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Who Owns That?

Backpacking trip to Nicaragua changes course of entrepreneur's life Add to ...

This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That. We’ve asked readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.

Introducing Tracey Clark, managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, a small fair trade coffeehouse chain which now has fifteen outlets in Ottawa, Ont.

1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?

Bridgehead, Canada’s first fair trade coffee company, was originally founded in 1981 as an act of solidarity by social activists and United Church ministers with small-scale farmers in Nicaragua.

I acquired the Bridgehead Trading Company in 2000, including its trademarks. Since 2000, we’ve been putting fair trade coffee in the cup and telling the seed to cup story to anyone who will listen. We now operate fifteen coffeehouses, a roastery and a scratch bakery and kitchen in Ottawa.

2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?

I went on a backpacking trip to Nicaragua in 1987 and was shocked to be served individual sachets of Sanka in the heart of coffee country. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, a seed was planted, that of working with small-scale coffee growers in the pursuit of quality and differentiation and ultimately sustainability.

3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?

Our customers are wide-ranging, but share in common appreciation of the various efforts and skills of all the actors who contribute to their daily cup. We are located on traditional main streets downtown and in neighbourhoods in the urban core in Ottawa, and available on line.

4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?

Three of us were involved at the beginning and all three of us are still active in the business now. Pam Fletcher is our operations manager who is always cheerful and keeps the wheels from falling off; Gina Becker is our marketing manager and tea buyer and helps to tell our story and supports community initiatives. I’m the president and CEO, and help set out our road map for growth.

We have over 300 employees, all of whom are very committed and talented people.

5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?

Caring...about our customers, our products, the growers from afar and the farmers from nearby who supply us, about each other. There’s no substitute for that.

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