Awie du Toit was a South African medical student studying in Winnipeg in 1998 when he decided to take a summer trip to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to visit some South African friends. He had no idea he would later return to that small city to start a career in medicine and then a successful olive oil business.
Move to Moose Jaw
His journey to Saskatchewan began when he received a job offer to become a radiologist at the Moose Jaw hospital later that same year. (A radiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries using medical imaging technology.)
It was an easy choice for him. He already had friends there and had discovered he liked the city after his first visit. He, his wife Isabeau and their son packed their bags and officially left South Africa for Canada.
Awie's career success makes it clear he made the right choice. In fact, he is now in charge of the diagnostic imaging department at the hospital. He says the Saskatchewan health system is solid, and his colleagues at the hospital have been supportive. With Saskatchewan's growing economy and population, there is a need for more health professionals. From Awie's perspective, the province is an attractive destination for international health professionals. "It's a great place to be and to work as a physician."
Opportunity Comes Knocking
Several years after their move, he and Isabeau were presented with an irresistible opportunity to start their own business. Their idea: open a store selling olive oil. Isabeau had just returned from a trip to New Mexico in the United States where she had visited a store selling premium olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For her and Awie, it was a perfect fit. The couple had bought farmland in South Africa several years ago and had recently planted olive trees on it. Now they could create a retail outlet and eventually sell their own olive oil.
They opened OliV in Moose Jaw in 2011, and it was an immediate success. After subsequent expansions in Saskatoon and Calgary, there are now 14 locations across Canada offering a wide range of flavoured oils and vinegars. The olive oil originates from South Africa, while the balsamic vinegar is sourced from Italy.
Starting a business in Saskatchewan was a relatively simple process for the couple. In Awie's view, Saskatchewan is very accommodating in helping new businesses get through the paperwork to open their doors. "We opened the store within a six-week period, and we really had no problems."
He encourages entrepreneurs to come to Saskatchewan, where the strong economy increases the purchasing power of residents. The province’s central location and reliable transportation access by rail, road and air to anywhere in North America is an important advantage, Awie says.
Awie has achieved his career goals in Saskatchewan, and he and his wife have realized their dream of running a successful business. They also find Saskatchewan a great place to live. They both like sports and are able to golf, swim, cycle and even play squash in Moose Jaw. For them, Saskatchewan is the place they think of as home.