Dennis’ Horseradish changes hands for the fourth time in 60 years but is still going strong
The sandy soil of Norfolk County makes growing almost anything pretty much possible – including horseradish root. But, Dennis’ Horseradish is the only root coming out of Norfolk County, earning itself a formidable reputation across Ontario.
Started by Dennis’ Gyorffy in 1960, his family moved product across the province through delicatessens, independent supermarkets and butcher shops. Twenty years later, the business was sold to the local Hantz family who continued to build the business by adding new recipes and flavours while perfecting the brand.
Ryder Farms and the DeHooghe family, both of Norfolk, acquired the business in 2008 and also built upon the previous successes. Today, Dennis’ Horseradish is in the hands of its fourth owner – a trio of Marks!
In 2020, the horseradish business was sold to Mark Whitmore and Mark Healy, with Mark Vandenbosch coming aboard last year. The three met at the Ivey Business School where Vandenbosch was a professor for many years. He retired about 18 months ago and is now responsible for finance and commercial sales for Dennis’ Horseradish.
Healy is the Chief Executive Officer and takes care of branding and marketing, while Whitmore is the Chief Operating Officer responsible for production.
“Healy and Whitmore had long wanted to get into business together and they had talked about it with me,” Vandenbosch said. “Whitmore came across this opportunity and things went from there.”
The trio of Marks didn’t think twice about keeping the name synonymous with the famous horseradish. They also felt, despite being so far from the market, that they must remain tied to the original roots.
“The sandy soil in Norfolk grows great root,” Vandenbosch admitted. “And we work together with a local farming couple who grow for us. We are further away from the market than what is ideal but the raw material is here in Norfolk.”
The area is also home to the company’s Master Horseradish Maker Rick Hantz. Hantz continues to fulfill this important role under the new owners to ensure they continue to turn out the best and hottest horseradish in Canada. Between Hantz and the Marks, they are now busy with a slate of new ideas.
One thing that truly sets Dennis’ Horseradish apart from other horseradishes on the shelves is its special grind.
“If you go to the store and buy another horseradish you will find it’s like a paste,” Vandenbosch said. “Dennis’ Horseradish’s grind makes it more food-like than paste. Texture is a huge factor for many people.”
Dennis’ Horseradish is a field to fork operation and is made in small batches, as it’s not a condiment that families consume on a daily basis. Vandenbosch and his counterparts are hoping to change that.
Traditionally, horseradish hits the table for a roast beef dinner or on cocktail shrimp. Developing new uses for horseradish is a top priority for the men. Vandenbosch said they are looking to develop recipes for salad dressings, aioli and Caesars.
From the retail perspective, Dennis’ Horseradish is in about several hundred stores including Metro, Sobeys and Fortinos. Product is shipped to Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, the Prairies, Quebec, and across Ontario.
“I think our goal is to grow Dennis’ Horseradish significantly – we’ve already grown a lot last year but we hope to double this year,” he said. “We want to first of all grow into major grocery stores, secondly we want to be able to grow out from the 100 miles from Delhi idea. Third, we’d like to grow to the food service business.”
The plan is a hefty one but all three Marks agree if they work hard to prove themselves, their goals are attainable.
On the other side of the global pandemic, they are hoping to see restaurants in full swing again and the opportunity to have Dennis’ Horseradish products right on the table in the traditional fashion – upside down.