Lydia Neergaard was shocked when her name was called following the final pitch presentation of the Win This Space competition Thursday night.
Neergaard and her business Party Like A Chef was named the grand prize winner following weeks of planning, mentoring, presenting and learning about running a small business.
As the grand prize winner, Neergaard will receive $15,000 for the first year’s rent in a downtown store front along with numerous other prizes to help get her business up and running.
“I had worked really hard… This was something that I had wanted for a long time, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
The runner up was Sharon Diep with Asian Street Shack and in third place was Mel Penny with Own Your Light Yoga.
The Thursday night presentations also included Cheryl and Matt Klassen’s presentation for Sylvan Shore Gluten-Free Bakery and Shawn Turner’s Yellow Shirt Relics.
Neergaard’s winning business proposal includes three parts: a market partnering with local producers, culinary kits similar to what can be found from companies like Hello Fresh, and what she calls an “experiential kitchen.”
“Normally the kitchen it tucked away and you don’t get to see what the chefs are doing in the kitchen. Our kitchen will be set up so you can see what is being done and asks questions and interact with the chefs,” Neergaard explained.
Education, she says, is an important part of her business, which will share recipes and cooking techniques, both in one’s home and through programming in the “experiential kitchen.”
“Party like a chef is a play on words, it means interacting with a chef is fun and exciting not scary and intimidating,” she said.
The Win This Space competition had 46 submissions which was whittled down to the five finalists.
Amanda Mercer, economic development officer with the Town, began developing the program in November 2020 as a way to increase and support the business community in the downtown core of Sylvan Lake.
During the competition, the contestants learned more about running a business from local experts, which the contestants called inspirational.
Shawn Turner, said the experience was “really cool.”
“I learned so much over the course of this whole thing,” he said.
His advice to others opening a business, or potential future contestants should the contest come back, is to be open and coachable.
“Find the right mentor and be open to being coachable. I learned the hard way how important it is to take feedback and learn from it,” Turner said.
The connections each contestant made over the course of the contest is invaluable, according to Neergaard.
“The connections we made, not just with the experts but also with other business has been amazing… I feel very well supported,” she said.
While Neergaard was the one to win the grand prize, that doesn’t mean the other entrepreneurs will not be seen in the community.
The second and third place winners will also receive further mentoring and advisory services as they work to opening their businesses.
“Keep an eye out because we may be seeing some of these people popping up in town soon, it just might not be in the downtown,” Mercer said.
Neergaard hopes to have the first phase of Party Like a Chef, the culinary kits, open by August of this year.
She says she is moving full steam ahead with her plans.
You can follow her progress on social media @PartyLikeAChef and through the website www.partylikeachef.com.