1. Tie: Saikel Indoor Cycle Studio, Oh Doughnuts, Strong Badger Coffee House, Forth Projects
Winnipeggers love their independent businesses so much that they couldn’t choose just one. The four-way tie for this category is proof that the days of us being a one-horse town are far behind us, and that there’s definitely enough love to go around.
“I think we’re all tapping into this new phase of Winnipeg where we are becoming this really fascinating and unique city,” Megan Heke, executive director at Forth Projects says.
“We’re sort of (like) Portland. We’re weird and interesting, we’re finding out what works here, and we’re able to do that because of the support of people who are asking for it, who are spending time in all of these four places and voting for all of these four places.”
Amanda Kinden, the one-woman force behind Oh Doughnuts, agrees that Winnipeggers’ support for a wide range of small businesses is starting to exceed their pre-conceived notions of our city.
“We have this mentality that we’re so tiny because everybody knows each other, but we’re not that small,” Kinden says. “Winnipeg is a little slow on the uptake for things that happen in larger cities like Toronto, but I think once we accept something, it’s sort of, ‘ok this is how it is now.’”
If seeing (and celebrating) a variety of cool, independent new businesses every year is how it is now, well Winnipeg, we’re in for some treats.
Saikel Indoor Cycle Studio
Location: 2-920 Lorimer Blvd.
Opened: April 2016
Co-owners Dustin Marks and Mike Booth met a lot of raised eyebrows when they began pitching this concept. Marks works in real estate, and Booth is a fitness guy who’s won a few Manitoba Marathons and owns Massage Atheletica, a sports massage therapy clinic. Bankers especially wondered, what business does this pair have opening a spin studio?
“Mike and I are very competitive, so it just drives us to be good and to be great, so when we saw challenges, we just kind of overcame them and (said) ‘let the haters hate,’” Marks says.
He acknowledges that they’re not doing something new, just new for Winnipeg. Marks was inspired after hearing about spin studios through his girlfriend, who is from Calgary.
After talking to Booth, “we both felt like Winnipeg could really benefit from it, and so we rolled with it,” Marks says.
“We have 30 bikes inside a 20-by-30 room, led by one instructor, and we go to the beat of the music,” Marks says. “We have our leaderboard technology, which actually tracks your performance throughout the class. So you’re in a group setting, it does get a little bit competitive in a fun way, but it’s very motivating through the instructor and through the music.”
The summer was slow, as the pair expected, but Marks says that since early November, they’ve been reaching their projections for class attendance.
“It’s been a good response since we’ve been open,” Marks says.
Location: 326 Broadway Ave.
Opened: May 2016
Oh Doughnuts began as a wholesale operation, but after Kinden saw the response to her product, she realized that there might be enough demand to open a shop. She closed her business temporarily to prepare for the move to retail.
Location was one of the biggest challenges.
“There’s a lot of little niches … People won’t walk further than two blocks for their cup of coffee, so choosing a location was the hardest thing to do,” Kinden says. “I knew I wanted to be downtown, but there’s like zero good spots downtown, certainly no empty commercial kitchens.”
Others were sceptical that a shop selling doughnuts and doughnuts alone could make it, but Kinden says that once people try them, they can tell the difference and will come back.
“People are yearning for more simple quality goods … I think we’ll probably see a lot more cheese shops and bakeries and things, especially in the downtown.”
Another practice that took some getting used to (for customers) was closing down the shop once the doughnuts sold out. “We’ve sort of been taught that doughnuts are just readily available and cheap and easy to get,” Kinden says. “It takes four hours, at least, probably five, from start to finish, to make and decorate a doughnut.”
While Oh Doughnuts is not the only independent doughnut shop in town, what makes it special are the values Kinden follows: “To minimize waste, and to source locally where possible, (to use) fair trade organic chocolate, and even bigger than that, our hiring practices. We have (a) very diverse staff here.”
Strong Badger Coffee House
Location: 679 Sargent Ave.
Opened: August 2016
Owner and sole employee (on most days) Brock Peters is very up front about the fact that he has no business training and hasn’t worked in a coffee shop before.
He enjoyed visiting coffee shops but found that a lot of his faves “seemed very much to be inspired by a similar aesthetic, which was that of the very minimal, very perfect cup of coffee focus.” He says that after whining to his friends, they challenged him to make it happen.
“I thought if they could start these types of things, maybe I could start something that reflects what I kind of like.”
Peters built the tables for the shop himself and did most of the renovations DIY-style on a shoestring budget that surprised many of the people who reviewed his business plan.
Strong Badger serves good coffee and also hosts an open mic night every two weeks “where developing musicians can get on stage in front of a really casual house,” Peters says. He hosted the Dear Journal launch and has a small selection of zines on consignment as well as a shelf of books for visitors to read.
“I use the word coffeehouse intentionally, it’s almost an old-fashioned word for this previous concept of a coffee shop that’s a gathering place and place for different ideas, music, books,” Peters says.
“Fitting into that concept is being in a diverse location where lots of different folks from different walks of life can feel comfortable coming in.”
Location: 171 McDermot Ave.
Opened: February 2016 (Cafe) April 2016 (Bar)
Unlike the other three winners, Forth’s mission and services are quite diverse. “We’re doing all of the things,” Heke says.
It took some time for a vision to solidify for the wide open space in the building. “We knew it was a coffee shop and cafe-fare style restaurant and that there would be a cocktail bar in the basement. The tenants were on at that point,” Heke says of last summer, when she joined the project.
Tenants include Lisa Kehler Art Projects, Tipping Canoe Limited and Dogwood Coffee, who roast the beans for coffee served at the cafe.
Every element of Forth is carefully considered and kept local as much as possible. For example, they use Beeproject Apiaries honey in the kitchen, held a Beeproject workshop on beekeeping in the space and are planning to put hives on the building’s roof in 2017 to start producing their own honey. Forth also showcases a few local artisans on their retail shelf.
“We’re bringing people in to participate in the space in as many ways as possible, and so our retail shelf definitely reflects that,” Heke says.
Those who hang out at Forth may have noticed that those who work there are familiar names in Winnipeg’s creative community. For Heke, it was important to carefully select the staff and give them not only a job but an opportunity to participate in planning programming and events in the space.
“They feel good about coming here, it’s not a default place where they have to make money and then do that thing they love. We work very hard to make sure that they love being here too,” Heke says.