Rob Sengotta (Culinary Arts ’99) considers himself a guy who goes with the flow. As a kid, he began working in kitchens for no reason other than that’s where he happened to find a job. He went to culinary school but wasn’t sure he wanted to make a career out of it. In the end, though, cooking took hold and subsequently led him on countless adventures — his most recent being the “butter adventure.”
In November, he and business partner Landon Kroeker appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den to showcase their product, Von Slick’s Finishing Butter: flavour-infused butter packaged in a handy push-tube. After wowing them with their product, the duo shocked the dragons by turning down multiple offers. They don’t regret their decision.
“The product showed amazingly well, but the deal wasn’t worth it. You’ve got to be careful in a situation like that because we really had no time to think. . . . (Saying no) was a little awkward, but we decided it didn’t feel right,” he says. “Since then, we’ve got a ton of positive feedback from people all over the country.”
In addition to feedback, they’ve also won accolades. Two weeks after filming Dragon’s Den in Toronto last May, the Manitoba-based duo headed back to the city to attend the Retail Council of Canada’s Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards. They were surprised to be among the finalists; they were astonished to win.
“We got a call — we thought we’d go and meet some people and ended up taking two huge trophies home that day, which was pretty amazing. That put us on the map for everything,” said Sengotta, adding they won awards for innovation/originality and best new dairy product. “We were only in a few stores at that point and we were just out of the gate, so it was pretty amazing to get national recognition right away.”
Until now, Von Slick’s has only been available at Manitoba retailers, but in early 2023 distribution is set to go national. Watch for updates at vonslicks.ca.
While butter is providing the bread to help feed Sengotta’s family right now, it isn’t the first culinary adventure Sengotta has been on — and chances are it won’t be his last.
Before the butter biz
Sengotta’s 25-plus-year culinary career has been filled with adventure and change. He’s travelled the world, cooked on private yachts and fine-dining trains, started multiple businesses and worked with some of the world’s best chefs. Early on in his apprenticeship he worked with Ed Walker, assistant teaching professor and interim chair of TRU’s Culinary Arts Program. Walker saw a spark in the young chef and encouraged him to spread his culinary wings.
“I often talked to Rob about using his talent and going to work in Great Britain as I had done. I told him not to worry about having a lot of money to go over with — just go and get a job. Which he did,” said Walker. “He and I remained close friends over the years. It’s been amazing watching his journey, seeing him become a father and now running a successful company again.”
Early in his career, Sengotta worked in England and France, cooking with several Michelin-star chefs and soaking up skills everywhere he went. He later opened Shuswap Chefs, a restaurant on the lake in Salmon Arm, which he operated for nearly a decade prior to making the move to Manitoba with his wife and young son. She wanted to return home to her family’s farm and he’d never been to Manitoba before, so he thought why not?
“I’ve just always gone along with things,” he says. “You’ve got to go out and do a little bit of everything and see where life takes you. It’s been an amazing ride so far. We’ve been in Manitoba about four years and we’re out here until the next adventure happens.”