Four Whistler companies shortlisted for Small Business BC Awards 

Nonna Pia's, Canadian Wilderness Adventures, RDC Fine Homes and Infinity Enterprises group competing

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - finals fantasy Entrepreneur Pepe Barajas, who has launched several resort companies including The Mexican Corner, is one of four Whistler finalists in the 12th annual Small Business BC Awards.
  • Photo submitted
  • finals fantasy Entrepreneur Pepe Barajas, who has launched several resort companies including The Mexican Corner, is one of four Whistler finalists in the 12th annual Small Business BC Awards.

Whistler will be well represented at this year's Small Business BC Awards, with four resort companies announced as Top 5 finalists.

The 12th annual Small Business BC Awards is a province-wide competition recognizing British Columbian entrepreneurs and small business owners, with over 460 nominations pouring in from 70 communities.

Finalists from Whistler are Nonna Pia's Gourmet Sauces, which is up for Best Company and the publicly-voted Premier's People's Choice award; businessman and restaurateur Pepe Barajas and his Infinity Enterprises Group is up for Best Immigrant Entrepreneur; while both RDC Fine Homes and Canadian Wilderness Adventures will compete for Best Employer.

Whistler's strong showing came as no surprise to RDC's Bob Deeks.

"I think it really identifies the level of excellence that we see here in our community from a business point of view, and identifies that there are some great entrepreneurs here who are building strong business bases out of Whistler for work elsewhere," he said.

Deeks pointed to his company's strong safety record — RDC has had a certificate of recognition from Worksafe BC since the mid-'00s — and a shift in training philosophy as some of the factors that led to the nomination.

The two nominations for Nonna Pia's cap a remarkable year for the Function Junction-based company that saw husband and wife Natasha and Norm Strim strike a deal on CBC's Dragon's Den to sell their balsamic reductions in stores nationwide. They're now moving into the U.S. market, and have hired a part-time CFO and director of American sales.

The meteoric rise from a table at Bizarre Bazaar just seven years ago to international brand has been exhilarating, but overwhelming, said Natasha.

"It's been a rollercoaster, it's been scary, but, my God, what an experience," she said.

Local adventure tour company Canadian Wilderness Adventures got the nod for Best Employer, and general manager Craig Beattie said it's a testament to the passion of the company's eclectic staff, who drove the nomination.

"You've got how many millions of people coming through Whistler every year and we are fortunate to have had a lot of international staff come through," he said. "They bring experiences from different businesses, from other (similar) products, so we're all just striving to have the best tour product out there."

For Mexican native Pepe Barajas, it's been a productive seven years since he first came to Whistler as a temporary foreign worker. In 2011, he founded high-end cleaning service Clean Perfect. A year later he opened Whistler's first Mexican fine dining restaurant, The Mexican Corner, and followed that up with the opening of street-food spot La Cantina in 2014. He's also the sole owner of holding company Infinity Enterprises Group and just incorporated a tortilla company, Mexican Fiesta Food Services, with plans to begin operating this year.

"I am all about teamwork and being nominated for this means I can share it with all of my team and let them know that all the effort we've put into this is worth it," said Barajas.

All of the finalists recently finished a 10-minute presentation to a panel of judges on why they feel they should take home a Small Business BC Award. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver on Feb. 26.

For more information visit www.sbbcawards.ca.

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