The Minhas name is a well-known name in Canada. Top of mind is Manjit Minhas. Besides starring on the popular CBC program Dragons’ Den, she and her brother Ravinder Minhas operate popular breweries and related businesses in Canada and the United States.
But what the public might not know is the fact their father, Moni Minhas, is also a successful entrepreneur, having managed, owned and sold liquor stores in Alberta while also launching a handful of oil and gas companies.
That’s about to change, though, as Moni Minhas starts a new liquor enterprise in Saskatchewan with Minhas Distillery, Winery & Brewery.
“My family always had a connection to Regina and Saskatchewan, and I always felt indebted to the province,” says Minhas, explaining that Manjit studied at the University of Regina and Ravinder worked for Husky Energy in Unity, Sask.
To boot, his cousin, prominent B.C. businessman and philanthropist David Sidoo, played five seasons for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, becoming the first Indo-Canadian to play for a major North American professional sports team.
While these connections put the province on Moni Minhas’s radar, what led him to launch a distillery in Saskatchewan was opportunity—based on his observation that for more than 100 years much of the distilled liquor sold in Saskatchewan came from someplace else. “And yet Saskatchewan has the best grain for alcohol that anyone could wish for,” he adds.
For instance, he says 80 per cent of the malt barley used for beer and spirit production in Canada comes from the province.
“It’s the best barley you can have to make the cleanest alcohol,” he says, adding that his children were buying and shipping Saskatchewan barley to Wisconsin where they operate a distillery and brewery.
What’s more, Minhas saw in Saskatchewan a confluence of all the right ingredients for building a great business. It had the natural resources, the people, and the right amount of support from both the provincial and municipal governments.
“By and large, I’ve been able to buy 90 per cent of the equipment and hire 100 per cent of the people to build and run the facility in Saskatchewan.”
“That was my biggest fear: finding people who know how to work with specialized machinery,” says Minhas, adding that the distillery will use some of the most sophisticated equipment of its kind.
But he was impressed by the expertise he found—from the architects to the trades to the distiller.
Early on, Minhas realized he was onto something good in Saskatchewan. That’s why he quickly decided to expand operations to include a brewery and winery.
Minhas found all levels of government to be responsive and easy to work with.
“The first time I met with the city, there were 20, maybe more, at the meeting—and I’ve never heard of that.”
And when he wanted to meet with the province, it was a pleasant experience.
“They were wonderful people and they understood what I was doing and were there to support me,” says Minhas.
No question went unanswered.
“They were prompt, and they might not always have the answers I wanted, but what’s important is government was quick and clear in responding,” Minhas explains. “What kills a businessperson is when you don’t get clear answers.”
He even found the province’s burgeoning craft beer and liquor industry supportive.
Plans for the business now extend beyond Regina. Minhas will soon open a tasting room, retail outlet and warehouse in Saskatoon.
He also plans to establish a partnership with the University of Saskatchewan’s Fruit Program to develop new products that will appeal to markets inside and outside the province.
Minhas says the 20,000-square-foot Regina facility will be able to produce about 120 different beverages—from vodka, whisky and gin to beer, coolers, wine and premixed drinks such as manhattans and cosmopolitans.
What’s more, Minhas Distillery will be an industry innovator, drawing on the province’s reputation as one of the world’s leading producers of pulses such as lentils and chickpeas.
“As soon as production is going, the pulses will be next,” Minhas explains.
He adds the first bottles should start being filled in late November, but ground-breaking new products that use pulses will likely roll off the line in late winter next year.
All told Minhas is confident he has founded a business with all the right elements for success: good ingredients, highly skilled people, and a government that knows when to help and when to step out of the way with a red-tape-free regulatory environment.
“So far, my experience in Regina and Saskatchewan has been absolutely, amazingly good,” he says. “I have no regrets whatsoever.”
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan.