Businessn Profile: Bannock Express: From Pandemic Risk to Culinary Triumph
- NC Raine | November 29, 2023
Do Dragons love bannock? We’ll find out in a few months.
There’s been a gradual bannock takeover in Saskatchewan thanks to Rachel Smith, owner of Bannock Express.
It all started as a catering company in 2016, when Smith decided to take a chance and open a restaurant during the pandemic.
The risk paid off, with Smith operating a successful restaurant on 22nd Street in Saskatoon.
But it didn’t stop there.
From her business she began distributing her bannock mix across the province and has made it into several local grocery stores and on-reserve businesses.
Most recently, Smith taped an episode of Dragon’s Den, which will air sometime at the end of the upcoming season.
“I always found a passion cooking in the kitchen,” said Smith, member of Zagime Anishinabek (formerly Sakimay First Nations). “My healing journey was through cooking.”
Smith grew up in foster care and in residential schools, bouncing around from family to family, she said.
By the age of 13, she became a permanent ward, and was sent out of province until she eventually aged out of care.
Smith returned to Saskatchewan and reconnected with family – which is when her healing began.
“I think food is part of our identity,” said Smith. “It helps with healing, it helps us with our resiliency and being proud of who we are.”
Her restaurant, Bannock Express, has become a go-to spot in Saskatoon for bannock lovers.
It has become an Indigenous ‘destination restaurant’, with people flying in from out of town often making her place their first stop.
“It’s really grown to have a diverse mix of people,” said Smith. “We’ve had people from all over Canada come to check out our restaurant.”
The popularity of her bannock motivated Smith to package the mix and sell it.
Her bannock mix can be found in dozens of stores across the province, including Co-op gas stations, No Frills as well as several on-reserve businesses and will soon expand to include Sobey’s and Superstore.
Smith is planning to enter the Alberta market soon and hopes to eventually include all of Canada. Until then people can order online through her website.
She said it’s important for Indigenous food, like bannock, to be accessible to the Indigenous people and communities across the country.
“It’s really hard to get bannock, especially up north where food security is an issue, and where ingredients like flour and baking powder are so expensive,” she said. “So, I think being able to get food like this is an important aspect of food security.”
Earlier this year, she was in Toronto to pitch her business to investors on Dragon’s Den.
Smith applied several times in the past before finally securing a spot on the show.
“It was surreal,” she said. “But I wasn’t nervous at all. I worked hard to be in this position and practiced my pitch. I didn’t even notice the cameras running around me.”
Smith is contractually unable to comment on the results of the episode, but regardless of the outcome, she said it was a valuable experience.
“I’m so glad I was able to do it,,” she said. “And I encourage everyone to watch it because it’ll be a great episode.”