurs in Saskatoon, The Local Kitchen. We asked Gryba about finding her purpose, what it means to her community, and how she makes it work while raising three kids.

Why did you start doing what you do?

My sister had developed the Local Bar, which is a snack bar made of locally grown ingredients, as part of her degree in food science. She asked me to go in on it with her as a business. We recognized that the local food movement was a growing trend here in Saskatoon, and that people were starting to become really intrigued by the idea of buying local and utilizing our natural resources. The bar was a huge hit, we soon saw that there was a lot of interest in buying foods that were actually produced here.

When we were starting the bar, we got to meet a lot of people who work within the food industry in Saskatoon and just were amazed by how much culinary talent there is here. Plus, a lot of these people had innovative ideas but weren’t sharing them with each other, because there was no real space where everyone was just getting together to do that. So, we decided it would be cool to create a space where people could come together and create products, and be supported in that. We made a business plan, visited kitchens in other cities, and started the Local Kitchen in January of this year.

Why did Saskatoon need this space?

We already have the Food Centre here in Saskatoon — it’s an 11 million dollar facility run through the government where people can make their products. That’s where we produce the Local Bars, although we do our product development here at the kitchen. So if we have someone who is the member of the kitchen and is wanting to do a food product, we also really try to help them their ducks in order before they go to the Food Centre so they’re not wasting their money and time there.

What does this work bring to your life?
It sort of feels like having a fourth child. I love doing it and I feel very fortunate to have something that is just mine, it sort of takes my mind off of my family, but I feel motivated and like I’m really making a change in my city and in our little corner of the world and it’s like unbelievably fulfilling in that sense.

It’s so much more fulfilling for me than being an electrician. As much as I sort of enjoyed it, I did it more for financial gain and not for fulfillment in any other way.

Has parenthood changed how you view your work?

Well, I’ve completely changed what I do. Although the paycheque was great when I was an electrician, once you have kids it really sharpens your focus of where your attention needs to be. And, although we make far less money than when I was an electrician and my husband was working in the oil fields and we had no kids, we’re much happier doing what we love and being able to enjoy our children.

What do your kids think about what you do?

Well, they think it’s pretty cool. My daughter, who is my eldest, she’s very attached and a little bit of a worry wort. I think if I had gone back to work full time and was not able to be as involved at home as I still am now, it would have caused her some grief. So, more than she even probably knows, she is happy that I can be there when she gets home from school and take the day off when there’s something they need. Also, it’s so cool to watch them play ‘store owner’ (there’s a store at the Local Kitchen selling locally made products), you know I hear her telling her friends that I own this cool place in the city and it makes me feel probably the most proud of all.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about working/living with purpose?

It’s very hard to say, because I wasn’t there saying, “Alright, time for me to find a purpose.” Just keep your eyes open and look for opportunities that come along. This certainly was not really something that I thought I would see myself doing in the future. Once you find it and get involved in it, you start to explore it more and feel that drive and that motivation come too. So just always being present and aware of what’s around you, because there are always opportunities.

What do you think you have in common with other moms?

Having my work come second, and not feeling I get the support that I should as a working mom. It is always me that has to stay home when the kids are sick because I have this more flexible schedule, but it is hard, I don’t want to miss meetings either! My daughter was like I have a stomach ache this morning and I was like no, no you can not, I have to go to work today!

I’ve asked my husband before, “Can I just make one of the kids a little bed in your office? Can they just sleep? And he’s like, “It’s very distracting for me honey.” And then I’m like, “Okay well but then I have to miss a whole day at work if you don’t make this bed at work situation work.” It gets ridiculous.

What’s been hardest about what you do?

It’s really tough to feel like you’re missing out on things that you know would be good for your business because you have to put your focus on your family at that time. I struggle with this a lot of the time. For example, I was still nursing when we were starting the business and I didn’t get to go and check out kitchens in other cities, which would have been a lot of fun. But I’m really lucky to have partners to take those opportunities for us. We usually have someone who can represent and go, but it’s still not the same as doing it on your own.

What other moms do you admire?
I’m most impressed by moms that are just putting it all out there and being honest. They’re not afraid to say if today was a shit day. I saw this meme once that said, “A mom that doesn’t swear is not a mom to be trusted,” and I thought that’s so true! All the moms I know that are like, “I can’t swear in case the little ones might overhear,” I can’t relate to them at all.

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The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

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