Authenticity, a dash of puns, and a pinch of humour flavour the process and products at Homestead.
As business duo and lifelong friends, Cait Smethurst and Lise Garden approach their first birthday in business at the Owen Street bakery, they quietly honour how teamwork works for them.
All major decisions are made together, strategy and marketing is Cait’s background, baking is Lise’s baby, “she won’t send an ugly loaf of bread to the shop.”
“We went into this with humble hearts, cautious not to think we would be amazing, but to stay true, be conservative, grow the business organically, know what our customers want, listen and adjust accordingly. This has been a wild year, trying to keep up with growth, everything we have executed, our expansion into wholesale, we’ve been so busy, we’re so proud of our team”.
Without batting an eye, Cait adds, “I’m a year older.”
Cait’s background in marketing steered the development of their business plan. The Small Business Centre was their first stop for resources. There they met with Small Business Consultant Jim Nicholson who reviewed their business plan, he was able to “gear us in the right direction.” The route they took for financing was through Futurpreneur who specializes in loans to young entrepreneurs.
“Through Futurpreneur you get a mentor for the first two years of your business and ours is Don Bourne, he is well known in the entrepreneurial community. Don owned a bakery for 30 years; he is a really great match for us. Honestly I don’t know what we would have done without him when we first started, having a mentor to help gut check was a huge asset—it is terrifying opening a business if you haven’t done it before.”
Rapid growth was a challenge in their first year; constantly trying to figure out how to staff the store and be more efficient with their staff. Cait humbly shared that bread sales have tripled since opening, while opening numbers were inflated, it didn’t drop, but continued to grow!
“We take everything to heart, we want people to understand the amount of work and love that goes into what we do, it’s not like a grocery store bakery, it’s a new mentality, and this is sourdough, its slow food. It’s a beast of its own—education is needed, science is involved.”
Community is the predominate theme at Homestead. Building and maintaining relationships with their customers, knowing them by name, not just getting them through the door is their code of ethics, as ingrained as their use of local commodities. “It’s not about flash to us, it’s making people happy, and that’s the best part of the job.” Our customers are our community and when they need something we are more than happy to give, whether it is a church fundraiser or a C.O.P.E. service dog fundraiser.
Sourcing and supporting local is a given. Homestead doesn’t carry a product that would compete with someone else; they believe that making relationships and being respectful of what other local producers are doing holds value in the community.
Cait sites Craft Pie Co. as a perfect example. “We are a full on bakery but you notice we don’t have pies here, what kind of bakery doesn’t have pies? The reason why is Rhys Jenkins is a friend, and he was right down the street, we didn’t want to compete with him. We have something good happening with our sourdough so we send people to him for pies. But we talked about it and now it makes good sense for us to combine.”
“It’s sad to see so many food entrepreneurs go out of business. Overhead is crazy, so we work with Without Reservations in our production unit on Alliance Blvd.—they do sous vide cooking, also we all share the same equipment, it’s so easy for us to produce from a cost perspective, we don’t all have our own brick and mortar so it makes sense.”
It goes back to the Homestead values of supporting each other.
“What’s next in terms of expansion, we are bursting at the seams in our little location on Owen Street, if the right place comes up, we will move, but we are patiently waiting to see what is available. We always want to stay downtown, we are going to see where we are at coming into a year, coast for a bit, plan for what is to come, and we can’t even believe it’s been a year. But we’ve got big plans.”