Manitoba cheese board firm rides a wave of media and celebrity endorsements
By John Longhurst
It was just 15 seconds of airtime. But that changed everything for Melissa and Evan Funk. In April 2020, the Funk’s company, Lynn and Liana Designs of Steinbach, Man., was taking off. Orders for their unique, eco-friendly cheese boards and serving trays were coming in fast from stores across North America. Then the pandemic hit. As stores closed across Canada and the US, orders dried up. “I didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Melissa, 27, the company’s CEO. “It was a scary time.” A few weeks after the pandemic shutdown started, the company was featured on the Good Morning America TV show’s Deals and Steals spotlight. The segment was just 15 seconds of airtime on a weekly feature that highlights products from across North America. But they sold 4,000 cheeseboards after it ran. “It saved our business,” she said. “It saved all our jobs. There were no layoffs.”
That timely appearance is just one of the many breaks — or “blessings,” as Melissa calls them — the company has experienced since it started in 2018. The breaks have included appearances or mentions on The View, CTV, the Golden Globes, in Forbes Magazine, and in a gift bag at the 2021 Grammy Awards. Their products were also used for a special gift basket for celebrity mothers such as singers Carrie Underwood, Meghan Trainor, and Katy Perry, rapper Nicky Minaj and actor Mandy Moore. Trainor became a big fan, buying 70 cheeseboards for the cast and crew of her TV show Top Chef Family Style. She went on to showcase them on her Instagram and Tik Tok channels, garnering about 50 million views. “Those were such huge things for us,” Funk said. Those mentions come about through word of mouth, attending trade shows, and by pitching their products to various media and organizations. “When it works, there’s all that free advertising.”
So far, everything seems to be working well for the company, which was founded by the Funks and Melissa’s parents, Mike and Candace Cancade. Taking the name from Melissa’s and her sister’s middle names, Lynn and Liana’s Designs started in their home. Today it employs 30 people in the small southeastern Manitoba city, turning out unique cheese boards and serving trays made of acacia wood imported from Indonesia. What sets their products apart from others is their environmentally friendly design and manufacturing. They use a soybean epoxy developed by entrepreneurs at the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony, located about 70 kilometers from Steinbach. “They take what was once a waste product and turn it into a resin that is easy on the environment,” said Evan Funk, 29, who is Lynn and Liana’s financial manager.
When they first learned about the resin — what the Oak Bluff Colony creators call “ecopoxy” — it was being used for art applications. “We wondered, why not also use it for kitchen purposes?” he said. Soon after, the company was born. At first, Lynn and Liana used social media to spread the word about their products locally. But then, a store in New York City heard about them and ordered six boards. When those flew out the door, they ordered more. Soon, other stores heard about the products and started ordering. Today, their products are sold through a network of over 2,000 stores in the US, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, and directly to customers. Last year, the company sold over 100,000 boards and serving trays.
“We just started by posting on social media, and it snowballed from there,” Melissa said. She said that the firm is strategic about attending trade shows and following leads that could lead to further promotion and sales. “Our approach is to say yes to opportunity and not be afraid to take a risk.”
The couple, who have two daughters aged five and three, weren’t dreaming about starting a kitchenware firm. But they were interested in owning their own company. “I always wanted to run my own business,” said Evan. “I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”
It helped that they come from entrepreneurial families. He grew up working for his father, who owned Earl’s Meat Market in Steinbach. Her parents were always “involved in one business or another,” she said. At first, Melissa wasn’t even all that interested in getting involved. She had just gone on maternity leave from her job at Farm Credit Canada and was planning on being a stay-at-home mother for a while. “But soon, I started taking on a leadership role, and I really enjoyed it,” she said.
“When it works, there’s all that free advertising.”— Melissa Funk, CEO, of Lynn and Liana Designs
Neither of the Funks has business degrees — or any university degrees, for that matter. “Our goal is to find the right people, create the best team, always be learning, and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Melissa said. Faith is an integral part of life for the Funks, who attend Crossview, a non-denominational church in Steinbach.
“Sometimes Christians separate faith and business, but for us, everything is spiritual,” Evan said. “Our whole life should be an act of worship, including our work. We want to invite God into everything we do.” Melissa agrees. “Everything about our story revolves around our faith,” she said. “Our Father in Heaven has given us so many blessings through this company. Now we want to pass them on.”
One way they do that through the company is by operating in sustainable ways. “God called us to be stewards of the earth and steward it well,” said Evan, adding that they want to leave the world a better place for younger generations. “God created the world and wants us to treat it well. We care about the earth and making beautiful products for the home,” said Melissa, noting the company partners with organizations in both the US and Canada that replant trees and fight deforestation.
Overall, they are both “pretty blown away by where we are now, how blessed we are,” said Melissa. “We are proud of what we have done. We believe we have something of value to offer people. It’s growing beyond our wildest dreams.”