Seed to Sausage



Business Name: Seed to Sausage
Founder: Mike McKenzie
Founded In: 2011


In ten words or less, what's so special about your products?

Locally produced cured meats of the highest possible quality.

Intriguing. Tell us more.

I launched Seed to Sausage after I had left the military. 

My son had just been born and the life of a soldier, with frequent deployments away, just wasn’t conducive to family life. I had been curing meat in my garage as a hobby for some time and it looked like I could turn this into a viable business that I would enjoy running. I thought maybe there was an opportunity to be a father and to have my own business because I could not imagine working for anybody else. 

While I was in the military, I was lucky to travel the world and experience food from many different cultures. It helped me understand what kind of food I like and it shaped my palate. When I first started talking to the chefs who were buying my products, that was incredibly helpful, because we all came from a place of deep appreciation for food. 

Before I made my first salami, I had tried the products from all the top salami makers in the world and that helped me set a high bar for when I started making my own products. I wanted to compare myself to the best in the world and we’re still thriving for that.

Your products taste amazing. Where do you get your flavour inspiration from?

It’s a mix. Sometimes I just have an idea in my head that I think should work and then I try that out. Or, I see something that already exists and then I try to make a better version of that. For example, if I love butter chicken, why not try and make a butter chicken sausage? 

It’s all about taking flavours that people know and love, then making the most out of them.

Many people dream about starting a food or drinks business. How did you launch yours? What's the story behind your business?

It really started as a hobby, an obsessive hobby. Making really good salami is very hard, there were a lot of mistakes, and I got a lot of things wrong. But every mistake was an opportunity to learn and grow and so I never gave up. Having the kind of work ethic the military teaches definitely helped.

Did you launch your business from home, or from a food production facility?

When I first started thinking about curing salami as a business, my father suggested that we should launch the business together. We found this property in Sharbot Lake and because it was a little more remote, it was more affordable than it would have been in the city. 

I would drive up from Kingston every day, to get it ready for production and to retrofit the building. At the same time, I wrote all of my own standard operating procedures and got my recipes ready for food safety approval. I was renovating, producing and selling at the same time, it was a 24/7-hour job for quite a while. 

When you first launched your business, how did you pay for everything? How much did it cost to launch your own food business?

We financed it from a number of sources, including a mortgage on the building together with vendor take-back financing. We had $50,000 from savings to retrofit the building and purchase equipment. 

Everybody out there is always looking for investments, but it’s important that you make a profit quickly, then build from there. Sometimes a big investment can jump-start a business, but that’s never guaranteed.

Did you receive any help from Frontenac Business Services?

The team helped me find our building. It already had some of the certifications needed, it had three-phase power, so that gave us a little head start. Frontenac Business Services are always available for support, and over the last 12 years, we’ve worked together closely on a number of projects.

Where are you now? Where is your business going?

I sell mostly to restaurants, so COVID was incredibly challenging and stressful. But it was also an opportunity to be lean and nimble and we’re now in a position where we’re more professional and more focused than we have ever been before. 

We’re rising to another level, from the quality of our products to the way we’re running the company. I want to be known for the quality and authenticity of our products and we’re on the way. 

What's so special about doing business in Frontenac

The location is amazing. It’s easy to get anywhere, from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto and Kingston. Even New York is not too far away, so we’re super accessible. At the same time, the quality of life here is really high, it’s a beautiful place to live and to raise a family.

Finally, do you have a checklist that you could share your top three tips to keep in mind when starting a food business? Things you wished you would have known yourself.

Make sure you have a great product. Taste is the most important differentiator, taste always wins. 

Then, make things. Just start by making, so many people waste so much time talking and planning, that they never get to make anything. Making teaches you so much more than planning can ever do. 

Lastly, get good at selling. Take your product, get in your car and start selling. Nobody will be as good at sales as you are. If you take care of sales, you’ll also get all the unfiltered feedback and that will help you make an even better product.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.