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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

No worries: Former stockbroker spices things up

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

It's been four years since John Byberg came to the daunting realization he would spend more than three years of his life commuting to and from work unless he shook things up. He found inspiration in the Land Down Under, trading in a successful career in the stock market to become a spice manufacturer and restaurant owner.
John Byberg traded in the stock market to become a spice manufacturer and restaurant owner.

"I knew I wanted to do something different," says Byberg, owner of Bush Dreams ( spices and rubs and Pepperberries Bistro in Brooklin in North Whitby. "The night I did those calculations, I quit my job and took five months off to spend with my family ... I had lots of fun but didn't have a real clue as to what I was going to do."

The Greenbank resident entered a partnership with a chef who launched Bush Dreams. Though the two have since parted ways, the company continues to import spices from Australia and blends them locally to create new flavours like Pepperberry Rub and Lemon Myrtle Hot Thai Sauce Mix.


Byberg studied management economics at the University of Guelph and worked as a runner on the floor of the Toronto Stock Exchange before becoming a block trader in Toronto. He decided there was no better way to test his blends than to open a restaurant.

"I look at my restaurant not only as a restaurant, but as an R and D (research and development) centre for my products. To a certain extent, our customers are guinea pigs for our spice blends. If you get a lot of people saying a blend was extraordinary, maybe you've hit the nail on the head."

The learning curve was huge. "I put my head full into it. During those first six months, I worked six days a week, 12 hours a day to learn what it takes to run a restaurant," Byberg says.
John Byberg traded in the stock market to become a spice manufacturer and restaurant owner.

In keeping with lessons he learned in the stock market, he believes strongly in employee ownership. "They realize their vested shares could become much more valuable -- hopefully -- than they could ever dream of."

At the same time, Bush Dreams took off. Byberg shipped $2,000 worth of spices and rubs to the Epcot Wine and Food Show at Disney World in Florida and within six weeks, sold $15,000 worth of product. They're used at notable restaurants like Disney World Resorts, Jack Astor's, Chateau Laurier, Chateau Whistler, Casino Rama, Air Canada Centre and the Fleet Centre in Boston.

The spices and rubs are distributed in Canada through Elco Fine Foods, Hills Roads and Bush Dreams' website.

In the U.S., they're distributed primarily through SYSCO, a foodservice distributor.

"The distribution power of a company like SYSCO, which has thousands of salespeople on the road, really excites me," Byberg says. "My only task now is to introduce them to these great flavours. I ultimately want to give the end client an exceptional experience featuring Australian herbs and spices. More important for SYSCO's clients is for them to keep their clients coming through the doors."

Hearing a Toronto-area restaurant advertise its pepperberry-rubbed menu was a crowning achievement for Byberg. He believes the time is ripe for North Americans to savour Australian flavours, pointing to successful exports like Greg Norman, Russell Crowe and Aussie wines.

"I think the world doesn't know these spices. If you blend them in the right way, you can create incredible flavours," Byberg says. "The spices are unique unto themselves. One chef told me he'd have a revolt on his hands if he took his pepperberry-rubbed salmon off his menu."

Byberg has found what he was looking for and continues to dream big.

"What drove me to this business ... is that I wanted something closer to the grassroots of humanity, which is appealing to people's senses," he says. "I had as many compliments in my first two weeks of running this restaurant than I had in the 12 years I worked in the stock market."

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