BACKSTAGE PASS: Chef Bill Presents

While the Bay Street storefront may be new, Chef Bill Presents has been a going concern for five years.

“We are very new to Midland as a store, but Chef Bill Presents has been in business since 2016 where I came out of retirement basically because I was looking for something I could do that would bring me around people which I enjoy,” says chef Bill Proulx.

Proulx started his post-retirement venture by going to farmers’ markets to sell baking and make a little money, but noticed other vendors selling jams.

“I thought to myself, ‘I can do that’ since I’ve been canning for years,” he explains. “But I wanted to be different so my first jam was a Strawberry Daiquiri.”

To do that, he took strawberries, lime juice and rum and turned it into a jam using all fresh fruit and, yes, lots of rum. That appealed to customers and he sold his jam jars at the first farmers’ market he attended.

From there, he went to a blueberry lemon gin jam. His reasoning; he’s not a fan of blueberries and wanted to create something he would like to eat. And again, this offering also quickly sold out.

“Then I was off and running developing more flavours,” he recalls. “Some flavours just happened, but some took a long time to make right.”

He also started going to bigger markets and shows where he did well, including a planned spot at Midland’s 2020 Buttertart Festival.

But then COVID hit Canada and the world stopped for him and everyone else.

“I was about to close the business in August 2020 and then the wholesale end of the business took off,” he says, noting Ontario retailers that sell his products started ordering more and online sales picked up.

Rather than continuing renting a proper kitchen to produce his products, he and his girlfriend Sarah thought a permanent retail space might work. After looking in Toronto, Barrie and Gravenhurst, they found their perfect location in Midland.

He was happy to be back in Midland where he was born and close to his parents.

“Sarah really liked the look and feel of Midland and being able to walk down the street and say hello to people and they say hello back. Plus Sarah is working from home now and will be for the foreseeable future so we thought ‘why not?’”

They signed the lease and the first Chef Bill Presents store was in the making.

“We are so happy we are here. We have great customers and are getting new customers all the time as people discover the store,” Proulx adds. “We are very happy here and look forward to building our future here in Midland.”

Proulx says people enjoy coming to the store because of the atmosphere they’ve created.

“We have a lot of comments of how comfortable, fun and home-like it feels,” he says. “Plus, there’s the curiosity of what is a Drunken Jam?”

As well, the food is always made fresh to order as they don’t have a microwave, holding table or deep fryer.

“We also offer a different type of menu ensuring we use high quality products, offer vegetarian options and we always try to go that one step above good customer service,” he says. “We do know if our customers are not happy and returning we will not be here.”

Besides Drunken Jams, the store offers a variety of unique items, including cheese from Fromagerie Kapuskoise in Kapuskasing, unique 

chocolate bars from Sudbury, Birch Bark Coffee from Birch Island Ontario based out of Ottawa, food coating from Hanmer, Happy Hour cupcake mixes from Toronto and charcuteries boards from Port McNicoll along with their own vintage items that furnish the store.

“Come in and explore, order something from our daily menu, order from our weekly special, sit down and enjoy or bring home,” Proux says. “We even have freezer meals that you can pick up and bring home to your family.

“Just even come in and say ‘hello.’ We will be glad to see you and greet you with a smile; even though it’s under a mask.”

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