Hello and thanks for popping by!
You may be delighted to learn about our new café hours for, hopefully at least, the summer.
Why the trepidation? Let's dive in.
Prior to operating out of this facility, I carted Zimt around to a bunch of places. There was the church kitchen, where we got our 'real start', then the back of a vegan cupcake shop, then a vegan yogurt factory (which is no longer operating), and then, if memory serves, we started working with our co-packer, while renting a bit of space from them.
Fast forward 6 (or 7?) years.
When we moved into our manufacturing space on Clark Drive in 2018, there were many, many renos- primarily, to get the building up to code and to have a safe, clean manufacturing space available. manufacturing space was set- and was decent for the time being. We were granted occupancy and carried on producing for our retail and wholesale orders.
But what about that chunk of SF at the front...?
The chocolate café - 'Honestly, I think of it more as a marketing opportunity.' I remember saying on more than one occasion. I, self proclaimed 'non foodie' and business owner who, at that point, after almost 7 (8?) years of the grind, was completely exhausted and fully jaded.
But, I had committed and so... I committed.
To be honest, I was stressed about making the most of every second of this expensive lease. But, if I was able to disconnect from that, I also believed that this new space provided a big opportunity for growth and saw the café as a chance to test new, fun products, have specials, and most of all- create something really, really cool.
What does this mean?
Well, let's take a look back.
A look back to many, many years ago, when I first went vegan. And then fast forward a little bit.
This was the first time I ventured down to Portland, OR - vegan mecca extraordinaire.
It did not disappoint! Loads of established hippie vegans, cute slightly grungy establishments, and heart. And so much vegan food.
I was captivated- a community of people who are vegan, predominantly for the animals. People who 'get it'. People who offered a lot of their heart and soul to enjoy this ride, and to entice others to join them.
That's so cool.
Veganism was very fringe at this point. There were no major documentaries (as far as I know), next to nothing for social media, no 'influencer culture' (ahhhh wasn't that nice?!), and really, very little money involved. We were in it for pure reasons- and generally ostracized, but that's ok.
I loved it. And it really left a big mark on my heart.
I think that, despite being completely exhausted, 'poor', jaded and sick of the marketing dollars behind this new found 'plant based' movement, I still could feel the pull from those early, grassroots days. The days of meaning which were actually interesting- it was about things that mattered, not just about money. Nothing was fancy- but was done well, and with sincerity.
So with all that, I thought, ok, this could be an awesome spot- people will love it. I don't have a baking background, but formulated all of our bakery recipes- and I'm very proud of them. This was after months and months of testing and eating countless batches of duds. (Hey did I mention we are also pretty zero waste ;) )
I had no idea how to run a café. But also believed I was about 80% of the way to knowing how to run a chocolate café.
So on December 15, 2019, we opened our doors for the first time.
I didn't tell anybody.
Call it unresolved trust issues, but, I'm not one to, say, splatter a bunch of potentially empty promises all over social media only to find them potentially implode.
Maybe that's why we had precisely two customers that night- my sister-in-law and niece. They brought a beautiful plant as a housewarming gift. To this day, I have not killed it.
Well, I thought- time to let our lovely fans know that we have their new spot to hang, ready and waiting for them! So, I took to social media, told everybody I knew. I even put up a paper flyer.
And, it stayed real quiet.
Hmmm. Weird- I thought. So, I crafted a 'grand opening' for February, 2020.
Yes, that's right. That February, 2020. It was a success! Or so I thought. Or so, it seemed. Familiar faces, new faces, excitement, enthusiasm for a pretty cool concept. A vegan chocolate café are you kidding me?!
And then, that was it.
A local influencer mentioned us on her social media, and of course all the Oak + Fort moms funnelled in. Once!
There was no traction- and I couldn't out why. Our stuff was yummy. (Though to be honest, it is way better now). Maybe they could tell we were nerds who didn't know anything about spin class?
And then, just over a month later that the world spiralled, my staff no longer came into work, and there was no way anyone was wanting to venture into our café (that's not true, actually. An anti-vaxxer acquaintance, who I really don't mind as a person, though, would be unlikely to ever hang out with, and his friend tried to come in while I had the gate closed. Why.)
Some folks placed orders online, which was very appreciated by me and kind of them. Except, it was not the best as I put my back out and had to make Rosemary Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies, hobbling around the kitchen like quasi modo. That was just one order. We started to learn about masks and then I got some folks back- they were on a rescue (me) mission, is how I saw it.
But I don't think COVID was the issue- at all, really. Because despite an extremely successful Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival, and despite our treats being delicious and unique, it was still a barren wasteland.
That being said- we have and had some absolutely beyond-words lovely wonderful indescribably awesome customers. Some were so faithful, they came by every week and ordered regularly for a while once we closed the café down at the end of last summer. These people are great, to say the least, and I could honestly see myself hanging out with them, no Zimt attached, if they are gluttons for punishment as much as they are for cookies ;)
Despite their efforts (and trust me, I know that trekking over to the notoriously hideous Clark Drive is an effort) a main reason they keep coming back (or did) was because they loved what we are doing. Some even said it!
And in a sense, mission accomplished. I got my cool crew- our rad customers kept making appearances.
In terms of long term viability, or the lack thereof, I think that the challenges are twofold (actually, more than that but here are two decent ones so we can wrap this up).
The Two(ish) Challenges Our Café is Facing
1. Location. You'll see our landlord's brewery across the street is bumpin', and quite consistently. Beer seems to have that effect on people. It may also be that they are very well established at that location, even having a Pokémon Go stop there, and are 'set back' from the trucks and traffic along the street. We also haven't got much foot traffic and Clark Drive is hardly somewhere one would think to just... go and get a coffee... and gourmet candy bar...
2. Market Saturation. Not sure if you knew this, but, veganism used to be a lot less trendy. In fact, most companies wouldn't touch it- it was a deterrent for money making. But now? Everybody and their dog is touting 'plant based' (which is a term used to describe some 'vegan' if you are sensitive- unless it is chocolate. Then you say 'vegan chocolate')- the market is growing, after all, and who wouldn't want to cash in? Peddle vegan do-dads by day, so you can afford to eat your foie gras by night. I mean. C'mon... if honesty isn't the best policy, what is? Delusion? Not around here, tysm.
So, who needs us- a little, independently owned, vegan company?
The answer is- everybody. But they just don't know it.
Plant based is good enough for now. And there is a lot of very yummy and impressive plant based stuff out there. Do I still consider us to be quite unique? Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, Zimt may as well be any widget company- the goal of Zimt isn't all about creating the latest and greatest tantalizing treat. It is about serving our wider community and advocating for those most vulnerable.
This is profoundly unsexy to most, and clearly, must be avoided at all costs. Even the cost of an Amazing Banana Muffin.
Thanks for the read, everybody! And hopefully we will see you at our little nerd café soon.
xo Emma of Zimt
PS- curious as to your thoughts! Why do you think the café is doing so poorly?
PS- nvm figured it out. We don't serve oat milk. Ha..
PPS- maybe a premature post as we've had 5 different sets of customers today already and they are *living* for our pecan butter milk. Nice.