Oakville entrepreneur earns endorsements from Dragon’s Den, Kim Kardashian for non-toxic, aromatic play dough


Published August 9, 2023 at 11:10 am

Natalie Sabri of Dough Parlour on Dragon's Den in 2018

When Plato said necessity is the mother of invention, it was probably because the great Greek philosopher never had children.

Kids are the real mother of invention, while approval from children (celebrity endorsements help, too) – is the secret to success.

Just ask Natalie Sabri of Oakville, who was a preschool teacher back in the pre-pandemic before times. A mother of four herself, Sabri heard the kids in her classroom ask for different flavours and scents in the play dough they were using and began experimenting at home with the product.

“The kids would ask for different flavours in the play dough,” Sabri remembered. “I wanted to create a product with different fruit scents and textures. The children loved it, and it was a great calming tool in the classroom.”

Natalie Sabri

It took ten years of development to arrive at the final product but her classroom that day was the genesis of Dough Parlour, an eco-friendly, 100 per cent food grade, non-toxic and compostable alternative to traditional store-bought play dough. The product has since received the seal of approval from Dragon’s Den and even from reality and social media superstar Kim Kardashian.

Dough Parlour, which is one of ten recipients of the Visa She’s Next Grant program, caters to health-conscious parents who want a non-toxic product to engage their children and help develop fine motor skills and even be used as a “coping strategy” in times of distress or emotional meltdowns.

The secret, said Sabri, is in the bright colours and the cheerful food-based scents – grape and pineapple are big favourites – that “stimulate the senses, emotion and memory.”

Sabri discovered in her early testing that using distinct, nostalgic scents could transform her classroom into an aromatic enclave. She experimented with various scents, potencies, and vibrancy of colours, along with the often missed element of texture. Combined, the ultimate sensory play experience was born. And in that experience, she said, her students found a place of calm.

Eventually, the play dough became very popular with both the kids and their parents. “I felt like a waitress in my classroom,” she said with a smile. “The turning point was when the parents would ask if the kids could take the play dough home. So I decided to brand it and sell it.”

That was in 2017. A year later, she appeared on season 13 of the hit television show Dragon’s Den and her pitch – helped by the appearance of her own children – earned her two offers from the Dragons. Sabri eventually chose an offer of $50,000 for 40 per cent of the business from Jim Treliving (the co-owner of the Boston Pizza chain and father of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brad Treliving).

The deal, as it often happens on the show, eventually fell through, but Sabri took the attention and extra business generated by her appearance as a sign and made the decision to quit her day job.

The Dragon’s Den episode was shot in April 2018 and aired that November. “That’s when I went into this full-time,” she said.

With so many parents looking for interesting activities for their kids during the pandemic, Dough Parlour kept improving the bottom line.

“We tripled our sales in 2020,” she said. “The kids were home and parents were looking for something to do with them. Business actually blossomed during the pandemic.”

The real kicker came last year when Kardashian, one of the world’s biggest social media influencers, praised the Dough Parlour product on Instagram. “The cutest, best-smelling play dough ever! Thank you, Dough Parlour.”

That endorsement helped generate $25,000 in sales “overnight,” Sabri recalled, and sales were boosted again when model and television personality Chrissy Teigen also gave the product the thumbs up.

The $10,000 grant from the Visa She’s Next program also helps. The fund is meant to support women business leaders through the cash infusion and with access to an accelerated mentorship program at York University.

“We’ve all come through the pandemic with the knowledge that small business is important in building communities, and this is our way to support small business and women entrepreneurs,” said Heather Nobes, Visa Canada’s Head of Marketing.

Dough Parlour’s unique play dough is produced from a plant on North Service Road in Oakville and with products now in more than 200 stores across North America, Sabri has been able to expand her operations to include a staff of eight.

“We’re ready to grow even more.”

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