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Working smarter, not harder

Health and wellness is the baseline of business for Lannie Rae Gourmet                                                                                                          

For Alannah Gamblin-Jensen, running a Banff bakery that led to a growing online business of baking mixes (pancakes/waffles, beer bread, and scones), shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the determined, accidental entrepreneur says she’s always made the best of whatever life has thrown at her.

That includes a long ago move west from her native Labrador, helping out in-laws and eventually taking over a busy Banff bakeshop, (cookies, cakes and loaves, catering and more) and then creating the home-grown online site, Lannie Rae Gourmet. If that wasn’t enough, Gamblin-Jensen has done it while raising a young family in Cochrane and dealing with an old skiing injury that led to a sometimes-debilitating diagnosis.

Gamblin-Jensen’s touch is evident across a website of high-end pancake/waffle mixes and more; a boutique-type collection of flavours like pear frangipane, pistachio and fig and pumpkin crème brulée, to name a few. Add eggs and milk and voila, you’re in business: Think Williams Sonoma, with a Canadian twist.

Even though the young Gamblin baked with her mom as a youngster, she says she couldn’t have foreseen adding catering or specialty baking to the early days of her journey, but it’s what happened. Special occasion cakes? Sure. Catering breakfasts, adding lunchtime soups and sandwiches? Why not?

“We baked a ton - I made 2,000 cupcakes in one day,” Gamblin-Jensen recalls of early days working with husband Trevor at the Banff operation, even as he kept another day job. “I’m stubborn. When someone asked me to bake an Eeyore cake for a birthday, it made me determined to figure out how to do it.”

That ‘let’s give it a try’ attitude has served the marketing-savvy entrepreneur well. When the retail business was slowing, Gamblin-Jensen started selling dry mixes of scones and cookies along with packages of cake decorations, tubs of icing/fondant etc. at take-and-bake pricing. Before closing up the bricks and mortar operation in about 2010, she also fortuitously held onto baking equipment and recipes.

“I filled the shelves with bags of mixes; the concept was a hit,” says Gamblin-Jensen. 

Though Lannie Rae Gourmet was still just a percolating idea, life came calling. After the birth of her second child, daughter Evynne, Gamblin-Jensen fell ill with what eventually was diagnosed as the autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s Disease (and the discovery that her back problems were due to a broken back from a skiing injury years earlier). 

“I don’t think the word defeat is in her vocabulary,” said friend and eventual Lannie Rae operations staffer Kerri Dance, who went from helping Gamblin-Jensen package and send product to assistance with drawing up a business plan for the company.

After the retail operation shut, Gamblin-Jensen’s work in event design led to another bit of serendipity. She added her go-to gingerbread and eggnog-flavoured pancake/waffle dry mixes to a friends’ basket at a trade show event, and soon the word of mouth from friends and family got the ball rolling again.

“It was a slow climb, but that led to making a basic website, and then Lannie Rae Gourmet got a nod in Avenue Magazine’s ‘Top Gifts Under $20’, “ Gamblin-Jensen says. “That nudged us along; so did getting a call from Calgary Stampede to be part of their corporate gifting division, and love from a social media influencer who made so many people aware of us.”

Lannie Rae Gourmet (Gamblin-Jensen’s moniker used by her mom for her first and middle name), has had its ups and downs: COVID-19, for example, put a wrench in sales, but also fuelled the growing ‘shop local’ movement among consumers. It also gave Gamblin-Jensen a time to slow down at home and get creative with her daughter through YouTube bread-making videos; that built the company’s profile too.

“We all faced the same flour shortages and supply chain issues—so we stayed home, took care of a couple of newborn lambs and baked beer bread,” laughs Gamblin-Jensen, noting the other key members of her team: daughter Evynne and her friend Mackenzie Williams and sometimes, son Logan.  

“We couldn’t get packaging materials or access to a kitchen, so our walk out basement became the production area. My daughter and I created vintage-style packing bags from old sheets around the house. It was a lovely time, and everything played together. We made it a way for our family to connect.”

And though she says she doesn’t play the ‘PR game’, Gamblin-Jensen’s affinity for posting on social media and making conversation with followers is another tool in the kit to boost the company profile.

“Being creative is a blessing and a curse. I’m always thinking about what flavour or product I can do next. But mental health has become huge to me,” she adds. “So having some privacy, keeping off social media on weekends—not sharing as much—it’s important. My husband and friends help me with that.”

And friends have become colleagues; like the company’s part time accountant Nancy Lewis-Moore, and Dance, who Gamblin-Jensen says has become an essential sounding board for ideas. Whether they’re packing product together, scouting kitchen facilities or walking/talking/brainstorming, Gamblin-Jensen says Dance and company help her get out of the operational lane. “I’m grateful for the break of always being ‘on’,” she adds.

“Alannah’s a creative mind that never stops, but I ask questions and bring a different perspective,” adds Dance, who left her own job in Banff as a recreation programmer to join Lannie Rae Gourmet. “The ideas are already there, plus I love the products. The amount going out is inspiring.”

Gamblin-Jensen admits there have been times she’s been ready to hang up her apron. A recent scouting of production facilities in Leduc has taken a back seat, for now, as the company boss says keeping things close to home, manageable and with wellness in mind is paramount.

Having a concrete business plan, something to follow and with measurable goals has been a lifesaver too, admits the often-spontaneous Gamblin-Jensen. 

“Sales aren’t where we need them to be to make a giant leap, and that’s okay,” she says. Laying low is perfectly fine for now; there is no rush to be bigger.”

Gamblin-Jensen says the business will make use of its home space with a revamped kitchen and added equipment for greater efficiency. Work continues with a bulk recipe manufacturer, and the company is reaching out to a community kitchen to see about fundraising co-packing opportunities.

“We’re reinventing the wheel on all aspects—re-examining our online presence and seeking out e-commerce opportunities,” she says, pointing to development of a wholesale ordering portal, and a fundraising portal. The company’s efforts as a social enterprise include a Brighten Up Breakfast campaign honouring Random Acts of Kindness and support for local food banks.

“Health and wellness are always at the forefront. I’m content with all the changes, and bringing things back to a better basics.”


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