Operator: Louise & Palmer Nowak
Groupex member since: 2022
Independently owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, Winnipeg’s Supper Central is a thriving retail food store that specializes in ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals from their kitchen and custom catering. Supper Central’s success is founded on the strength of relationships with the community, suppliers and each other.
While the original Supper Central opened in 2009, Chef Louise Nowak purchased the business in 2018. At the time, Louise was a busy personal chef and caterer, and her daughter Palmer was in Ontario, pursuing post-secondary studies in finance at theUniversity of Toronto.
Palmer recalls tagging along with her mother, watching and learning as she worked as a personal chef, and acknowledges that food was always a large part of their family dynamic and conversations. While away at school, Palmer found that finance wasn’t resonating with her. “We were not your typical students. We were hosting dinner parties in second year—full turkey dinners with our friends. I practiced a lot and really enjoyed that.” When the opportunity to join a Toronto catering company as a cook came up, Palmer jumped in. She found herself sharing her experiences and ideas with Louise as she developed Supper Central back in Winnipeg. Then, in 2019, Palmer came home to join the business.
The duo has since evolved the business into a more modern prepared foods operation offering prepared “heat-and-eat” single serving meals and fully prepped fresh or frozen meal kits for busy families to cook at home as well as fully customized catering services. Supper Central’s success lies in its focus on quality, Louise notes. “There is a limited selection of independent providers for heat-and-eat meals. Grocery often provides a version of that, but everything we create reaches a higher standard. Our food has only travelled from our kitchen to our freezer. It’s all made right in the city, and people like that.”
Unlike many large meal services, Supper Central meal kit ingredients are fully cut and prepared for their customers, which minimizes at-home prep and cook time. They’ve also eliminated the subscription model, giving their customers the freedom to fit their offering into their lives. “We feel that subscription-based services put pressure on customers to have that company be part of their life every day or every week,” says Palmer. “That’s a lot to expect people to keep up with. Our customers really appreciate that they can opt in when they want, based on their needs and schedule. We’ve taken a personal approach and have seen it grow from there. In Winnipeg, people really like to support local and they like that they get that personal touch.”
Supper Central appeals to a wide range of consumers across all life stages and need states, from weekly or bi-weekly heat-and-eat orders from seniors to weekly or monthly orders for meal kits from families, along with as-needed orders for parties, births and bereavement gifts. Louise and Palmer develop Supper Central’s recipes themselves and the creative direction they’ve taken has returned consistent growth over the years. “Our tastes are very similar, but we ‘chef it up’ differently”, Louise observes. “I would be more on the traditional side, whereas Palmer is a little fancier. There’s always a way to bring that back to the middle into a cohesive dish. We both like classic flavours, and we both ‘get’ flavour combinations,” Palmer continues. “That helps us reach a wider audience. Creatively, we’re a little different, but that lends itself to custom menu creation for the catering side of the business.”
While the Supper Central menu is anchored by customer favourites like their Ranch Crusted Chicken, Beef Taco Pie or the newer Korean Beef Bowl, Louise and Palmer are always innovating and experimenting. “We try and listen to what people want,” shares Palmer. “They want fast and simple food, but they want it to feel and taste home cooked. If it tastes like you might have been able to make it yourself, you don’t feel regret about outsourcing.” As part of their customer engagement strategy, Supper Central sends out a weekly newsletter and solicits feedback and suggestions from their 10,000 subscribers. “It’s very much like a letter from our home kitchen,” says Palmer. “We talk to our customers about what’s going on, what’s in season or what makes sense for the time of year. It’s important to stay nimble and pivot with customer needs, and this is our way to stay connected.
“We touch a lot of people,” Louise notes. “But, across the board, we have strong loyalty. We have a 60 to 70 per cent return customer rate. The quality really speaks for itself, and we get a lot of feedback on the flavour of our dishes and the results are good. We thoroughly test all our recipes—fresh and frozen—so you’re getting a superior product to any other meal kit we’ve tried. The food has to be good. If we don’t like it, we won’t sell it.”
Supper Central has a partnership with Great Tastes of Manitoba, a locally-produced farm-to-table TV series with the distinction of being Manitoba’s most-watched food series. “They filmed the series in our store for two seasons”, says Palmer. “We also started partnering with them on meal kits, working with local commodity producers. We create meal kits using their recipes, so it has become an all-encompassing local food marketing effort. It helps people connect with locally grown foods and farmers.”
Thanks to her vast experience as a personal chef, Louise has undisputed strength in ingredient and packaging sourcing. “Louise has been able to navigate a lot of the shortages and price changes over the past two years, creating recipes with ingredients we know we can source,” says Palmer. “She also works really well with our reps. Getting to know the people who are selling to us and our distributors and understanding the “why” behind price changes and supply challenges has been really important.”
As food and supply prices have increased dramatically over the years, relationships
with partners like Groupex have mattered to independent foodservice operators more than ever. Supper Central’s relationship with Groupex began through one of their distributors, Gordon Food Service (GFS). “In this industry,” says Palmer, “anything you can do to save or source things better helps. That’s the advantage of working with Groupex. Asking your reps questions and being transparent about what your needs are can really help you solve problems. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and open up your business so they can help find you rebates or better systems or services.”While working with family members can be challenging, Louise and Palmer feel it works for them. “We’ve always been close,” Palmer notes. “It hasn’t always been easy, of course, but it’s pushed us to have an even better
relationship because we want to succeed together. We’ve learned a lot about each other’s strengths and working together as adults is really interesting. We see opportunities very similarly and are willing to see where it takes us. We didn’t know this would have such an impact—it’s all clearer in the rearview. We’re in a really great place right now.”