Manitoba entrepreneur earns recognition for dairy delights Feb 6, 2024

By Jennifer McFee

A second-generation dairy scientist is earning national recognition for his mouth-watering culinary creations, which are truly the cream of the crop.

Entrepreneur Joseph Chaeban is making his mark through his premium ice cream and artisan cheese products.

His local story began in 2015 when Chaeban and his wife Zainab Ali moved to Winnipeg from Ontario when he was recruited to open a cheese factory. However, their thoughts were never far from Zainab’s family, who fled during the Syrian crisis to seek refuge in Lebanon, Turkey, and across the Middle East.

The couple wanted to find a way to bring Zainab’s family safely to Canada. At the same time, they wanted to start their own business so her family would have jobs in place when they arrived.

At first, Chaeban considered opening a Lebanese restaurant until a friend suggested he stick with what he knows best — dairy products.

So that’s exactly what he did. On Dec. 21, 2017, Chaeban and Zainab opened an ice cream shop called Chaeban Ice Cream at 390 Osborne St. along with business partner Darryl Stewart.

“I had offers to go work in Ontario and Alberta, but we fell in love with Winnipeg, we found a spot where there used to be an ice cream shop in the past. So I thought it would be really cool to make our own ice cream from scratch and offer something that people have never seen,” he said.

“We opened on the first day of winter and it was a good start. It was so busy we were running out of ice cream. The community really got behind us and supported us. I’m so happy that we got to stay in Winnipeg and we made our own business at the same time.”

Through the South Osborne Refugee Initiative, the entrepreneurial couple was eventually able to welcome Zainab’s family to Winnipeg and offer them jobs at the family business. Together, they strive to create unforgettable products for their customers.

“Our ice cream is handmade and mostly gluten-free with very high cream content. We get raw milk from a Manitoba farm, and we pasteurize it on-site,” Chaeban said. “We make all natural flavours and it’s all premium. That was the target market I was trying to aim for.”

But before long, Chaeban discovered that running an ice cream business in a wintery climate poses certain seasonal challenges.

“In the wintertime, ice cream sales drop by a 10-to-1 ratio. So, I geared up to do more summer events and weddings to generate enough income to carry us all winter,” he said.

“Then COVID happened. My partner Darryl suggested doing an ice cream subscription where we would deliver two pints per month to your house — and that’s what saved our business. We just stopped doing it recently, and we’re now in a really good place as a company.”

As another way to deal with the seasonal sales slump, Chaeban decided to draw on his extensive experience as a cheese-maker and launched another branch of the company called Chaeban Artisan.

“I love making cheese, and it’s an all-year business. We started with a firm feta and a soft creamy feta, which goes back to our roots in Lebanon. We wanted something that could be different than what’s in the market. Then we added ricotta, mascarpone and labneh, which is like a Greek yogurt but thicker and low in fat,” he said.
“It was a way to save our company, and it worked. Right away, we were in 40 stores. Sobeys and Safeway decided to carry us across Western Canada. Last year, Federated Co-op, which has about 250 stores across Western Canada, put our feta in all their stores under their Gold program.”

At the same time, they continue to make ice cream with a focus on Manitoba and selected stores outside the province.

All their hard work is generating national momentum since four of Chaeban’s cheeses ranked in the Top 10 at the Royal Agricultural Fair in Toronto in January. In the feta category, the company’s firm feta earned third place followed by their soft creamy feta in fourth place. As well, their mascarpone placed sixth, and ricotta placed ninth in the fresh unripened cheese category.

At the same event, Chaeban’s ice cream earned multiple awards in 2022, including first place in Canada in the “chocolate with inclusions” category for its Rocky Road flavour. In the “other” flavour category, their creation called Salty Carl earned first place in Canada and was the show’s grand champion.

Throughout all the ups and downs, Chaeban and his team make it a priority to show community spirit by donating to local causes.

“It’s part of our five core values: care for all people always, be environmentally friendly, give back whenever possible, make everything from scratch, and support local producers,” he said.

“We take pride in giving back to the community and supporting local as much as we can.”

For anyone who is considering starting their own business, Chaeban offers a few words of wisdom.

“Always have an open mind and be willing to listen — every opinion matters. Even a little kid can inspire us to make a different type of ice cream and it can become one of the best. Don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
“It was always my dream to have my own dairy facility. If I could do something differently, it would be to start making cheese from Day 1. It’s important to listen to yourself and do what you love.”

Looking ahead, Chaeban plans to focus intently on their existing product lines.
“I strongly believe you should maximize what you have before you go into another product,” he said.

“Right now, our focus is cheese, and I believe we haven’t even reached the maximum sales.”

For those wanting to learn more about Chaeban’s business ventures, they’re in luck. Coming up on Feb. 21 from 4 to 6 p.m., World Trade Centre Winnipeg will host an event called WTC Talks at Devil May Care Brewing at 155-A Fort St. The event will feature Joseph Chaeban of Chaeban Ice Cream as well as Abdo El Tassi of Peerless Garments.

These local business leaders will share their unique entrepreneurial journey, including how they overcame challenges on the path to success.

“I really love Winnipeg. It’s a great community to raise your family. That’s why I decided to stay in Winnipeg, and that’s why I’m participating in WTC Talks,” Chaeban said.

“The people here are unbelievable. If I can inspire someone else to do what they love, that would be amazing.”

Based on his positive experience, Chaeban encourages entrepreneurs to connect with the World Trade Centre Winnipeg.

“It’s great for start-ups to join WTC Winnipeg because they really emphasize how to grow and how to take your business to the next level in importing and exporting. They give you the know-how that you need,” he said.

“They helped us meet new people and helped us grow our business by introducing us to new clients. They’re a really great organization.”

To learn more about Chaeban Ice Cream, visit www.chaebanicecream.com.
To learn more about Chaeban Artisan and its cheese products, visit www.chaebanartisan.com.

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