The Canadian Barley Tea Company founders Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins competed in this season of CBC’s Dragon’s Den. (Contributed)

The Canadian Barley Tea Company founders Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins competed in this season of CBC’s Dragon’s Den. (Contributed)

Slaying Dragons earns Shuswap sisters deal but no TV spot

Canadian Barley Tea Company founders share Dragon’s Den experience

After slaying it in the Dragon’s Den, sisters Janice Ishizaka and Cilla Watkins, founders of the Canadian Barley Tea Company, are looking to expand distribution in B.C.

Over the summer, Ishizaka, who lives in Japan, and Watkins, who resides in the Shuswap, were given the opportunity to make a pitch to the Dragons of the CBC television series, with the hope of making a deal and bringing on a partner whose entrepreneurial influence could help make the Canadian Barley Tea Company’s product, mo’mugi (named after mugicha, a popular Japanese drink), a household name.

Ishizaka, originally from Salmon Arm, created a video to complement Watkin’s in-person presentation.

“I said, ‘Hi Dragons, my name is Cilla Watkins, I’m from beautiful Salmon Arm, British Columbia, and I’m here to ask you for $40,000 for 15 per cent of our company,” said Watkins, setting the scene. “Then I paused and said, ‘Who would like to try mo’mugi both hot and cold.’”

When it came time for the Dragons (Arlene Dickinson, Jim Treliving, Lane Merrifield, Manjit Minhas, Michele Romanow and Vincenzo Guzzo) to taste mo’mugi, the sister’s received what may have been one of the quickest deal offers in the show’s history.

Treliving was quick to rave about the tea and, after a brief discussion among the Dragons regarding financials, was ready to make an offer.

“He was like, ‘I know a good thing and I want to make a deal. So we made the fastest deal in Dragon’s Den history in six minutes,” said Watkins. “That’s how that played out.

“And then I was stunned. I felt like I wanted to drag it on because I wanted to be on TV, I wanted an episode, but the deal was there and if you watch the show, you realize you take the deal when they offer it to you or they cancel it.”

During the talk about financials, Merrifield noted his own Salmon Arm connection.

“Lane said, ‘I don’t know if you know, I’m a pilot and I fly into the Salmon Arm airport frequently. So I’m very familiar with Salmon Arm,’” said Watkins. Lane then asked about the local business accelerator program Watkins successfully competed in, Launch-a-Preneur. “He said, oh yes, I’m familiar with that.”

All but one of the Dragons (Minhas who, due to a mishap on set, received over-steeped tea to taste) spoke favourably of mo’mugi, but because Treliving offered what the sisters had asked for, they left it at that.

This good news was followed by surprise and some disappointment when Ishizaka and Watkins learned their successful, deal-earning pitch wasn’t going to be aired on TV, or even make it to the Dragon’s Den website. However, the experience still opened doors and the sisters still got the deal, which they hope to take advantage of once they reach a point where the money they’re making isn’t just going back into the company. Currently, the sisters are looking forward to working with a distributor in the Lower Mainland with the plan to get mo’mugi on store shelves across B.C.

“We’re focused on being a successful company and growing, but of course that takes time,” said Ishizaka. “We’re hoping the (Salmon Arm) Food Hub opening in March hopefully, if we get in there, will reduce our rent… and then we can make more money quickly and increase or distribution and go across B.C., get bigger and bigger and then give Jim a call. I guess we’ll see how it goes from there.”

For more information about mo’mugi, visit the Canadian Barley Tea Company or Facebook or at canadianbarleytea.com.

Read more: Pitch perfect: Entrepreneurs behind Shuswap product reveal pathway to the Dragon’s Den

Read more: Sisters bring Japanese tea experience to Salmon Arm

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