2019 IW Winners

Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Timmins

Brianna Humphrey

Brianna Humphrey

Brianna Humphrey is about as rad as you’d expect from someone who owns a restaurant called Radical Gardens.

The Timmins, Ont.-based restaurateur, vegetable gardener, baker, and now mushroom farmer has tried on a few hats over the years, but her favourite ones have always involved food.

After being “nicely asked to leave high school,” Humphrey did a short stint at art school in southern Ontario, but that didn’t last long.

“I don’t know what I was expecting out of the art world, but I just had it one day and called my mom and told her I was done,” said Humphrey.

Always an avid baker, Humphrey worked as a pastry chef for a while before getting seriously sick with antibiotic- resistant C. Difficile. She spent a year recovering, essentially housebound, before getting more bad news.

“It just pillaged my entire system. By the time I was clean of it I went to a doctor in Toronto and while I was there they discovered I am celiac,” said Humphrey. The autoimmune disease meant she couldn’t consume any gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.

That launched her current path, although it’s been winding, and had a rough start. “I started growing tomatoes to just get over it, and my Italian-American husband at the time ate a lot of tomatoes,” said Humphrey. “I was broke and needed to keep us in tomatoes. I grew 575 plants but got only two bushels … my aunt was like ‘Wow, you suck.’”

At this point, she started working on farms in exchange for food to learn from the experts. Before long, she was confident enough to go it alone with some friends.

“The next summer I attacked it and managed to turn a profit,” said Humphrey. “Then a little lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘We can probably do something with this! Let’s just go the full acre!’ God forbid I do something small.”

They struggled to generate enough revenue at farmers markets, or through the online market they started. It turned out people didn’t know how to cook what they grew.

She and a friend decided to change tack and open a breakfast restaurant, but two weeks out from their much-advertised opening, they didn’t have a location.

“I’m out in my car in a rainstorm, parked outside of the building I own now, and noticed it was a catering company that had closed,” said Humphrey. “I called the real estate agent, he was just around the corner, and it was cheap. I bought it that day.”

It wasn’t pretty at first – they spent two weeks scrubbing on their hands and knees. Their first day saw lineups down the street.

Since that day in 2015, their menu has grown from one page of rotating dishes to an extensive array of tried-and-true recipes and specials. They serve everything from pho and shawarma to African dishes.

Before long they started catering events, and while their traditional farm wound up to be too taxing, they’ve recently started farming mushrooms to supplement their revenue and dishes.

Despite all of her success, Humphrey remains humble and humorous. “I’m a high school dropout – I’m glad that I’ve amounted to freakin’ something!” said Humphrey. “We’re just a bunch of pirates in a building.”