Sarah Evans and Alan Barbour were excited about opening Black Duck Inn, their coffee shop in Sackville, N.B. But their enthusiasm was short lived – weeks after they launched, they received a formal notice that they had to comply with food service regulations and licensing.
The notice gave them a window of only four days to comply or risk being shut down. Before starting the project, the couple had called the relevant government department and say they were told they did not require licensing for the basic shop they were planning to open. With what they thought was a green light, they took the plunge, working 11-hour days for a couple of weeks before launch.
The opening went well, with a steady stream of patrons who liked their concept and product. Faced with the notice, they quickly dismissed the notion of shutting down, recognizing a closure would damage their chances at customer retention. They had to find a solution to keep running the business and do the work required to comply with the notice within the four-day window.
Mr. Barbour, who was raised in Halifax, began his career as a cook and later worked as the prop master for the hit TV series Trailer Park Boys. In 1993, he ran a new media firm in Halifax, just in time to catch the early waves of the Internet. An avid long distance cyclist, he also branched out and ran a bike shop in Halifax.
Ms. Evans was raised in Ottawa, moving to Halifax to complete a degree in biology from Dalhousie University. After graduation, she was involved with the art community and set up a non-profit independent publication to showcase local writers. The couple enjoyed living in Halifax but they realized that rising property values and rents with little room for wage growth was not conducive to running a small business.
They decided to move to a small town that would allow for a sustainable business and a good quality of living. Having toured across Atlantic Canada and Quebec on bike, they had a good idea of the best options. The couple had spent a month in Sackville in 2010, when they did a residency stint at the Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, and they decided to make it home.
While investigating their options in Sackville, a local building with two shop fronts and student housing came up for sale on the commercial Main Street. In February, 2012, the couple bought the property and moved, assuming they could support themselves with rental income from the student apartments until they decided what to do with the rest of the property. As they began the process of fixing up the long-neglected apartment units they realized the amount of money needed to fix them would not be worthwhile, given the rental income they could expect.
At the end of the current leases, they decommissioned the units, and with no rental income they had to fast-track their decision to set up a business. The initial plan for a co-op green grocer morphed into a bike shop, before the couple settled on a simple coffee shop with plans to later develop it into a full-service restaurant.
To address all the notice issues within four days without shutting the business required running the coffee shop during regular hours, tearing down the setup at close, working on the plumbing, electrical and other requirements and then putting everything back together to open the next day. After a marathon four-day back-breaking exercise, the coffee shop was ready for inspection. It passed with flying colours.
The Black Duck Inn has been able to cultivate enough loyal clients to make it a sustainable business. With the food service licensing issue resolved, the couple has expanded the menu to include locally sourced food items and unique recipes. They plan to open a green grocer to supply the community with locally sourced food products. And Mr. Barbour still has his sights set on a bike shop in the not-too-distant future.
Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University .
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.