Interview with Tony James – Owner of Worldwide Specialty Foods
When Tony launched Worldwide Specialty Foods in 1985, nobody in Calgary was interested in caviar and French brie. Thirty five years later, Tony is known as “the guy” when you need hard-to-find items. Learn more about how Tony’s passion has brought thousands of new items to diners across Calgary.
When Tony James launched Worldwide Specialty Foods in 1985, he was struggling to get people – chefs in particular – interested in some of the more obscure products he was bringing into the warehouse.
In the early days of the company, Tony was not shy about taking chances. “I walked into the CP Palliser, as it was in those days, and I went to see the chef and told him I had all these wonderful things.” He gave Tony a chance and today, Worldwide Specialty Foods is the number two supplier of food products to the Fairmont Palliser.
Walking into the warehouse, one cannot help but be impressed. More than 35 years ago, Tony started with roughly 300 items, but today there are more than 9,000 food items stacked from floor to rafters.
This place is a catering company’s candy store.
Among the $500 bottles of balsamic vinegar are every kind of spice imaginable. There are jams, jellies, olives and oil. There are 11 kilogram bags of pistachio flour, wholesale priced at $400. As a wild contrast, there is a skid of instant ramen noodle bowls destined for staff vending machines at a high-end hotel.
“I love to get involved with the chefs and show them new items, interesting items,” Tony says. “I show them items they either cannot find themselves or didn’t even know they wanted.”
Worldwide Specialty Foods not only supplies major hotels, they also sell their goods to independent and specialty delicatessens, major supermarkets, farmer’s markets, cheese shops, and catering companies throughout western Canada.
Tony takes great pride in being a reliable supplier of new and interesting things for food service in Calgary. Worldwide Specialty Foods is known as “the guy” when you need hard-to-find items or when a last-minute menu change at an event in Jasper calls for 200 kilograms of fresh goose.
“Finding fresh goose in December is not a big deal, but in late September it’s not quite as easy. But I found it in Quebec and got it here in time for the dinner.”
For Tony, the thrill isn’t just in fulfilling a request, like one a Saudi royal family once made for a specific kind of peanut butter that Worldwide Specialty Foods flew in from Los Angeles.
“Certainly the challenge of finding things is very rewarding in itself but knowing you’ve been part of making the guest experience the complete experience, that’s really rewarding.”