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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Life's a Picnix for young Queenston entrepreneur
Abbie Gowans with her Picnix trailer, built by her father. (Supplied)

After COVID hit, Abbie Gowans launched a unique food service in NOTL

 

As you drove through Niagara-on-the-Lake this summer, you may have noticed a giant picnic basket being towed behind an SUV.

The basket is the delivery mechanism of 22-year-old Abbie Gowans, a student, entrepreneur and Queenston resident.

Now beginning her final year at the University of Waterloo, Gowans found herself with a predicament in the spring of 2020.

An English and business major at Waterloo, she had been set to take up a co-op placement for the summer. Then came COVID. Her job disappeared.

She returned to her parents’ home in Queenston and began to look for something to do. While searching the web, she discovered a picnic delivery service being offered in the Vancouver area.

She contacted the owner, who agreed that she could run a similar business in Niagara. By August 2020, she was up and running Picnix Niagara.

Her parents, Sandra Ross Gowans and Keith Gowans, run a bed and breakfast in Queenston. Tucked up against the escarpment and next to the road that ran to the old Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, the Red Coat B&B offers a quiet and beautiful place to stay.

Abbie and her brother Aiden, who is studying to be a pilot, grew up in the house and her first Picnix clients were visitors to the Red Coat B&B.

Once Gowans committed to her catering business, her father used his creative abilities to design and build a number of picnic baskets on wheels. These traditional looking baskets, complete with red checkered blankets, are delivered to customers in the location of their choice – usually a park, river or lake setting.

As the pandemic continued into this summer, Gowans, after a school year of online learning, decided to continue the picnic service.

June and July were slow, hampered by the weather as well as COVID, but by August things really changed. Most of her bookings are on weekends, but she said the weekday business is picking up.

The business relies a lot on word of mouth and guests at hotels such as the Oban Inn have enjoyed the service. Many pledge to contact Picnix Niagara when they return to the area.

Several menus are available, including regular, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian. Each consists of five courses, and there are extras available as well, such as antipasto platters and kid-friendly menus. Full details, and reviews, are available on Gowans' website at www.picnixniagara.com.

Along with the food, Picnix Niagara also can provide umbrellas and even bocce balls. Customers arrange with Gowans to pick up the equipment after the meal.

She prepares all of her food herself and sources items locally, from farms and markets. The ingredients for each meal take into account what is in season.

Although she is returning to campus for school, her parents are helping out by running the business until the end of October.

At the moment, Gowans is the sole proprietor and worker at Picnix Niagara.

After she graduates, she plans to return to Niagara to run her fast-growing business, probably resuming again in May 2022.

She said there have been inquiries from others about franchising the operation, but because the business began in Vancouver, it is not her decision to make. However, she might need help in the future.

SPEAKING OF FUTURE: As I walked past Red Coat in June, Gowans called me over. She had made too many desserts that day and would I like to try one? I did. Not only was the presentation spectacular, the flavours were phenomenal.

Now, let’s think about a restaurant in Queenston …

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