By Martine Frigon
Fresh pizza maker Alexandre Brunet blazed a new path with an expansion that faced his frozen competi
By Martine Frigon
Alexandre Brunet got his first summer job at age 14 as dishwasher in a
pizza restaurant north of Montreal. However, scrubbing dishes wasn’t
quite what captivated the future entrepreneur.
Alexandre Brunet got his first summer job at age 14 as dishwasher in a pizza restaurant north of Montreal. However, scrubbing dishes wasn’t quite what captivated the future entrepreneur.
|Alexandre Brunet made sure his pizzeria was running like clockwork before delving into the frozen market.|
“As soon as I finished my job, I stayed with the cook and watched how he made pizzas,” says Brunet.
Young Brunet soon became a pizza maker in the restaurant, a job that he kept for the next eight years. During that time he did his schooling and went to college for mechanical engineering.
“Having been raised into an upper middle-class family in which my father was a lawyer and my mother a teacher, it was quite normal to me to embrace a liberal professional career, “ he says.
However, his passion for the pizza making and restaurant industry stuck around. In 1996, at age 22, he made a huge decision that has changed his life. Brunet quit college and opened his own Montreal restaurant specializing in pizza, Le Stromboli.
In 2004, Brunet was ripe for change and decided that it was time to expand.
|Alexandre Brunet’s frozen pizza line. |
“Since the restaurant ran easily, I had to choose between two options: starting a second restaurant or a food processing business specialized in frozen pizzas, this last alternative offering a huge potential.”
With three other partners, his father among them, Brunet launched Aliments Cinq Sens.
“We didn’t want to make the same pizza as the main food processors; we wanted to propose a pizza made with local products, and also with the same kind of dough used in restaurants.”
Brunet proposed the first organic frozen pizza in the province of Quebec, the Stromboli Pieux et raclette, made with bio pork sausage from a farmer located in Charlevoix and certified Ecocert, meaning that all of the ingredients come from organic agriculture.
At present, five varieties are organic among the 13 frozen pizzas in his line. Today, with 12 other varieties made with local products, these pizzas are distributed to the major supermarkets in the province, proposing an unconventional option to main food producers in the field such as Dr. Oetker, Kraft and McCain.
Being in competition with the big players like McCain meant is was not child’s play to get into the supermarkets. Brunet certainly had his work cut out for him, but the frozen pizza market has legs. An ACNielson Frozen Food Study done in 2001 showed that the most frequently purchased frozen food in that year was pizza.
“We focused on the difference…the dough is left to rise for 36 to 48 hours before being stretched and the sauce is thickened with Parmesan cheese. I could say that our competitor is Dr. Oetker. This is pretty much the same kind of process but since that is imported, I think it could be great to promote local product harvested here instead.”
Distributed by the broker Clark Drouin Lefebvre, Aliments Cinq Sens’ products are available in IGA, Loblaws, Provigo, Intermarché and Metro in Quebec, and also in several delicatessens and stores specialized in organic food.
“We deliver about 20,000 pizzas per week,” says Brunet.
|The pizza maker’s book. |
In a 10,000–square-foot factory located on the fifth floor of an industrial building in the south downtown area of Montreal, about 30 workers prepare the frozen pizzas, from the dough to the final process. This has been possible with the help of the Business Development Bank of Canada, which financed an investment of $400,000.
“We are planning to build a new plant of 20,000 square feet in a landscape of 80,000 square feet, an investment between $4 and $6 million. We are expecting that this facility will be ready to run in August 2012.”
This pizza lover is also multi-talented, completing a book last spring called Les mains dans la pâte, an idea that came to mind when he organized a party pizza for the birthday of one of his sons. The book proposes recipes using ingredients you can find in your fridge.
“ I wanted to share my recipes with the public and especially let them know that everything is possible when making pizza! Just leave your imagination free!”
And how about Brunet’s private life? The interminable hours haven’t disheartened him over the years.
“The restaurant Stromboli is open 363 days a year and, when you add to that the frozen pizza plant, I am always busy!” Today, he is a happy man in a a happy relationship and the father of three young children who looks to the future with enthusiasm.
Martine Frigon has been a freelance photojournalist for 25 years and owner of Reditexte, a small company specialized in writing, photography, and translation. She has published articles in various magazines across Canada. She lives in the Quebec City area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.