CBF: Describe your opening day.
KB: It was 5 a.m. on a Tuesday, and we were already in the coffeehouse preparing to open for 6 a.m. It was the first time using the ovens, and everything just took a bit longer not having done it before. Lauren took a little extra time finding containers and which fridge held what. I did the same—brewing coffee and prepping the front of house.
Coming out of winter our staffing was thin, so it was just the two of us to start the day before a third body would be in at 7 a.m. As 6 a.m. approached, we were scrambling, although not tearing our hair out, just stressed. Thankfully, the six weeks of training the franchisor put us on was superb, so we were just moving swiftly to get the last few items in place.
6 a.m.: Our first customer—I’m smiling thinking back to this now.
He said, “I’ll have a medium cappuccino, two croissants, and a breakfast sandwich to go.”
As Lauren started to punch in the order, I moved over to the coffee machine.
After prepping, I grabbed the pitcher I had filled with milk and stepped up to the steam wand. My heart did a quick double beat. The steam wand for the machine we trained on had a push lever operation—up for on and down for off. I stared at what was in front of me, not having a clue what to do. I looked over at Lauren, but she was dealing with food and another customer had already stepped up to the till.
The best way to learn is to fail—and fail I did. As I pushed and pulled the black knob, I unknowingly lowered the jug I was holding by just a bit, this put the steam nozzle above the milk level in the jug. When I finally clued in it was a twist operation and eagerly turned it, the steam blew out the end with a powerful force putting about a quarter of the milk up and onto my face/shirt. I quickly raised the jug, burying the nozzle in the froth to stop it spraying while I wiped the milk off my eye with my free hand.
The day continued, and it was successful by any measure. We learned altitude has an effect on recipes and adjusted temperatures and times for our next bake off. We got to meet some of our first regulars and, though it was one of the longest days of our lives, it was that first drive home that night away from our business, with pride and satisfaction, that we will both remember forever.
CBF: Do you feel your educational background helps in your day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions?
KB: Absolutely. Anything you have done will invariably help anything you do in the future. Having a specific background for Lauren in hospitality, HR, and retail has been invaluable. My sales, customer management, and back-end bookkeeping absolutely has helped us with the day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions. As far flung as it may seem, my degree in international relations has helped with both customer engagement and retention, as well as staff. The level of excellence demanded from both of Lauren’s prior employers, Fairmont and Lululemon, and her schooling has helped our coffeehouse achieve a better position, in all measures, than many other businesses.
CBF: What have been the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?
KB: Besides an unending supply of caffeine? Just kidding! We drink about one to two cups per day now.
Lauren would say it is our staff. The ability to work with and help them grow as individuals is immensely rewarding. I think providing a place for the community to connect is the highlight of what we do. Be it a rock-climbing party in the early morning, a ski group from Saskatchewan that just drove nine hours, someone on the way to the gym, or the mayor of Banff, we are humbled to host them all.
CBF: How has COVID impacted your franchise?
KB: Not sure if this is better or worse than the average coffeehouse but, for us in 2020, we did half the sales of 2019. Our franchisor, like any in the restaurant industry, has had to deal with supply chain issues, pricing fluctuations, various closures, and different support levels from each province.
We went from being a tourist destination to Canadian-only visitation. It is not as noticeable now as time has gone on but, in March 2020 to when we reopened in June, I remember realizing one day I had not heard an accent or conversation in another language for one week.
On an individual ownership level, it, of course, has been hard. How does one plan for staffing or scheduled hours with no idea of business levels, or if you will even be open? You cannot, so ultimately, you grin and bear it, do your best, and move on swiftly.
When initially reopening, we decided to give our leaders a pay raise. This was in recognition of the increased strain they endured toward the first shutdown and additional duties they would have to deal with upon their return.
Upon our second shutdown of in-house dining here in Alberta, we asked our team if they all wanted to reduce hours evenly or split it, and they unanimously decided to split the burden of decreased hours evenly. We are thankful to be increasing store hours come March and hopefully, again come April, and to our staff, who are truly one team and have done remarkably well for each other, but also the community.
CBF: How do you make your franchise stand out amongst others in the market?
KB: The main point of distinction with Good Earth Coffeehouse is it uses ethically sourced products in an environmentally conscious way to deliver exceptional food, coffee, and atmosphere to its community. Since 1991, it has been our mission to ‘Do Good, Feel Good,’ and we are proud to be a part of it.
The people make the place—this is true the world over. We are very thorough with our hiring process, moving from group interview to individual and hands-on interview, which exposes potential employees to the current team. This is followed by supervised training and an easing into shifts (pairing a new person who is weak on coffee with someone who is strong or someone competent with tasks with someone who knows the operations, etc.). I believe this is our main point of distinction.
Further, our seating space inside and out is unique. The view from the patio down Banff Avenue looking at Parks Canada’s head office with Mount Rundle off to the left and the sky in between is hard to beat.
Lauren and I have a combined 15 years of living in the Bow Valley, and we hope our involvement in various community fundraisers, science fairs, museum days, etc., helps people connect with the coffeehouse on a deeper level.
CBF: What are your future plans?
KB: Our immediate future plans involve welcoming our son into the world this March. This will be followed by having as successful a summer as possible, then weathering the winter later this year, with the expectation business will be back to almost normal come 2023.