Amber Isles in Saanichton balances her business, volunteering and marathon training to provide delicious treats
What started as a side project and hobby around the holidays, later became a full-time job and successful business for Amber Isles.
For the love of food
Amber grew up on Vancouver Island and landed her first job at a small restaurant in Victoria. She learned a great deal about small business operations and food preparation throughout the 10 years she worked in the food service industry. And she developed a passion for crafting food creations.
Amber also loves animals and helping those in need. It was her restaurant jobs that helped fund her university career in which she became a certified veterinary technician.
To nurture her passion for cooking and animals, she often worked at an animal clinic during the day and a restaurant at night.
Following a work trip to South America where she volunteered to spay and neuter animals, Amber had an epiphany. She could make confectionary treats as her day job and continue to work with animals on a volunteer and donation basis.
The kitchen and classroom
At the beginning, Amber worked as a vet tech and made English toffee out of her house every holiday season.
As popularity grew for her treats, “I went to a local market to give it a try because everyone said I should try selling it there. It went really well, and I sold out. So, I decided I would make more,” Amber says.
Then, a business owner asked if she could supply their coffee shop with her confections.
Amber was at a crossroads and had to decide whether she should build a commercial kitchen or rent one.
“It just started growing to the point where I went from using my friend’s breakfast restaurant at night, so that I could supply stores, to building my own commercial kitchen,” Amber says.
She then outgrew that kitchen and moved into a larger facility in Saanichton in 2018.
This new space enabled Amber to officially launch RockCoast Confections and hire seven staff members.
Everything that Amber knows about confectionary goods and gourmet chocolate treats is self taught. Ironically, when Amber started out, she had a fonder love for candy and was not a huge fan of chocolate. “But now I eat chocolate all the time,” Amber laughs.
RockCoast Confections is an avenue for ongoing learning and continuous improvement. Amber spends a lot of time completing food courses, watching instructional videos and attending tradeshows to take lessons from specialists in her field.
“I love creating. I’m so interested in learning, so if I see something new, or want to try a different technique, I research it,” Amber says. “I always want to make things better.”
Amber also continues to do veterinary work as a volunteer when she can.
A sweet tooth’s dream
RockCoast Confections’s logo gives customers insight into the creativity and products that the Island business offers.
Indeed, the logo consists of four pieces of toffee bark stacked on top of each other to highlight RockCoast Confection’s natural ingredients that are free of artificial flavours and colours. Amber also wants all the packaging and presentation to emulate a west coast feel.
Customers recognize and love the toffee bark logo and the products themselves!
“Our two main wholesale products are toffee bark in three flavours and my new line of chocolate-based protein bars that I pretty much just got running right before COVID-19 hit,” Amber says.
“Our number one product is the salted toffee bark with English toffee inside, roasted almonds, a chocolate coating and then I smoke sea salt and put that on top,” Amber says.
The whey protein bars come in such flavours as chocolate, mint chocolate, peanut butter chocolate and caramel chocolate. Vegan bars are available in mint chocolate and peanut butter chocolate.
And RockCoast Confections has a wide selection of treats available for purchase in its Saanichton store.
“In the storefront, I have a massive collection of chocolates including mint, orange, chili and peanut butter flavours,” Amber says.
“And then I have chocolate bars, salted soft caramels, chocolate dipped ginger and mango. We have a bunch of gluten-free baking as well.”
This summer, RockCoast Confections also offers weekly ice cream sandwich specials. Make sure to get some before they’re gone!
Engaging with the community
Each year, RockCoast Confections fundraises for a local organization with an open house, activities and donated bars.
“Last year I did a kids’ Beach Cleanup because we are always trying to come up with ways to get the community outside,” Amber says.
This year’s event supports active living and family time.
“Because of COVID-19, a lot of races got cancelled and everyone sort of got into a funk. We were launching our protein bars at the beginning of the pandemic when all the stores were closing,” Amber explains. “So, we had to come up with something fun that promoted these bars and got people out and active with their kids. I just started running half marathons and marathons a couple months ago when we decided to do this, so I thought it would be cool to do a virtual race series.”
People can sign up for RockCoast’s Rock the Summer Challenge, with a 1km For Kids virtual Run/Walk/Bike, a 5km virtual Run/Walk or a 10km virtual Run/Walk. Part of the proceeds will support the Hillside Veterinary Hospital’s Pledge Fund.
“It’s a fun way to get families out,” Amber says.
‘Community is everything’
RockCoast Confections is incredibly appreciative of local support over the years – including new customers and regulars who always stay a little bit longer to chat.
The sense of community on the Island has been “amazing, especially over the last year. I feel so fortunate to have a confectionary shop and be on the Island,” Amber says. “I don’t know of any other place where the community supports each other this much. I am so grateful for the people here who travel to the shop, spread the word and support local. There is so much of that here. It’s pretty unbelievable!”
Her community shows their support, even during the busiest times of the year when Amber rarely leaves the kitchen. For instance, during the holidays, friends visit and do workouts with her in RockCoast’s parking lot.
In return for all this community love, Amber collaborates with and supports other small businesses.
“I try to support local as much as I can. I love supporting other businesses in the area and getting to work with local people who are growing their businesses,” Amber says. “I think everyone is similar that way here. It’s cool to see other businesses grow, change and adapt.”
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Photo credit: Cassidy Nunn