By Varun Desai
When Lionel Moona Bedessee arrived in Canada in 1971 with four of his seven children, he knew it would be a long journey that could test his tenacity. But 38 -year-old LMB, a responsible family man and an individual with sky-high ambitions, also knew that the adventure would teach him a lot about his destination.
LMB had dreams and aspirations. He was ready to work hard. With his self-belief and the ability to convert that into reality, LMB was sure to reach his goal.
A fortune-seeker, at the age of 20, LMB decided to start his own enterprise. He sold small household items such as twine, balloons, and rubber bands on his bicycle throughout Coraetyne Guyana. After a thorough survey of the market, LMB identified a lack of supply of cricket gears in the region, even though Cricket happens to be popular in the Caribbean culture. Soon LMB started to sell cricket gears within the community and to players of Indian origin. LMB’s initiative empowered talented black and coloured players to overturn existing attitudes of white superiority in the game. This was the stepping stone for Lionel Bedessee’s future business ventures. Soon, his business grew rapidly to wholesale and a full sports department that included kitchen chairs, Singer sewing machines, Linoleum carpets, florescent tubes, enamel kitchenware, lead sheets, rope and twine.
LMB was not ready to settle for the ordinary, and in 1971, LMB broke free from the flock and immigrated with his family to settle in Canada.LMB accomplished this feat at the age of 38 when his peers would consider “taking it slow.” With the ‘liberalization’ of the Canadian Immigrant act, the population of native Caribbeans increased manifold in the ‘70s in Canada. The entrepreneurial vision of LMB was quick to identify the new opportunity. A lack of Caribbean and West Indian products in the Canadian market prompted this brilliant innovator to pioneer the Caribbean / West Indian food business in Canada and the USA.
LMB was a true entrepreneur at every level. He enjoyed his business and poured his heart and soul into the new enterprise. He travelled the world seeking authentic products and brands once exported to the Caribbean.
Retaining a satisfied customer was the best business strategy that LMB adopted and lived by all his life. He was very driven, and his idea of innovation was providing value to the customer. LMB realized that his customers needed products that were unavailable in Canada. Nothing was going to deter LMB; he sought out and started exploring more business opportunities within the import and export industry to accommodate the needs of his customers. LMB travelled to many countries worldwide, searching for well-known Guyanese brands.LMB even travelled to those countries, which, in his time, were considered unsafe. But LMB was determined to acquire his customer’s requested goods and supplies and win their hearts.
In 1984, Bedessee Imports closed its retail operations and started wholesale and manufacturing-only operations in Scarborough, Ontario. A continuous learner, LMB was constantly looking for ways to add innovative technology to his business. He successfully implemented his idea by designing a state-of-the-art noodles factory at Bedessee Imports, Scarborough headquarters. Bedessee Imports has since flourished to encompass operations in several cities, including Toronto, New York, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, Jamaica, and has built an international food empire that spans three continents serving customers through a chain of over 1000 retail partners.
In business, it is rare to find a selfless partner. The good work of LMB for the community brought him in contact with Melvin John, an Anglo Indian from Pakistan who has been in Canada for over two decades. The common mission of giving back to society and their love for Cricket (LMB was awarded the Cricket Hall of Fame in 2015) and food ( LMB, “Ethnic Food King of North America” and John, a restaurateur)brought the two mavericks together.
Originally a third-generation community worker, John is the owner and founder of Versatility Promotions Inc., an event management and capacity development firm that creates community programs through sports and recreation.
Being a trained Human Resource Professional, Melvin John’s added talent lay in picking up the right people for the right job. With his deep insight into human aspirations, John also serves on the board of Touchstone Immigration, which offers professional advice and assistance for those navigating the complex processes of immigrating to Canada and ensures that their future is in expert hands.
Apart from his penchant for honesty and integrity, Melvin John’s devotion to the game of Cricket was already well known in Canadian circles. Besides serving as an executive board member with the Ontario Cricket Association and a Board Member of The Scarborough Hospital Foundation, John has worked with 50+ charities, including a Benefit Cricket Match for Legends of Cricket Live (Muddasar Nazar).
Prioritizing his passion for Cricket, in 2012, John took over Power Play Sports from its founders. The company sells Cricket gear, soccer, volleyball, basketball and field hockey equipment.
John has successfully established Power Play and Scorpion as well-known brands in the Greater Toronto Area School System. Versatility Promotions has opened its new division for School and Sports uniforms, which has had a great start with many schools coming on board.
One cannot seek achievement for oneself and forget about progress and prosperity for the community. Melvin’s belief in community togetherness through sports and recreation matched the vision and mission of Bedessee Imports, and as a result, in 2017, Power Play joined hands with Bedessee Imports to cater to a larger pool of customers.
The Bedessee family’s achievements have been commendable. The family is totally dedicated and involved in operating the business and its day-to-day activities. LMB’s children, Pamela, Rose, Verman, Ravi, Rayman, Chubb and Invor carry the legacy of the great visionary. Rayman and Invor manage the Toronto operations. Other siblings man the New York and Florida operations.
Half a century in business, the Bedessee family basks on a multi-million dollar global business empire. But its members have never confused fame with success. They remain humble, humane, down-to-earth, and brilliantly Guyanese in their culture and lifestyle. The family carries on their philanthropic work through BDC Foundation for development in their homeland Guyana.
Bedessee Import Limited and Power Play Sports, on the face of it, are run by entrepreneurs from two different cultures but with a common mission. They met like water from two different rivers, but they merged easily.
The result is a beautiful synergy, a state that is achieved when things work together harmoniously.