Embarking on a journey to bring back the Cuban Lunch — a chocolate and peanut snack — Crystal and her husband Bert Westergard consider themselves as “two goofballs, who are completely outside the food industry, who wanted to pursue this opportunity of making it available again.”
“The Cuban Lunch was my mother’s favourite chocolate bar when she was growing up in the Dirty 30s. She struggles with her memory, and was living in care, and I wanted to find it for her,” said Crystal, who is an alumnus of Western Christian College when it was located at North Weyburn.
Crystal and Bert, who live in Camrose, Alta., found success in getting the Cuban Lunch to stores in Western Canada, but ran into difficulties for making the product available in Eastern Canada. In an effort to get some business expertise, the couple auditioned for the Dragons’ Den. Their episode, filmed earlier in the year, aired on CBC on November 5.
When Crystal and Bert first started to look for the chocolate bar, they had heard of many other Canadians who were looking for that familiar taste, but couldn’t find it. Cuban Lunch bars were made in Winnipeg for decades until 1991, when the Paulins factory stopped producing them.
After a little more research, the couple discovered that the Cuban Lunch trademark was no longer in use and had become available. After renewing it, they went into business. After producing batches of a few thousand bars in a rented commercial kitchen, and having them snapped up quickly, the Westergards “emptied out our savings and embarked on a journey to produce the chocolate bar.”
Crystal noted that it sounded easy at the time, but as she and Bert discovered, there were lots of obstacles to face that made the journey difficult. Just finding a company that could produce the chocolate bar was a struggle, as most modern food factories are different than how the Paulins factory was set up.
“We tried out best to make it taste as close as possible,” said Crystal, noting that food regulations have changed over the years. Even the way cocoa makers are producing the chocolate have changed, which results in a slight taste difference.
Then came obstacles with keeping the wrappers the same unique shape, and colour, that most people were familiar with. “It was crazy stressful, because those wrappers were so unique and were a pain to make. It took us awhile to find a reliable company that could make them,” said Crystal.
Once they had the wrapper situation dealt with, the Westergards had another learning opportunity where they made too much of the product.
Eventually, they found a connection with Sobeys, Safeway, IGA and Thrifty Foods, where the bars are available at their Western Canadian sites. Crystal noted that managers of each store have to order the Cuban’s Lunch to their location.
“We really struggled with getting it past Thunder Bay. We wanted to get our product out east, so we decided to go to the Dragons’ Den and show them that there is a value in investing in the company,” said Crystal.
“We did have a hard time articulating what we wanted to say,” laughed Crystal about their TV appearance. “But I thought we were cute, hilarious and fun to watch.”
“It was worthwhile for us to go, since we receive a lot of publicity about the chocolate bar. But we learned some hard realities about investment. We are still considering the offer of the $1 Million investment, and I feel that we are at the in a position now where we can negotiate.”
There is also good news down the road for smaller communities, as the company has signed an agreement with Federated Co-op to get their bars available at stores across Western Canada by next year.
Overall, there is a lot to look forward to for Crystal and Bert, especially now they have a new business coach and upcoming opportunities. They really hope the word about the revival of Cuban Lunch continues to be spread.