A staple on any Lebanese menu, fattoush salad is an essential dish for so many Canadians. And yet, up until recently, if you wanted to enjoy a fresh, crunchy fattoush salad at home, you’d have to whip up your own homemade dressing. Mother-and-son duo Ameen and Surria Fadel set out to fix that when they founded Cedar Valley Selections, their salad dressing (and now pita!) business that introduced the first-ever fattoush salad dressing to Canadian grocery stores in 2016. To date, it’s still the only fattoush salad dressing on the Canadian market.
The Windsor, ON-based business has a sweet origin story: when Ameen was in grade 10, he received a $3000 business grant to bottle and sell his mother’s salad dressing. It was an instant success, with Ameen often selling bottles straight from his locker because fellow students and teachers couldn’t wait to get their hands on some of Surria’s famed salad dressing. And just like that, they knew they had something special on their hands.
They moved on to farmers markets and gradually built up their business, adding pita chips to their offerings so that customers could easily make fattoush salad at home: “We used to tie little Dollarama baggies of pita chips around the bottles” says Surria with a laugh. “We did some research and realized there was a void in the market. We thought ‘why not give it a try and see if we can be the first ones to do it on a mass scale?’” Today, their Lebanese-inspired products are available at over 500 retailers across Canada including Sobeys, Longos and Whole Foods. The Fattoush Dressing is still their most popular, but they’ve expanded their offerings to include Tahini Turmeric, Lemon Garlic, Caesar, Pomegranate, Avocado Lime dressings, plus a line of pita chips in Classic Spice, Garlic and Herb, and Sea Salt and Black Pepper flavours.
“The first time I saw a customer reach up and grab a bottle of the dressing out of the cooler, I wanted to run up to them and give them a big hug and a kiss!” laughs Surria. Ameen and Surria see their products as a way to introduce Canadians to new flavours: “We didn’t create the products for people of our background because they can make it themselves,” says Surria. “We did it for everyone else who probably doesn’t have sumac or mint in their pantry.” “People tell us all the time that they’d never tried these kinds of flavours before, and now it’s become their favourite,” explains Ameen.
Despite the immediate success of their products with customers, scaling up their business proved to be challenging: “We couldn’t find anybody that was willing or able to make it our products according to our recipe and our quality standards,” says Surria. Many co-packers were insistent on adding sugars and swapping out the good quality olive and coconut oil bases of their dressings and pita chips for cheaper substitutes. It took Ameen and Surria two years to find a co-packer that could meet their dressing standards, and they ultimately opened their own production facility in Windsor to produce their pita chips. They see that struggle as the key to their success: “many other dressings rely on water, sunflower, or canola oil as their primary ingredient. Beyond our flavours, what really sets us apart is our focus on healthy fats like olive and coconut oil” explains Ameen.
Even though the business has grown significantly since it’s high school inception, it’s still a family affair for the mother-and-son duo. “Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster: one day you’ll be feeling so successful and the next you’ll feel like the business is failing. Having each other as a support system has been so key,” says Ameen. Despite being business partners, “I’m always his mother, and I have to remind him that I don’t care if you’re the president or the founder. I’m still your mom first and foremost at the end of the day,” says Surria.
As for what’s next? “More flavours of dressings and pita chips, availability at more stores across Canada and the United States, more size options, new products, and a brand redesign to come this summer,” says Ameen. In short, they’re just getting started.
Craving more Middle Eastern food ideas? Try this Easy Vegan Za’atar Manaeesh recipe.