Throughout the month of November, we plan to spotlight Ontario businesses that are focused on sustainability and interview a member of their leadership group. Not only will this help us learn from businesses in our industry, but it will also spotlight local businesses during this unprecedented time where a lot of local businesses could use the exposure. We wanted to start off with a business that we have known about for a while now, whose ethical practices are unparalleled. For our first interview, we interviewed Steve Tulloch who is one of the co-owners of Seven Shores Cafe.
Seven Shores is located in Uptown Waterloo and is committed to being a simple, ethical, and relational business, where members of the community can feel at home. The cafe serves fresh local food and maintains sustainable practices at each level of their business. What makes Seven Shores unique is that it is a community-owned and operated business, by 10 members who called Seven Shores home long before owning it. As a result, they are a social enterprise that does not just measure success by profit, but also through their ability to give back to the community.
(Questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity)
Food Fight (FF): What was the inspiration behind Seven Shores?
Seven Shores (SS): We are not the original owners, however, we purchased Seven Shores in 2015, with several other community members because we viewed it as an important hub for the community to hangout and work. When we were customers, we were inspired by how staff were treated, how the environmental impact was a primary focus in business operations, and the general ethics that were adhered to. My wife already worked at Seven Shores before we owned it, so we had the first hand experience not only as customers, but from the employee side and really liked the core values that the business focused on.
FF: What is the mission of Seven Shores?
SS: Our mission is broken down into three core words; simple, ethical, and relational. By simple, we mean that there was no need to be fancy or develop the business into a franchise model, we were just concentrated on making one amazing cafe that was a sustainable community hub in Uptown Waterloo. We focus on being ethical in all areas of our business in locally sourced food, how we are impacting the planet, our suppliers, and how we treat our staff. As mentioned before, the community is at the heart of what we do so it is important for us to develop relationships and really get to know our customers and our suppliers.
FF: What have been some of the biggest challenges of running Seven Shores, especially with COVID-19?
SS: One of our main challenges is keeping to our values especially in terms of sourcing local fresh food. We strive to find local farmers, but it can be challenging to find everything we need locally (ex. avocados). As well, the relative affordability of only sourcing locally can be challenging where the same lettuce would be $6 at Walmart, but we pay as much as $18 during the winter from a local organic farmer, or milk you could pay $3.50 for a 4L, but we pay over $10 for a 4L. So it is the overall balance of ethics, quality, and values that we have to consider when making decisions, because at the end of the day it is a business, but we want to stay true to our values. In terms of staffing, we follow a lot of the same basic hiring practices, but we try to find people who buy into our values. It can be challenging, but after years of experience, it gets easier to tell if someone will fit the mold of a Seven Shores employee.
Obviously, COVID has hit the restaurant industry extremely hard and it has affected Seven Shores as well, because we emphasize our cafe being a community space, but how do you do that when you can’t offer dine in services? Another big consideration is: how do we make sure we are adequately caring for our staff, so ensuring safety and addressing any concerns they may have. CERB was good for people, but hard on businesses, because people were hesitant to work if with reduced hours they would be making more from CERB. So there was some schedule juggling and making the situation work for both sides, but definitely a challenge we ran into.
FF: What are some of the benefits your business provides to customers vs. going to a chain cafe? Also, are there any misconceptions customers have about your business?
SS: The main benefits that we provide can be broken down into three pillars; community, ethics, and values. Some of our customers come to our cafe because of our emphasis on sustainability and that is a core value that is important to them. One of the reasons customers come back to Seven Shores is because they feel that sense of home and community, where the staff genuinely care about them. We are able to create this environment not only through our values, but by the way we treat our staff so it trickles down into how they treat our customers.
A misconception we sometimes run into is that people think all our food is organic because they see a lot of our menu items are organic. We are trying our best to source great products that are local and it is an evolving process. We are always focusing on our values and how to be better, so we just want people to know that it is an ongoing process.
FF: When we talked to one of the managers last November she mentioned that you guys already discount food throughout the day and compost, so where do these sustainable practices come from?
SS: The focus on sustainability and sustainable practices originates from the lifestyles and values of the ownership group. Personally, my wife and I have 20 years of experience offering shared living to be more sustainable, as well as sharing fundamental beliefs regarding sustainability and a commitment to ecology. Where discounting food comes from is seeing how bad a problem food waste is especially in the restaurant industry and with our connections to shelters in KW like House of Friendship. We try our best to reduce food waste wherever we can, so price reduction on day old goods is one example. We also have a weekend feature that our chef creates out of the food we may have extra of that we need to use, so the creativity of our chef really allows us to use the food in more sustainable ways. We also compost and we try not to use plastic bags and other forms of waste in whatever way possible to reduce what we throw away.
FF: What are some of your future goals for Seven Shores?
SS: We are focused on continuing to keep the business community-driven and hire people who share our values. As mentioned before we continue to work on applying our values throughout the business and improving our consistency. With COVID, in the short term we really just want to survive and make sure we remain a staple in the community for years to come.
FF: What has been the highlight of running Seven Shores?
SS: For us having the ability to purchase and run a business that is built on a strong set of ethics and values has been extremely rewarding. Having an ownership group that shares a lot of the same values as us and being able to run the business with shared leadership has been a highlight for sure. It has been amazing to have the opportunity to connect with the community in ways we never thought, whether that is with customers, our staff, or our suppliers, we have been able to meet and connect with a lot of amazing people over the years.
FF: Is there anything else you would like to promote or share?
SS: We want to shout out the cooperative spirit of the KW region, as well as some other local businesses that share similar values, TWB Brewery and Princess Cafe.
As well we would like to shout out the amazing people who have worked and are currently working for Seven Shores. Working alongside the quality of staff that we have has been a profound experience for us and without the staff at Seven Shores we would be nowhere near where we are today.
FF: Thank you so much for your time! I personally love going to Seven Shores and am glad to hear you guys are still able to provide a sense of community in this crazy time.
If you want to learn more about Seven Shores you can find their website here and links to their social media pages below: