For our April issue, BCIT student Max Huang headed off campus and into the community, to meet up with an Indigenous business owner who inspires him. You can read Max’s full article about Heat LaLiberte and his company One Arrow Meats online here, then check out Max’s full interview with Heat below, chock-full of wisdom and tips for the budding entrepreneur.
You can overcome anything you want. You can go through hell and back and you could still become a successful person. It doesn’t matter how you grew up or where you grew up, it’s all the things that you overcome that make you who you are, and it will make you stronger.
Let’s talk about your history. How did you get into cooking?
I just fell into it I guess. I moved to Vancouver when I was 20, and I was looking for a job, and I just applied at Moxie’s Bar and Grill. I had no cooking experience whatsoever. It was just the first job that I could find in Vancouver.
I really loved working there because it had a great team atmosphere. I just really enjoyed working with everyone, and the rush of service and the adrenaline rush you got from working a busy night. I really came to love that feeling. So I worked at Moxie’s for a couple years and I got asked to open up another Moxie’s in Ontario. So I could start to tell that I had a knack for cooking. I went and helped open up Moxie’s in Ontario, [then] I came back and I had a friend that was cooking at the Westin Grand and she said that I should come work for her. She said, “if you want to be serious about cooking you should come work with me at the Westin!” I ended up working there for five years; it was where I built my foundation. That was also where I found my mentor, JP Fillion.
[After the Westin] I wanted to go work in a really busy restaurant, like a top fine dining restaurant. So I quit and I got a job at Blue Water Café. That was an experience, because the team was very small, but the caliber of chefs was really high. Everybody worked long hours; it was always a 12-hour a day. Coming from working at hotel, where you get a chair and you’re working only eight hours… to go from that to working in a restaurant for 12 hours a day or more, you had to earn your respect; it wasn’t given to me. I started on Garde Manger and worked up to shellfish station. We were doing 400 to 500 covers a night.
How did that transition into making bacon?
I worked [at Blue Water Café] for under a year, and then I had moved on to the Fairmont Pacific Rim. I got a position there and I had noticed that they had a charcuterie program. Atticus Garant, who just opened up the Austin Texas Fairmont, he had started that program and oversaw everything: all of the recipes, all the development. I just knew that he was somebody that I could learn a lot from, so I approached him to teach me and he took me under his wing essentially and showed me how to make charcuterie, sausages and patês. So I would say that he was my mentor for the charcuterie portion of my career for sure. I remember him bringing in whole pigs and lamb and showed me how to break them down.
I worked there for four-and-a-half years and during that time I moved from charcuterie to Garde Manger to commissary kitchen, so I was just all around the place. I learned a lot.
What made you want to start your own business?
Once I started doing charcuterie, I found that I had a passion and a knack for that. It was something that I had through cooking for 10+ years. I found what I was most passionate about and skilled at was making sausages and bacon…. People approached me to make sausages for them personally. I had friends come over wanting to learn how to make sausages. So it was always in the back of my head that maybe this was something that I could do in the future, but I didn’t have the structure or the skill set or the knowledge…
[Also] I wouldn’t have had the idea to start a business if I didn’t see the advertisement for the Aboriginal BEST program.
Have you had any challenges?
I grew up extremely poor and a lot of my First Nations friends were also really poor as well. I think being First Nations, being a person of colour, being low-income, you have way more hurdles to jump over. The same with education too.
What led you to the Aboriginal BEST program?
I was on Facebook one day and I saw advertisement for the BEST Program and I contacted them; I believe I was the last person to apply. So I reached out to them for the application and wrote I wrote an essay basically of why I think I should get the spot and be in the program. I got the last spot. I was able to attend the program and I learned so much just from taking part. Just the basics of starting a business. How much are you going to charge a person? What’s the price for your product? How did you get to that? What’s your labor? What’s your overhead? These were things that I had never heard of!
What did you gain from the program?
They basically taught me the basics of how to start your own business. I liked the setting of the program, because it was at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, so I felt like I belonged there; I felt safe, I felt secure. So I think that’s what I felt a sense of I was around people that were First Nations as well. I didn’t feel intimidated. I think because I am not highly educated, if I had been at a place where I knew that there’d be a lot of highly educated people, I would have been more intimidated and less inclined to attend. Whereas with the BEST Program, I read the description of the program and just liked the fact that it was catering to First Nations. Most First Nations people are lower income and that’s the bracket that I grew up in. I grew up poor. I grew up getting food from the food bank. So just knowing that the program was there and accessible to everybody, and the fact that it was that Aboriginal Friendship Centre, I was like, ‘okay, I can do that and I’m not going to be intimidated to go there.’
They appreciate that you’re sharing something that you made with love and with passion and care.
Tell me more about your experience working with the Aboriginal BEST Program alongside other First Nations entrepreneurs.
