2011 Winners

Thunder Bay | Young Entrepreneur

Marija Harp

Marija Harp

The owner of Sweet Pea's Home Catering is poised to open her own restaurant in Thunder Bay soon, furthering her dreams in the culinary industry.

"I started off cooking for tree planters and I really enjoyed being able to feed people. There was camaraderie that developed with the food and I found out I excelled at it too," says Marija Harp.

Harp credits the self-employment benefit program that got her started for much of her success.

"It was the opportunity I needed, offering me self-employment benefits while I was creating and establishing the business."

They also introduced Harp to PARO, a woman-centred organization that promotes enterpreneurship. PARO's staff helped her with a business plan and connected her with mentors.

"They delivered their services in a manner specific to women. They know this community and they know what women in this area are involved in and need. They had a true understanding of me and my business."

Harp's new restaurant, also called Sweat Pea's, will seat 30. She's intentionally kept it small.

"Keeping things simple and manageable helps me succeed. There's no point setting myself up for failure. By starting small, and building on that, I know I'll reach my goals."

She used the same strategy for her catering company, having started with a limited menu, which she then grew based on demand and dish popularity.

"Catering got me to this point, and even with the restaurant, I want to keep filling the niche for specialty catering including vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. It's also fun to be a part of people's most important occasions, even if it is a peripheral one."

Her other reason for keeping the restaurant small is to allow her to achieve a balance between work, family and home.

"Knowing my limitations is important. Ensuring I have time for my partner, my friends, and my family is paramount even if I have to slot time with them into a schedule. After all, how can you be at your peak to run your business, and be part of your community, if you are not taken care of?"

Harp notes Sweet Pea's is all about family. Her mother and brother were always there for her, "whether it was driving me to events or hauling stuff to the dump."

She stresses the importance of her partner as well. "Corrie has been a great motivator, source of emotional support, fountain of ideas, and a wealth of knowledge."

She also credits the help of her friends, like Jon Mintenko, who will be the restaurant front-of-house manager. Last but not least, Harp adds without the support of the greater community, there would be no Sweet Pea's catering or restaurant.

Harp's goal has always been to give back to the community.

"It made me who I am. I grew up in the neighbourhood where the restaurant will be. I like the connectiveness of putting down roots in the same area."