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 John Ruttan and Sarah Ostwald, the owners of Cherry Bomb Coffee, a premium, locally roasted coffee shop located in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood.
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?
We opened Cherry Bomb Coffee in 2005 in a tiny hole-in-the-wall retail space at the bottom end of Roncesvalles in the West end. Our idea was to provide premium, locally roasted coffee and fresh-baked pastries in a fast, take-out setting.
Our idea worked and before long there were line-ups that snaked out onto the sidewalk outside.
In 2012, we started Spitfire Coffee Roasters in order to explore, more deeply, our enthusiasm and passion for the coffee industry.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
Our inspiration, like most entrepreneurs, comes from witnessing the entrepreneurial spirit in others. It’s infectious. People approach me at work all the time asking me how we did it, how we succeeded, and how they dream of doing something similar. Often, these people surprise me because they seem to have good, stable, comfortable jobs!
Starting up a small business can be enormously risky. But it’s also exciting and terrifying -- especially when it’s your first. But entrepreneurs realize that the important decisions in life usually involve a large degree of risk; financial and otherwise. It is when the stakes are high that we feel alive and totally engaged.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers are people from the ‘hood. They’re young, old, single and married. They’re all different. But they all have one thing in common: they love coffee and baked goods! We like to think that the aroma of coffee and croissants wafting out onto the street calls to them like a siren!
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
We’ve worked our way these past nine years, through the initial startup phase, where we worked every day straight for a year to where we are now. Eventually we started taking a day or two off a week, but we’re still in the stores full-time, helping serve customers, bake and talk coffee.
Sarah has always had a knack for numbers and is our bookkeeper, which is great because we really know the insides and out of our own business. As well as being a baker, barista, and floor sweeper, John is now the coffee roaster, since starting to roast our own beans last year. It really feels fantastic to be 100 per cent in control of what we sell.
Currently we have 13 great employees. They are all amazing young people. Most of them are artists and musicians and students and they all bring so much energy and life into our shop. Finding great staff that connect with the neighbourhood and love coffee is critical to the success of the business.
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
The key to our success is to bring a passion for life into our business. Before opening the shop, we had always had a passion for making our own food. There has always been an espresso machine in our kitchen and something in the oven. We knew, in our hearts, even before we opened, that our coffee and treats were exceptional. We just hoped the neighbourhood would realize it as well - and they did!
When the things we sell are made by our own hands there is a pride that is felt by us and our employees which our customers have always responded to. Also, when we make the things we sell, our business becomes completely unique. This is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit and for this reason our coffee shop is like no other.
We’re always on the lookout from great Canadian small businesses for our series ‘Who Owns That?’ Join our LinkedIn group and send us your suggestions.
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