It all started when Domenique Mastronardi took a challenge to create a sustainable food product in the University of Guelph two years ago.
Now, she's busy driving around Guelph delivering her healthy creation under her business, the happy era ,to customers interested in waffles that are high in nutritional value, low in calories and don’t come with a sugar crash.
Mastronardi, a graduate from the biological engineering program at the U of G now pursuing her masters in food engineering at the school, said her successful business came to be with a leap of faith and she hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“Taking the leap was the reassurance I needed to know that I can pursue my passion, that it's real, and that it's going to fulfil me,” said Mastronardi.
“Before that it was more of a dream. I just think if you're passionate about something, you're just gonna do such a good job at it.”
In 2019, her professor challenged the class to either write a 50-page literature review on a sustainability topic or come up with a sustainable product by the end of the semester. So she accepted the challenge, created a hearty waffle and also, aced the class.
But the creation took thinking outside the box.
Mastronardi said while living on residence with a meal plan at U of G, she purchased an $8 booster juice every single day, something she found healthy, but very expensive.
But every time she purchased a smoothie, she noticed an abundance of pulp pouring out of the juice machines that would be collected in a bucket.
“I assumed that they would get rid of it so I asked them if I could have it. And they were like, 'yeah, of course, what are you doing with it?' and I said I want to make some waffles out of it,” said Mastronardi.
So she played around with the pulp, masked it with different flavours and created something different.
“I figured I was onto something. And through that, I decided to enter a school competition. I kind of did some networking through that,” said Mastronardi.
She joined the Soy Competition at the U of G in 2019 and won first place in the undergraduate category. It also helped her network where she ventured into The Hub Incubator Program on campus where she was hooked up with a team, mentorship and a little of funding to start the business.
“I worked on the recipe for a very long time,” said Mastronardi who uses gluten-free base ingredients such as almond flour and coconut flour to create different waffle flavours such as cinnamon or peanut butter chocolate.
“My nonna (grandma) helped me develop the amaretto cappuccino flavour so that’s a family favourite.”
While her professor’s challenge gave her the kick she needed, she said passion for food didn’t come from her waffle project.
Mastronardi classifies herself as a foodie and also someone who is passionate about the way healthy eating makes her feel. She said her goal is to help others feel their best through health and nutrition.
“This is a way for me to channel that,” she said.
She was also always searching for easy packaged foods that would fill her up during the day and feel good.
“And I noticed that there was a void in the market for breakfast foods that were healthy, packable and tasted good,” said Mastronardi.
She said while a nice protein bar gave her everything she needed, it didn’t always taste good, so that’s what she decided to bring to the table, a breakfast item that was healthy, tasted good and filled her belly.
“That's why I'm making waffles. And that's where the brand comes from, the happy era. So I know that for myself, I'm happier, more ambitious and more productive when I feel good on the inside and when I’m taking care of myself,” said Mastronardi.
She launched her product in her hometown of Leamington when the pandemic began before she started selling in Guelph.
“I’ve been into healthy baking since I was a young girl and my parents always encouraged me to get creative in the kitchen. Little did they know, they were laying the foundations for the happy era. They’re super enthusiastic about the business,” said Mastronardi.
“They love that I’ve found a way to channel my passion for helping others feel healthy. My family grows cucumbers and I think they love to see that same entrepreneurial spirit in me.”
When she came back to Guelph, the owners of Faze Pizza located in Downtown Guelph — closed due to the pandemic — rented out their kitchen to her and that’s where she now cooks her waffles every week ready to be delivered every Thursday in Guelph.
She said as a small local business, she tries to support local as much as possible by buying fresh local ingredients such as eggs from a farm in Wellington County. She also prints her product labels in Guelph.
"I really think that being in Guelph was a big reason that I was able to start this company. I just think that like there's such a food hub here and sustainability hub here. Those two together just really inspired me to pursue this passion," said Mastronardi.