A 29-year run has come to an end for the owners of First Choice Convenience/ HomeStyle Kitchen & Deli in Steinbach. Owners Vern and Sharynn Friesen have sold the business.
Vern says it all started nearly three decades ago when they bought the grocer/ convenience store on Main Street. Then, 14 years later, they expanded to include deli and meat and got into the business of catering because of Sharynn's love for cooking.
"I started catering in churches for a lot of weddings and it was a lot of fun," recalls Sharynn. "I enjoyed working with the people and coming up with ideas of doing things."
Sharynn says she started the catering business after being taught a lot by the older women in her church. She then learned an awful lot more after launching the business, noting it was quite a ride.
However, she says in recent years, people grew fussier, allergies became a bigger thing and those were key factors in the decision to stop catering.
Sharynn says when they started this business 29 years ago, she would not have expected the work to be so hard. She says customers are getting somewhat more challenging to deal with and staffing issues have only grown over the years.
"Even from a year ago, two years ago, staffing has become very difficult," she admits. "We've really had to learn a lot in patience and understanding. But we've decided at this time of our life it's time to stop and try something else."
When it comes to highlights over three decades, it does not take long for the Friesens to point out a few. Sharynn smiles when she talks about being entrusted by brides to take care of the food on their special day. She says it is amazing to have that responsibility, noting some of these brides have turned into friends.
Another highlight has been the meals they have made for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Friesens say they have had amazing customers over the years. Some of these familiar faces drop by at the same time every day to buy lottery tickets or soup for lunch. Others have become regular annual clients, whose function they catered year after year.
According to Sharynn, she started to tire from running the business about three or four years ago. Sharynn jokes she then needed to convince Vern that he too was getting tired. About 12 months ago, they came to the mutual decision that it was time to step away and let someone else captain the ship.
The new owners took over Wednesday morning. Tushar Akbari is one of the three main partners. He says their group started in Yorkton, Saskatchewan and they own a number of restaurants both in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This is their first crack at owning a convenience store, even though they have worked in others.
Akbari says what drew him to this location is the outside look.
"The look from outside is different from all the buildings on Main Street," he points out, noting it reminds him of what shops look like in Banff.
He says not only was it the look, but he was also impressed by the owners and how they have invested their lives into creating what exists today. Akbari says his ownership group does not want to change anything.
"We are keeping all the staff, we are keeping everything as it is," he says. "We don't want to change anything."
Akbari says their staff is friendly and has accepted them and he is forever grateful to the Friesens for giving them this opportunity to take over such a beautiful business.
So, what is next for the Friesens? Sharynn says the two of them will take some time off. She expects they will spend some time at the lake and is hopeful that a road trip across Canada and the United States can soon happen.
"Sounds about right to me," adds Vern, suggesting that he may eventually need to find something else to do if retirement gets stale.
"Maybe there's something in the future, I don't know," he says. "But we'll play that by ear I guess."
The Friesens say a big thank you to their incredible staff over 29 years. They also thank their amazing customer base, noting they have served thousands of people over the years.
"They are amazing, they are wonderful, they have been patient and kind with us, and through our learning years they have been there for us," says Sharynn. "We just appreciate them, and I want to say thank you to all our friends and family and our customers, we're going to miss you."
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