A trip to Brazil opened a new market for cabinet-makers Noreen and Gaetan Frank.
March 14, 2011
by Matt Powell
UXBRIDGE‑ Ten years ago, Noreen and Gaetan Frank weren’t sure about importing soapstone into Canada.
The Franks were worried about South American labour issues, government regulation and soapstone’s potential in Canada.
But a trip to a government-regulated soapstone quarry in Brazil put them at ease.
“I was so impressed with the stone and how well-run the quarries were,” says Noreen.
The couple started importing the stone in 2003 and set up N&G Soapstone Countertops. A decade later, their Uxbridge, Ont. soapstone countertop business has become a major player in the Canadian market.
Transitioning from cabinet makers to soapstone counters had its challenges at first.
“When we first started selling the product, it was tough,” says Noreen.
Most people didn’t know about soapstone. A global health epidemic changed that.
When SARS hit Toronto, Public Health Canada released a report that said soapstone counters were the best option to eliminate harmful bacteria from kitchen surfaces.
“As bad as this might sound, the SARS epidemic helped grow this business,” Noreen says.
Business got so good that they moved from their 4,600 square-foot plant to a 10,000 square foot fabrication and showroom facility.
Now they’re serving clients across Canada, including high-profile restaurants such as Toronto’s Canoe.
The Franks try to make sure their operations leave as little environmental impact as possible.
They recently invested in a water recycling system. Water is used in the stone-cutting process to keep the blade and stone cool to avoid chipping or cracking.
Noreen says the stone itself is a “green” product.
“We get it in its raw form, which eliminates multiple stops on its way to us.”
They also use soapstone scraps to make tiles for backsplashes
The company processes the stone themselves. Instead of using CAD software to design their counters, they apply a template technique that involves going to a customer’s home and using plastic boards to measure and design the layout of the countertop.
Noreen says they just recently designed a piece for a customer in B.C. based just on pictures and measurements from the home.
“We think there’s much less room for error doing it the old fashioned way.”