Bella-Jade's & Kataquapit Equipment
Success in Fort Albany First Nation
Bella-Jade’s, which originally opened as Kenny’s Gas Bar in October 1995, is celebrating its 25th anniversary – a milestone that isn’t lost on owner Elizabeth Kataquapit, whose entrepreneurial spirit has been growing since she was a teenager.
“As a young person attending school in Timmins, I had this idea of starting my own business. My grandfather operated a local bakery shop, and after school I would rush to the bakery to help him as I loved being in the shop and serving customers.”
“So, it's in my blood to be an entrepreneur just like my grandfather.”
The opportunity to go into business came after Elizabeth won $15,000 from bingo. She and Kenny Wesley used those winnings to open Kenny’s Gas Bar as there was only one gas outlet in Fort Albany at that time. Fort Albany (population 780) is located on James Bay northwest of Moosonee and is only accessible by airplane year-round plus a winter road, depending on the weather.
What started out as a 256 sq. ft. gas bar in 1995 and gradually expanded into confectionery is now a thriving 3,648 sq. ft. store, which opened in 2000 on Sinclair Island, where most of the people live. In 2012, Kenny’s Gas Bar name was changed to Bella-Jade’s after their granddaughter and daughter, who works in the store.
Bella-Jade’s Store has a gas bar, post office, ATM, Lotto Ontario, and a full line of groceries and confectionery. Three years ago, a takeout service for burgers, chicken fingers, wings, fries, poutine, soft ice cream plus homemade desserts and pizzas were added. The store employs 10 local people, is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon-11 p.m.
Elizabeth gets great satisfaction in running her own business.
“I am my own boss, plus I get to work with family, friends and provide a service for our customers” said Elizabeth. “We have five children and seven grandchildren. All our children help with the businesses.”
In 2000, the business expanded, creating Kataquapit Equipment managed by Elizabeth and Kenny with their four sons filling the jobs of: operations manager, mechanical repairs on machinery and heavy equipment operators. As a sideline, they do tire repairs for the community.”
“This is a heavy equipment business. We do construction work within the community and we also construct the James Bay Winter Road on the Albany section, which is approximately 160 km,” said Elizabeth. “We were recently awarded the Fort Albany Airport year-round maintenance contract.
“There are many challenges running businesses in remote locations. Since we don’t have the same resources as large corporations we must solve our own problems, which is time consuming.”
“Flying in freight from Moosonee is always a challenge because the aircraft do not fly in poor weather. So occasionally we run out of products and our shelves and coolers will be empty as well as our freezers,” Elizabeth said.
“The other challenge is when the store equipment breaks down, I have to get trades people to fly in from Timmins to repair the equipment. It is quite a challenge for them to bring up their supplies because some of it could be classified as dangerous goods and can only fly on freight planes. It can take weeks to get repairs done and at great expense.”
The business focuses on supporting youth and school activities, plus many other social and recreational community events.
All in all, Elizabeth loves her business and offers advice to First Nation Youth and others who want to start their own business: “Work Hard” “Go For It” “Reach For The Stars"