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Grate idea: Newfoundlander builds unexpected business with bristle-free BBQ scraper

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Jason Janes really loves to barbecue.

He can be found behind one of the three outside grills at his home in the Humber Valley on Newfoundland’s west coast a few times a week, and he keeps things sizzling all year long.

“I love things that are low and slow,” he said, describing his favourite dish — pulled pork with smoked macaroni and cheese.

Janes says grooves will naturally form over time to match people’s barbecue grates. (JuniperBBQScraper/Facebook)

So when Janes saw stories in the news about the dangers of wire bristles from barbecue brushes becoming embedded in people’s throats, he hit the hardware store.

Janes said he didn’t have much luck finding a safer alternative, and the cedar shakes he was using to scrape the grill in the meantime were wearing out too quickly. 

“I said, ‘Geez, this is a bit of a nuisance,’ so I called up my dad and said, ‘Do you have a piece of juniper?'”

Jason Janes started the scraper business in spring of 2017, and his wife Jackie and parents Lynn and Bern all help run it. (JuniperBBQScraper.com)

That’s when he hit upon what just might become a million-dollar idea.

Janes knew juniper is hard and durable and lasts a long time in the wood stove, so he carved a piece into a scraper.

He was so impressed with his invention he posted a picture on social media to see if anyone else would want one, and then went on vacation for a couple of weeks.

When he got back there were hundreds of replies.

The former tech entrepreneur now manufactures scrapers from his home garage, selling 5,000 in the first six months. 

Truly home grown 

The choice of tamarack, which is commonly referred to as juniper in Newfoundland and Labrador, is key.

“It’s just so beautiful. Every single piece is unique. It’s like a piece of art,” he said.

“And because it has a very high heat resistance it doesn’t burn as fast on the barbecue and will last longer than cedar … Also there’s no such thing as Newfoundland cedar — it doesn’t exist here. This is a local product. If it’s cedar it’s imported.”

Janes works in advance with the local harvesters who supply the pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook, and buys the juniper by the tractor trailer load. 

A small load of juniper fresh out of the kiln is destined to become scrapers. (JuniperBBQScrapers/Facebook)

Janes said any splinters from his scraper, unlike wire bristles or pieces of bamboo that get caught on the grill and stuck in the food, will simply burn up.

“If a splinter comes off this thing it just burns. It becomes smoke and flavour to the food.”

All in the family

The budding business — which started with the first prototype in May 2017 — is a family affair. 

Janes’s wife Jackie helps with shipping. His dad, Bern, pitches in on production when it’s busy, and his mother, Lynn, hand-cut and sewed the straps for the first 1,000 units from old thrift-store leather jackets.

“We’ve well outgrown that,” said Janes.

The scrapers are now available in 60 retail outlets throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and a national distribution with a big chain is in the works.

Janes also sells from his website and has shipped scrapers across Canada and the U.S., as well as to the Caribbean and the U.K. 

“We can feel it. It’s here. I’ve been involved in a lot of startups over the years, and the ones that take off you can start to feel something when it’s about to happen. You can sense it,” he said.

Janes says he is still using the prototype scraper he carved in May 2017. (JuniperBBQScraper/Facebook)

“It was a hobby and now it’s starting to feel like a business. I feel that we’re right on the verge of that. That’s the part that I love.”

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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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