Blake and his brother,
Greg, were both students at the University of Western Ontario, both
played fullback for the Mustangs and both won the Hec Crighton trophy.
Both also went on to CFL careers with the Eskimos. After retiring from
football in 1994, Blake pursued his passion for food, inspired by the
days he and Greg would haunt the Italian eateries of Edmonton. He consulted
with friends in the food business and worked for free to get some training.
In 1995, Blake and Jodie returned to London and opened Marshall's Pasta
Mill. The store offered fresh pasta, sauces and prepared meals, such
as lasagna and soups.
a University of Guelph marketing graduate, had just given birth to her
second daughter at the time and never imagined herself in the food business.
But she was willing to support Blake's new dream. "It was kind
of scary at first. He didn't work for a year. We had two little kids
and all we had was his football money," she said. But the business
grew quickly, cashing in on a growing demand among busy families for
high-quality, easy-to-prepare meals. The store offered popular package
deals of pasta, sauce and garlic bread. Blake credits brother Greg,
now the Mustangs head coach, with coming up with the recipe for the
store's meatballs. The business expanded into catering as Blake used
his sports and business connections to cater meals for groups ranging
from the Mustangs to intern doctors.
As their girls
grew older, the Marshalls ventured into preparing meals for hot lunch
programs at elementary schools. They now provide a dozen schools with
fresh, hot pasta lunches. In 2000, the Marshalls opened their second
location on Adelaide.
14 years in business and 20 years of marriage, Blake still looks like
a brawny fullback and Jodie still has the slim elegance that recalls
her past stints as a model and dancer. They now have four daughters
and the two oldest, Victoria, 15, and Bretton, 14, help out in the store.
As their business becomes established in the new location, the Marshalls
plan to broaden their offerings to include whole grain and multigrain
breads. Blake said he also plans to expand wholesale deliveries of bread
to local restaurants. The business also will provide dough for P.Za.Pie,
Mike Smith's new restaurant
set to open soon on Richmond Row.
In the summer,
the Marshalls plan to open an ice cream corner in the store and a small
barbecue patio outside. Blake will grill Pino Italian sausages, which
he brings in from Sault Ste. Marie, where they are wildly popular. In
the longer term, the Marshalls muse about opening another location in
south London. Though the couple has enjoyed business success, Jodie
said serving good food to customers has been the real motivation. She
recalls one customer, in particular, who almost moved her to tears.
"She said, 'Buying food from Marshall's makes me feel like a good
mom,' " said Jodie.
this is all about for me."