Without strong English language skills, Canadian work experience, and an understanding of Canadian workplace culture, newcomers may have difficulty finding work in Canada. Whether as an employee or an entrepreneur, catering is one way to get a foot in the door.
The catering industry could be a good choice for newcomers interested in entrepreneurship. It’s an option for those with a background in cooking and preparing food for their families, even if they’ve never cooked professionally. It’s by sharing food from their countries of origin that newcomers can both remind themselves of home and begin to feel at home in Canada. On the other hand, possible menu offerings are endless, limited only by imagination and time. If you can identify a niche in your local food scene, specialize in it, and fill an existing demand, customers are more likely to gravitate to you when cravings hit.
Catering businesses can start on a small scale and budget, if necessary. There is flexibility in terms of the type of food produced, production locations, and hours committed to the business, which make it easier to establish a viable business plan. Working from home is particularly attractive to parents as a way to balance work with family obligations. As described in The Mystery of the Baklava Man (The Tyee, April 5/18), it’s a way to earn money and keep busy when other jobs are hard to come by.
Common difficulties centre on planning and organization. Food has to be prepared and delivered on time, at the risk of unhappy clients, and employees should be dependable to keep on schedule. The ability to manage people—to create an environment where they’re motivated to work hard, but cared for such that they want to stay long-term—is a catalyst for any up-and-coming venture.
For more details on entrepreneurship for newcomers, see
- Our post, Entrepreneurship – starting a business in Canada;
- The Government of Canada’s Restaurant and catering start-up checklist; and
- FedDev Ontario Small Business Services’ How to start a restaurant or catering business in Ontario.
- At the end of this article, we have also included links to media stories about different catering businesses started by newcomers across Canada.
As newcomer catering businesses grow, they need to employ others to help prepare, deliver, and serve food. This creates jobs for other newcomers without the financial risk of being business owners themselves. Employees may not need to communicate in English if management happens to speak their mother tongue.
Banquet halls and other special event facilities rely heavily on caterers, offering work on a part-time or as-needed basis. The events could be weddings, corporate meetings, or social and cultural celebrations with hundreds or thousands of people in attendance. Thankfully, there are a handful of online locations where caterers can list their services:
Cooking and food prep – the basic elements of catering
At its root, catering involves cooking and customer service. See our posts on the restaurant and quick service sector and the food processing and production sector for more guidance on these elements.
Regulation and certification
There is no official certification or licensing requirement for a person to work as a caterer in Canada. However, food service premises are often subject to regulation, including food safety certification. As explained on the City of Toronto website, “any establishment where food or milk is manufactured, processed, stored, handled, displayed, distributed, transported, sold or offered for sale, excluding private residences” is considered a food service premise. Other provinces and municipalities hold the same or similar definitions of food service premises. See here, for example, for the province of British Columbia.
Generally, in Ontario, a food service premise must have at least one employee on site at all times with a valid food safety certificate. These are fairly straightforward to obtain. The required courses are available online and qualifying exams can be requested in languages other than English. For more information about food safety certification, visit our post on restaurant and quick service employment.
Not only are there food safety regulations for catering businesses, but municipalities often have restrictive zoning by-laws. These by-laws may forbid food preparation facilities within some or all residential areas. For context, please refer to, Complex rules for home-based food spark need for commercial kitchens (CBC, July 18/15), and, Home-based food sellers flout Peel bylaws (Mississauga.com, Nov 28/12).
In some municipalities, home-based cooks can only sell their products at farmers’ markets. In other cases, such as outlined by the Government of Alberta, any home-based food business must be “physically separated from the rest of the house. All foods and equipment used in the food business must be stored in this area. You cannot use your household kitchen for your food business.” Following the law is the easiest way to peace of mind and freeing up time for business strategy and innovation.
Assuming compliance with food safety and zoning regulations, a newcomer might start a small-scale catering business from home. But as it progresses, more space becomes necessary, and production must be transferred to a commercial or community kitchen. Larger scale businesses benefit from these facilities because supplies are easier to access, they’re built to comply with local food safety regulations, and cumbersome equipment—such as deep fat fryers, mixers, and large commercial ovens—are shared.
