The province is marking October as Small Business Month once again, and here in Invermere there is no shortage of small business success stories.
Invermere’s main street features plenty of bustling storefronts, not a few of which began existence as a table in the farmers market or as a small food cart a clear sign of the valley’s thriving entrepreneurial creativity.
The owners of a couple of these businesses say growing slowly from their modest beginnings has been critical to their success.
It’s all been baby steps and that’s worked really well for us, said Safta’s co-owner KD Golan. That is the best way to do it. You don’t want to take on too much too fast. It’s always a big learning curve.
Safta’s initially began around the summer of 2008 as a table in the downtown Invermere farmers market, serving Middle Eastern food. KD and her husband Roi (who is originally from Israel) met with thundering success that first summer, which prompted them to convert their business into a mobile food cart. The couple would bring the cart to the market or park it on the street or outside pubs in the evening. After about three summers of running the food cart, the Golans moved into a storefront location in Radium Hot Springs (currently occupied by Leo Burrito).
It wasn’t a full restaurant. It was more of a Subway-style grab-and-go, but it was the next step for us, said KD. The following summer Safta’s expanded again, opening a summer location in downtown Invermere in between Avenue and Summit Footwear and Apparel. The next winter, Safta’s moved into its current location and became a full-service restaurant and pub on main street, where it has continued to grow and expand.
KD said the couple had no idea their business would grow to the stage it has.
Roi just enjoyed cooking so much, he thought maybe we should have a hot dog stand or something in the market. But we thought since he’s from Israel, something authentically Israeli would be better. It was really just for fun that first summer, but everybody liked it so much, she said, adding the couple took the time needed to perfect each step before moving on to the next.
We got a good handle on how to run a food cart. Then we opened the Radium location, and learned how to hire and manage staff, before taking the next step, said KD. Even with the restaurant, we took baby steps. We started out in the winter rather than in the busy summer season. Then we added the patio. Now we’ve got The Attic lounge. And we’re not done growing yet, the journey isn’t over.
OM Organics Boutique Apothecary owner Kari Asselin has a similar story, having started her business at the farmer’s market three years ago, then building an online store, before opening up a main street storefront location this past summer.
The farmer’s market was a good beginning, according to Ms. Asselin.
It was a great place to test my ideas and products, to see what was popular and what was not and figure out what people really go for. The first summer at the farmers market was really successful and that was really encouraging for me, she said, adding having the online store and doing wholesale helped carry her business through the off-season between farmers markets.
The business grew continually until it began to literally take over Ms. Asselin and her partner’s home.
Basically I was making all the products in our apartment, she said. It got to the point where our entire living space was taken up by boxes of ingredients.
So in May 2016, Ms. Asselin moved into her current location on main street, which has a workshop in back and a store up front.
The exposure from having a storefront has really increased our online sales and wholesale inquiries. It’s been excellent and we’ve surpassed what we had thought was possible, she said. Aside from now being about to buy ingredients in larger amounts, it’s really nice having a permanent setup and not having to set up and tear down (a table at the local farmers market and other markets) several times a week. And we have our house back and can cook real food in our kitchen again.
This year is the fifth that B.C. has designated October as Small Business Month.