It was great! Everybody was very friendly! It was nice to see the diversity of careers in the program. There was a guy that was a construction worker. There was a woman that wanted to have a bridal business and do makeup and hair. There’s a guy that wanted to start his own gym. Everybody was very different. There was a person that wanted to start their own First Nations cafe. I was the only chef that was there. So it was a very diverse group of people.
What were your main takeaways from the program?
I’d say, to just be confident. I think it’s confidence for sure. Just confidence in your skill set and your value. You need to believe in yourself and believe in your product and know that if you’re sharing it with people, they appreciate that you’re sharing something that you made with love and with passion and care.
I know you still keep in contact with Kristin Kozubeck, how has that support been since the Aboriginal BEST program ended?
It’s great! She’s so supportive of her students. I’ll send her e-mails sometimes and we would email each other back and forth. She’s really great at giving advice. She’s very open. She’s has amazing connections in the community with First Nations people so she’s given me contacts for the shop and she just knows everybody it seems. She’s made a very big difference in my career for sure.
How important was the BEST program been for you and your business?
I ended up winning the best presentation and the best business idea! That gave me so much confidence to move forward and apply to be a farmers’ market vendor and start investing and the idea of the business world.
How is One Arrow going? How has business been for you?
Business has been great! I invested a lot of money into equipment, the websites, all the other essentials: business cards, logo, packaging. The support that I’ve gotten along the way is overwhelming. I have a lot of great customers, they contact me once a month just to see how I’m doing. They’re stopping by the farmer’s markets. Social media has been such a great help, because people like to see what you’re up to and the photos, especially on Instagram, really help it gives them a visual. They know what you’re doing and what you’re up to.
One Arrow… How did that name come about?
I just love making the personal connections with my customers and getting to know them every time that they come by. I’m able to catch up with them and see what they’re doing in their lives. That’s really what it’s about. When I was thinking about names of what I wanted to call my business, I knew that I wanted to have a strong name. I was thinking about what represents strength and what is something that’s iconic for First Nations people in general. So I thought of an arrow, because the arrow to me represents strength. I knew I wanted to use a number, so I felt like the representation of one arrow is me, and then being strong. I kept scribbling the same thing over and over in a notebook and took it to my two friends that are local designers and they made it look awesome!
One Arrow advertises that it’s 100% Aboriginal-owned. Why was it important for you to let people know that?
I think I think it’s important because people should be supporting local, but even more so, Vancouver should be supporting First Nations people. Most First Nations people don’t come from money; they’re from low-income families.
What’s on the horizon? What’s next for One Arrow?
You just never know what life is going to throw you. Right now I’m working on my retail permit. I would love to be able to sell my bacon at small boutique grocery stores or even supply restaurants.
You were recently in Korea as one of the official chefs for the Canadian Olympic team, how did that come about?
I was a chef previously at the Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. That was my first experience for the Summer Olympics 2016. My chef and mentor, JP fillion, brought me on again for Korea.
How was your experience in Korea?
It was it was an amazing experience! It was a really long month with really long hours. But being able to see all of the athletes and all of their families together, it really brought such a positive energy in the house; we could fit 500 people in there! Just imagine 500 rowdy Canadians drinking beer and watching hockey. It was just such a great energy in the house. I just felt very proud to be a part of it. I wish that my mom was alive to see that because I know she would have been super proud of me.
I wish that my mom was alive to see that, because I know she would have been super proud of me.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs? Young First Nations entrepreneurs?
I would say for young entrepreneurs; they need to find mentors in the industry that have a business like the one they want to build. So for me being a chef, I really reached out to chefs that had twice as much as experience as me or chefs that had their own businesses, and just asked them as many questions as I could. Even if you think the question isn’t important, it definitely is, because there will always be somebody that will have a better pricing on business cards or packaging. You could always get a better deal somewhere else and it’s all through word-of-mouth. Everybody’s interconnected, especially in the food industry, so they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction.
For First Nations entrepreneurs, I would say there’s some fine people in the community that are also First Nations that could be your mentor, but also there are places that will help you get apply for grants and loans. I think going to the Vancouver Friendship Centre, where I took the Aboriginal BEST program, they had a lot of resources there for everyone as well. I think you need to just find as many resources as you can.
Some advice I would say is that, I think that you can overcome anything you want. You can go through hell and back and you could still become a successful person. It doesn’t matter how you grew up or where you grew up, it’s all the things that you overcome that make you who you are and it will make you stronger.
Brag about yourself! Tell us about some of your accolades!
I won ‘Best Presentation & Business Idea’ at the Aboriginal BEST Program in 2016 and ‘Employee of the Year’ at Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel out of 500 plus employees in 2016. I helped lead the Culinary Apprentices at Fairmont Pacific Rim for 3 years and also went to the Olympics as one of Canada’s official chefs for 2016 and 2018!