By now you may have heard the news: in just two and half weeks, Ottawa will be getting its very own entirely vegan coffee shop/bakery/take out counter, operated by former Auntie Loo head baker Josephine Masterson (aka Little Jo Berry, after whom the coffee shop is named!)
PT: Tell us what visitors can expect when they visit Little Jo Berry’s!
LJB: Our concept for decor was very minimal and clean with a few retro throwbacks, but over all we wanted to create a space that would work as a perfect canvas for our treats and coffee. We had seen so many spaces, but what we liked about 1305 Wellington was that it was an empty shell. The floors weren’t even done. My brother, a plumber and all around tradesman, immediately got to work and we completely designed and created our own space. We built the space with our own hands, it was so fun and personal to our vision.
As we built we had so many small businesses and friends reaching out to help supply us with things we may need. My business mentor and close friend Julia Graham, owner of The Quirky Carrot, reached out about equipment. Her father was about to retire, he had owned a bakery, Fred’s Bread in Kingston, for over 20 years. He wanted to know if I wanted to come up to Kingston and check out some of his showcases and work tables. So we drove up the next day. It was so beautiful, all these gorgeous oak tables and shelves that he had built his business on. We were very luck to have access to these. We are so fortunate to have them in our shop now; when you come in, you will see these showcases. He had those commissioned over 20 years ago and they found their way to LJB’s.
PT: Tell us about your path to opening a vegan cafe.
LJB: Even when I was a kid I was starting all these ridiculous businesses. I remember being like 10 years old and starting a dog-sitting company and my parents being so proud and supportive. I hung flyers all over town and I imagined that was it, I had done it started my own business. The first call I got was a lady looking to have someone take her two huge dogs for a whole week. Obviously, I was in over my head and that business didn’t quite pan out. But after that it was a babysitting business, I was always cooking up the next idea.
When I was 20, I started doing Farmer’s Markets as Little Jo Berry’s, selling different raw, vegan treats and snacks. I grew up in the kitchen, cooking and visiting long hours with my dad. So creating recipes and learning about new ingredients came very naturally to me. As I did the Farmer’s Markets I realized I wanted to start baking as a career. That’s when I got in touch with Auntie Loo’s treats and how I landed my job there. I worked with them for four incredible years. Made my way to head baker. It’s where I learnt how to run a happy, positive kitchen.
After Auntie Loo’s shut down we were all devastated. It was shocking. My head was a mess, I imagined moving away or spending some time abroad working in some little shops. The day after it closed, I had a visit from my brother Jimmy, and he offered to help me build a kitchen and I immediately said yes. The next day I started a business plan and we began to look at spaces. It just felt right.
PT: What challenges have you run into? What have you learned through this process?
LJB: There have been less challenges so far than I thought there would be. I think having a rich background in small business made me used to all the ups and downs, so I suppose they became a standard and I became less sensitive to them. I also think the warm welcome and all the support I receive on a daily basis makes this transition to business owner much easier for me. I can’t imagine not having so many great business relationships already formed to rely on. Any time I message anyone for advice, they are so excited to help and guide me. It’s really special so far, and I think that is a really big obstacle for most people.
I think right now, where I am, the biggest obstacle is leaving a comfortable work environment. I’m finishing out my last week at my barista job where I work with all my buds. I think it’s surreal to think about laughing and paling around one week to having my world completely flipped and owning the shop the next week. It feels like this huge step, but I can’t wait to take it!
PT: What is special/unique about LJBs? What are its specialities?
LJB: I think for us, what feels special is the excitement to play in the kitchen. To be able to keep a rotating menu, and try fresh treats and lunches. To be able to bake thing we would want to eat, so we can be as excited as the customers coming in for them. We think it’s really special to stay enthusiastic about your products and to be proud of your offerings. When people walk into a bakery or coffee shop they are always surrounded by wonder and excitement. We want to be able to match that feeling and validate that experience. So the unique thing for us is being able to truly get revved up about our own treats and not get stagnant. Obviously we plan to cater to as many different eating styles as we can. We have a tons of experience in alternative ways of baking including dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, etc. So we want to fill as many tummies as we can.
We also feel like our coffee is going to be very special. We want to create a positive mentality about the relationship between our customers and their baristas. We are using the slogan “Appreciate your Neighbourhood Baristas” as a narrative in our shop. Coffee culture is so important; having good coffee is literally the best thing. Trusting your barista, playing around with different brews and types of espresso is something people should feel comfortable with and engaged by. We are working on getting to know a few different roasters and suppliers for our shop who can support this concept.
PT: What is your vision for its future? For its role within Ottawa?
LJB: Our vision for the shop…We have a really dreamy idea of where we see the shop going. Having my own place was always the big idea growing up. But I imagined the day to day through the relationships I would form. I envisioned it being more about my interactions with my patrons than anything else. I always worked in coffee shops, so I’ve always had that experience. Getting to know the regulars, watching kids grow up, seeing relationships form. So naturally, it is very important for us to create that atmosphere in our space. We want our shop to grow with the community and be shaped by its regulars. We want our space to feel like a neighbourhood space, a shop you feel warm and tender about. Having that bond with customers and that loyalty is the most important thing for us at LJB’s.
PT: Help us get to know you!
LJB: I have the two cutest pups in the world, they take up the majority of my time. We get loads of time in cuddling. Harris and Chugs, best boys in the world, never behaved a day in their life. I’m a homebody outside of work, I literally have the greatest group of friends. So mostly in my off time I like to spend it at home with them eating and visiting.
Little Jo Berry’s opens on March 19! Take out counter, some seating, and special orders, wholesale and catering.
Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism. She also consults with business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.