Commercial kitchens are often designed to be shared by several food businesses. Sometimes, restaurants with limited hours rent out their kitchens while closed to customers. Businesses can rent these facilities for a range of $20 to $40/hour. Prices vary according to location, available equipment, and the time of day the kitchen will be rented. During peak hours, rental rates are higher.
Community kitchens can be within schools, churches, and community halls. They are typically used only for functions at these venues, but some may be willing to rent or lend them to newcomers as a form of support. Something to keep in mind is that not all community kitchens are suitable for all types of cooking. Some may only hold permits to reheat food or use small appliances like coffee makers. Their electrical wiring and ventilation systems may not be up to code for deep-fat frying. Newcomers considering the use of any kitchen space should ensure that they can legally prepare the items on their menus.
Newcomers can search available commercial and community kitchens using Google or Kijiji. We recommend narrowing the scope to your city and using “community kitchen”, “commercial kitchen rental”, or “commercial kitchen space rent” in the search field. Some kitchens are operated by non-profit organizations at very reasonable rates. See options in the GTA below:
- Alimentary Initiatives;
- Manning Canning;
- Commercial Kitchen Rentals Canada;
- Toronto Commercial Kitchen Inventory; and
- Scadding Court Community Centre.
Need for English language proficiency
The need for English language proficiency in the catering industry depends on a number of factors. As noted above, if a newcomer is employed by a catering company where their mother tongue is spoken, there may be no need for developed English. Moreover, some catering businesses are created as social enterprises, specifically designed for newcomers and other refugees to find work.
If a newcomer wishes to start a catering company, they will likely need to interact in English with ease. Although some programs assist newcomers with paperwork to start a business in Canada, a business owner still has to manage marketing materials, handle financial records, communicate with customers and suppliers, and complete government forms related to taxes. The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks suggests that small business owners have a minimum of CLB 3 for reading and CLB 6-7 for speaking, listening, and writing.
Two social enterprises of potential interest to catering entrepreneurs in Toronto are incubators. The first is called District Ventures Kitchen. This non-profit “provides access to shared production and packaging facilities, business advisory services and a structured training program in order to help entrepreneurs build and grow their food processing business.” Among its programs are boot camps to assess market feasibility and commercialization, (A previous incarnation of this incubator was known as Food Starter, but it closed in 2018. The new venture launched in late 2019.) The second, non-profit incubator is FoodShare’s Toronto Kitchen Incubator, which provides both cooking classes and space rentals for individuals and startups.
Another example of a social enterprise is Vancouver’s Flavours of Hope. As explained in an article, Flavours of Hope: Pop-up dinners connect refugee women to new communities (VanvouverisAwesome.com, May 26/18), “the premise is to offer refugee women who are passionate about food an opportunity to cook for members of their new community.” They are willing to work with women of all ethnicities with varying levels of English language proficiency. At one Flavours of Hope dinner, the founder and the Kurdish women cooking the meal had no language in common, but worked together to serve up a feast. We’ve posted media stories on our website about these and similar catering social enterprises, including:
- Food Cluster Program (Toronto Enterprise Fund) ;
- FoodShare’s Toronto Kitchen Incubator, Toronto
- District Ventures Kitchen, Toronto;
- Baraka Syrian Home Cooking, Ottawa;
- Karam Kitchen, Hamilton;
- Les Filles Fattoush;
- Women Weaving Their Dreams;
- Veith House Kitchen Party.
Toronto’s Depanneur used to run a non-profit called Newcomer Kitchen but it is currently on hiatus. Here, Syrian refugee women were invited to cook a weekly meal, to be sold online for pickup or delivery, with the proceeds shared among the cooks. Their goal was to create a model replicable by any newcomer group, in any restaurant kitchen, in any city in the world.
Private catering businesses in the news
We’ve also posted media stories on this website for a number of private catering businesses, which have been started by refugee newcomers in Canada. (See the links to media stories, below, or use our search bar to find them.) These businesses include:
- Jeeran 55;
- Made with Love;
- Damascus Foods;
- Rasmi’s Falafel, Orangeville;
- Raj-Han Catering, Meaford;
- Beroea, Toronto.
Catering media stories
Below this post you will find links to many stories in the media about catering, restaurants, food preparation, and entrepreneurship. To view only stories about catering, find the first story link, below that has the tag “catering”, and click on that.