“Ontario's Indigenous caterer” Hiawatha Osawamick is at a point in her life where she is ready to take on a new adventure.
After 10 years of running a successful catering business, she plans to open Sudbury's first Indigenous restaurant — to be called Hiawatha's — on Regent Street in Sudbury next year.
Osawamick, who is from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, has been around good food all her life.
Her aunt owned Pat's Café in Wiikwemkoong, and her grandmother was a caterer as well.
“Growing up in the kitchen, watching them, listening to them and the love they had for the food, was just a positive environment for me,” she said.
It's what inspired her to pursue her own career in the industry.
After spending eight years working at Casino Rama in Orillia, Osawamick apprenticed at Georgian College and qualified as a Red Seal Chef. She started Hiawatha's Catering in 2008 while living in Toronto.
The early part of her career was busy, and she was forced to make certain sacrifices.
“I couldn't play hockey for the eight years I was there (at Casino Rama),” she said. “That was something I loved to do.”
When she gave birth to her first daughter in 2008, she decided to switch gears. Not only did she feel like there weren't many opportunities for a woman's advancement in such a male-dominated industry, but in her own words, “people like to eat on evenings and weekends and holidays.”
With a one-year-old at home, she wanted more flexibility in her work schedule.
Armed with her experience working in nine of Casino Rama's different restaurant outlets, including Chouchiching Court Buffet and St. Germain's Steakhouse, Osawamick ventured out on her own.
She started her catering business in the GTA, servicing the area between Niagara Falls and Oshawa.
About four years ago, she moved back home to be closer to her father. Her business then expanded to include all of Ontario and beyond. In fact, she recently catered a gala of over 500 people in Vancouver.
“I have established my clientele all over Turtle Island,” she said.
After experiencing the quality of her food and service, her customers just keep coming back.
She has catered for universities, colleges, the Greater Sudbury Police Service, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.
At the moment, she estimates that her catering business serves approximately 60 per cent Indigenous customers and 40 per cent non-Indigenous customers.
The most employees she has ever hired for a catering job totalled 40 for a gala event serving 2,600 at the Fort York historic site in downtown Toronto in July, 2017.
In January, she hopes to hire five to 10 employees to help at her new restaurant.
Her space at the Sudbury Events Centre is currently undergoing minor renovations. While the kitchen is good to go, the front end of the house needs some sprucing up.
Upon opening, she plans to offer guests a lunch service from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The restaurant will serve her specialties, including rabbit-stuffed mushrooms, fried pickerel, and her maple-glazed wild rice and berry parfait. One fan favourite that she has been making since her catering business opened is her maple-glazed meatballs.
“I've probably rolled a million meatballs in the 10 years that I've been here,” she said.
In the future, she also hopes to start retailing her famous maple butter, which tends to disappear off her buffet tables during catered events.
“I always knew who I was and where I come from growing up, so it wasn't hard or new for me to jump into Indigenous cuisine,” said Osawamick.
“There wasn't much out there when I started. I didn't have a mentor to look up to in Toronto. So I started developing what I knew from my experience and putting my Indigenous flair into my dishes.”
With her loyal customers looking forward to a physical space where they can come in and try the food, Osawamick is making sure her priorities are in place.
The lunch service will give her time to continue her catering business on the side and spend time with her family.
Her daughters, seven, nine, and 11, all play hockey, and after her eight-year hiatus, Osawamick is back on the ice.
“We're a hockey family,” said Osawamick. “Hockey is in the evenings.”
Hiawatha's, which will open in January, 2020, is located at 19 Regent Street.