Publishers Robert Rose held a quiet dinner at Rouge Restaurant in Calgary last night to make the announcement that the iconic Canadian cookbook brand Best of Bridge would be shuffling their deck of authors. Calgary Herald reporter Gwendolyn Richards broke the news in an exclusive interview.
Winners of a contest that asked for favourite recipes and stories about Best of Bridge were invited to the dinner under the guise of celebrating an intimate “retro evening” with the four remaining original authors – Mary Halpen, Val Robinson, Helen Miles and Joan Wilson. I was one of the fortunate winners.
I entered the contest because I am a long-time fan of the success of the eight (now four) Calgary stay-at-home Moms and savvy entrepreneurs. They were everything I hoped they would be – happy, passionate, completely loyal and fond of each other, funny (just like their famous one-liners) and great businesswomen.
Here’s a bit more about them and the new plans for Best of Bridge with Julie Van Rosendaal, Sue Duncan and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth.
At the dinner where Rouge Restaurant Executive chef Jamie Harling made several classic dishes from the cookbooks, I sat across the table from Joan Wilson who shared the fact that it was 1976 and the Year of the Woman that gave the group both the challenge and the belief that they could celebrate their love of cooking and belief in each other by self-publishing a cookbook. When a bank told them they would need their husbands to co-sign the loan they needed to print the books they said, “NO WAY”. They figured out an alternate model, with pre-sales to a real estate company who would give the books as client gifts. They used that money to pay for the first print run and by the time of their launch they’d already sold the first run of 6000 books and were filling order sheets for more. The second run of 10,000 sold out in the same way.
Today, the books have sold over 3 million copies.
Wilson and Val Harrison told me that they tested everything over and over for taste, ease and clarity. They always stuck to ingredients you would have around the house anyway and that would deliver “gourmet results with minimal effort”. To Canadians, titles like “Classy Chicken”, “Land of Nod”, “Wifesaver”, “Sensational Sausage Roll”, and “Hamburger Soup” really mean something. They were a home cooks version of “a sure thing”. If a cook undertook the effort, the result would always be a meal that would please guests and family alike.
The Best of Bridge founders have shared the following stats about what their 40 year career as Canada’s foremost cookbook authors involved:
1276 bridge games
68 road trips
248 television appearances
53 trade fairs
3 million books
19 children, all perfect
25 grandchildren, all gifted
…and a million laughs.
Women business owners do things differently. These successful women developed a credo – simple recipes delivering gourmet results – and stuck to it. Wilson shared that the group “job shared” out of practicality. If one’s children were sick the others just stepped up to cover her work that day. They needed and supported flexible working hours. They could not afford advertising but were devoted to receiving and replying to all feedback from their customers. They knew that the buyers of their product were their sales and marketing force. They loved each other like “sisters” and upheld ethics of loyalty to each other and to their families and husbands (even though they were cute and fun and on the road a lot). They used their sense of team to bolster each other, brainstorm and bulldoze their own successful path. They built fun into everything they did.
They are happy the brand will live on in a young woman they mentored. Julie Van Rosendaal looked to the group for advice and support when she self-published her first cookbook called, One Smart Cookie.
Anyone who knows Van Rosendaal knows that she is indeed that and a lot of fun too. She is a team player and has built her own dream team with best friends Sue Duncan and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth. The three will carry on the brand for the publishing house.
Van Rosendaal is a master of social media and marketing and if that was all there was to success then she would not stand out but she’s got something others don’t: original content. She’s a constant cook and successful writer with several highly acclaimed cookbooks, blogs and food columns. She is a teacher and mentor who is known for generously sharing with others. Her own Dinner with Julie brand is well known for approachable cooking for families across Canada. Her food photography is highly acclaimed and she’s a sought after food stylist. She co-authors the Rolling Spoon blog with Chorney-Booth and co-authored Spilling the Beans with Duncan. Whatever project she’s involved in she brings a fresh and fun spin to it and that is why the Best of Bridge ladies are at peace handing over the deck of recipe cards to Van Rosendaal and her team.
It’ll be fun to see how the new trio’s hand plays out when they release their first version in the fall of 2016. I might never learn to play Bridge but this will keep me looking forward to the Best of Bridge.