Port Stanley Villager Jan:Feb 2020

Port connection to successful trout farming operation

A big grin flashes across Geoff Cole’s face when questioned about his origins in the trout farming and processing business. “My wife (Susan) always rolls her eyes when I tell this story,” Cole, 53, owner and president of Cole- Munro Foods Group Inc., of St. Thomas, said in a recent interview. Cole has built a $40 million-a- year trout farming and processing business, Ontario’s largest producer, claiming 80-to-90 per cent of the

Ontario-Quebec market, and 50 per cent of the Canadian market. He now owns or has partnership positions in seven of the nine large open-net trout farms in Ontario. What’s so funny to Susan is the irony in her husband’s re-telling of his humble beginnings. Originally from Owen Sound, Geoff got his start laboring over whitefish and chub harvested in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. It was a summer job throughout his high school days and into his first year at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo. He remembers cleaning fish, gutting them, and loading large, 90-pound wooden crates on trucks heading to market in New York. “My biggest take away was ‘I have to go to school to get out of this business’,” said Cole. “When I went off to school, I said ‘thank goodness I didn’t get into the fish business’.”

Pursuing a business degree at Laurier, Cole met Todd Munro, his eventual business partner. After graduating from a four-year finance and accounting program in 1990, Cole moved to Toronto and worked as a commercial property auditor, still hoping to become a chartered accountant. He was commuting from Kitchener-Waterloo until one day in 1991, Cole attended a job fair and noticed a posting for general manager at a trout co-operative. “Long story short, this whipper-stripper, straight out of school, was offered this job as a general manager,” Cole recalls. “It enabled me.” So, he returned to aquaculture with the Ontario Trout Producers Co-op and Aberfoyle Fisheries, near Guelph. “It was a learning experience.” He moved to Aberfoyle, but the business failed within a year. He found that land-based aquaculture could not compete with open-net pens: growing fish in the lake provides a “superior quality. With trout, you are what you swim in. “Things started changing then,” he added. Cole started thinking about going back to school, however, Munro suggested they start a new business. “Obviously, Todd wore me down.” It made sense: they already knew the growers, buyers and the process. “We needed to find an existing plant location where we could slice and dice fish without losing money,” he said. “We found a little gem in Port Stanley for $1,000 a month rent. That allowed us to get a small start-up going.” That building is now Papa Joe’s Pizzeria, at 174 Main Street, near Little Beach. “The amount of volume we did there … it’s astounding to people we could do it in such a small place.” He opened in Port Stanley in March 1994. Two years into it, Cole-Munro made its largest sale ever: 4,000 pounds was sold to a century-old business in Chicago. “We sold them on a Monday, and they went bankrupt on a Wednesday. “It was an awakening,” Cole recalls. “I invoked the shotgun a little bit. We had to walk away. We lost everything we made that year.”

Frank Trousdell: Bongo Boy Music recording artist, EMAC Recording Studios recording member, World Songwriter Awards finalist, 61st Annual Grammy Awards nominee. Heart and Stroke Foundation fundraiser Sunday, February 16, 2020, 3 p.m. Franky and The Boneshakers Performing a new album, The Runner at Streamliners Espresso Bar, 767 Talbot Street, St. Thomas Follow Frank at bongoboyrecords.com and franktrousdell.com

Page 4 Port Stanley Villager • Jan-Feb 2020 To advertise here, please contact Joe@villagerpublications.com

Made with FlippingBook - Online catalogs