2020 Women of the Year Awards: Community Builder

Our first annual Women of the Year Awards.

Winner: Kelly Ann Woods

Co-founder and CEO, Gillespie’s Fine Spirits; founder and CEO, Boozewitch Brands; founder and CEO, State B Cannabis Beverage Co.; founder, Squamish Craft Beverage Association

Ancestry research confirmed that Kelly Ann Woods’s pioneering spirit and love of formulating was literally in her DNA: some of her ancestors crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower; others were members of the early witch community in colonial America.

Nicknamed the Boozewitch, Quebec-born Woods attended CEGEP in Montreal, with a focus on theatre, and worked as a flight attendant for Air Canada before moving to the West Coast. She spent years honing her drinks skills as a sommelier and doing hospitality work, all the while experimenting with beverage formulation. In 2013, while living in Vancouver, she founded Gillespie’s Fine Spirits with master distiller John McLellan; a year later, they opened shop in Squamish.

“I got to apply all of my interests in spells, potions and formulating to the work of distillation,” says Woods, who leads a team of 16 employees at the award-winning distillery.

Developing a taste for entrepreneurship, she sought out opportunities for expansion. In 2015, Woods launched Boozewitch Brands, a non-alcoholic line of shrubs (drinking vinegars), tonics and elixirs now distributed across Western Canada. Last year, she founded a third company, State B Cannabis Beverage Co.

“If you’re in the food and beverage industry, I think you would be remiss to not recognize that cannabis is presenting some real opportunities,” explains Woods, who was chosen to attend a cannabis business accelerator program for women in Portland.

State B is currently seeking investment; meanwhile, Woods is working on recipe development and regulatory compliance. She hopes to have products in stores this year.

With the three beverage companies operating separately, Woods is the common denominator. Plans include merging the businesses under one umbrella to boost efficiency, improve brand recognition and maximize potential.

Woods also founded the Squamish Craft Beverage Association to advocate for the industry and support other artisan drink businesses popping up in the community. With Tourism Squamish, the association created a craft tasting trail to encourage visits to these establishments. Significantly, since Gillespie’s opened, two breweries and two cideries have opened within a mile.

Says Woods: “I find that when you’re a business owner in a small town, you have a lot of opportunity to make an impact if you choose.”

Finalist: Alyssa Melnyk

Vice-president, strategic engagement and communications, Castlemain Group

Born in the village of Zeballos on the northwest of Vancouver Island, Alyssa Melnyk spent her formative years in rural and remote parts of Western Canada, where her parents worked with Indigenous communities. “The social injustice between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians was pretty apparent, and it impacted me greatly,” explains Melnyk, who has a master’s in political science and public policy from the University of Regina.

Before joining advisory firm Castlemain Group in 2018, Melnyk spent four years as policy adviser to Jody Wilson-Raybould, then regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. Vancouver-based Castlemain, whose clients include some 150 Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada, helps bridge relationships between its clients and parties looking to work with them on everything from legislative reform to economic development. “The common denominator is that we support the interest of the nation,” Melnyk says. “We’re building their capacity.”

Finalist: Meredith Garritsen

Founder and owner, Hervana Coworking Collective

Before starting Hervana, Meredith Garritsen was director of business development for RDK Products, a Vancouver-based solar lighting specialist. When her employer moved the company to Atlanta, she stayed put. “I fell in love with the idea of having a space where women could operate and chase after what they want without having to justify their right to do that,” says Kelowna-raised Garritsen.

Launched in 2018 in downtown Vancouver, Hervana offers desk space, private offices, professional development and social support to its 60 members, 90 percent of whom are women. Next, Hervana plans to expand its programming to help members achieve their business goals.

Finalists: Tara Black and Marion Scott

Co-founders and co-owners, Origin Bakery

Neither Tara Black nor Marion Scott is celiac, but, seeing a need in Victoria to support the gluten-sensitive community, they founded Origin Bakery in 2009. “Food’s a big thing; it brings people together,” Scott observes. “You feel like an outsider at social gatherings if you can’t partake.”

Friends since their high school days in the Comox Valley, Scott and Black had long toyed with the idea of going into business together. Scott, who attended culinary school at Camosun College, later earned a BA in French at the University of Calgary and worked for WestJet. Black completed culinary school at North Island College; before partnering with Scott, she served as executive pastry chef at Victoria’s Inn at Laurel Point.

Origin now has 42 employees across two locations, a traditional bakery in Victoria and a café in Langford. Black, a Red Seal–certified chef, leads back-end operations—recipe development, baker training and quality control—while Scott focuses on the front end—customers, marketing, communications and retail setup. Expansion into the wholesale market is on the horizon in 2020.

Finalist: Tessa McLoughlin

Founder and director, KWENCH Enterprises

The ideal one-stop shop for Australian-born Tessa McLoughlin includes an exercise facility, a library, food options, a personal care centre and social opportunities, all in a beautiful locale. Such a place didn’t exist in Victoria, so she decided to build one. “I realized that coworking could be the base of my vision for the club,” she says.

In 2017, McLoughlin opened KWENCH (an acronym for knowledge, wellness, experiences, novelty, curiosity/connection fostering health/happiness) in a 5,000-square-foot hub downtown. Two years later, she more than quadrupled its footprint by moving to the Rock Bay area.

With more than 200 members, KWENCH is at 40-percent capacity. McLoughlin plans to expand into the Lower Mainland this year.