How businesses in Canada’s capital are defining success and creating a new, friendlier future of work for their people
Meet some of the business owners we spoke with in Summer 2022 – and discover the exciting ideas they’re bringing to their businesses.
With every step down Ottawa’s streets you can feel the culture change in Canada’s capital.
From Parliament Hill to Hintonburg – the whole city is taking a deep breath and rediscovering the best in itself.
Like many Canadian cities you’ll find neighbourhoods featuring a plethora of cultural backgrounds. Admittedly half the reason I moved to Toronto in 2006 was to truly discover global cuisine without having to jet thousands of miles.
I first visited Ottawa in 2009 and strolled through a city I couldn’t quite understand. Walking those same streets now there’s vigorous newness, excitement and character that’s easy to love. As part of the BWA’s Summer of Small Business Tour, I visited a handful of our members and discovered a new Ottawa. Read along to find out what’s exciting their minds. And a special thank you to everyone featured – your knowledge continues shaping the social frequency of how we can all do employment better.
— Aaron Binder — BWA Director —
Aiana Restaurant Collective
Labour challenges are top of mind for many workers and business owners. Nowhere is that more present than restaurants.
Over 20% of Canada’s hospitality workers have left the industry since the beginning of the pandemic. Long hours, unpredictable pay & famously stressful work conditions are well known. And it has left many asking why they’d continue working in an industry that can’t seem to figure out how to treat employees like they’re human.
Devinder Chaudhery thinks he has found the answer to stressful restaurant culture.
Partnering with his son Raghev, in 2020 they launched Aiana Restaurant Collective – Ottawa’s first living-wage & no tip restaurant. Along with fair wages, their employees are on salaries with full benefits, paid sick days and paid vacation.
As Devinder says “this has increased our productivity and reduced tension between staff. Instead of competing for the best tables, our staff work together to make sure each table receives top quality service.” And it seems to be working. Their restaurant is breathing new life into the Parliament Hill neighbourhood with great jobs and a world class menu. While there is a virtual tour on their website, you have to visit in person to truly understand the grandeur of Aiana. We hope you will.
Dominion City Brewing
Dominion City Brewing has been a BWA Member since our launch in 2017. This Ottawa brewery, famous for its beer and non-alcoholic seltzers, is on a mission to help the beer industry improve. From employment practices to inclusivity and environmentalism, Dominion City has been working hard to better themselves and the beer industry.
Josh McJannett and I sat on their cool two-tiered patio (pictured below!) and spoke about the future of work. Since Dominion City helped launch the BWA in 2017, they’ve gone deep into employee and company culture. As Josh said “We have Paid Sick Days, Fair Schedules, and More than Minimum Wages – it was time to figure out our next steps.” He detailed to me just how engaged management is with colleagues in every role at the brewery.
They are among the first breweries in Canada to roll out DEI initiatives. As we all walk down the road of creating better work, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is the next frontier of creating great work for ALL people. This has led to a number of new community engagement programs from Dominion City.
For centuries, breweries and brewhouses have served as town halls and cultural meeting spots. Dominion City is doing the work to make sure their space can serve as a meeting spot for increasingly diverse groups of people – and it starts with a strong foundation in proactive employment.
Bread By Us
As a friend recently told me, Bread By Us has the best focaccia you can get anywhere on Earth outside of Italy. It’s not just bread either – brilliant aromas, textures and flavours explode from the handcrafted bread, baked goods and savory snacks that meet you in their display case.
Since 2013, Bread By Us has called Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighbourhood home and in that time they’ve seen new life breathed into neighbourhood storefronts. Which has led one of the owners, Jess Carpinone, to wonder just what it would take for her business to afford a commercial mortgage. “We’ve paid our rent on time every month for 9 years,” Says Carpinone “but we still wouldn’t qualify for a commercial mortgage – even though it would reduce our monthly costs.”
Commercial mortgages remain out of reach for many businesses. Retailers operating in the black must still contend with many hurdles if they want to buy their location. Even for profitable businesses like Bread By Us, a 35-50% down payment on a 1.5 million dollar property is out of reach. This leaves successful companies at the whims of landlords who may increase rent by any amount between one term to the next.
Jess would like to see Commercial Rent Reform come to Ontario and every other province. “Main Street businesses are changing and adapting to the moment but we still don’t have any renters rights.” There’s a clear argument that enshrined Commercial Rent rights would benefit local economies and help create more good local jobs.
Almanac Urban Mill and Bakery
Right next door to Dominion City is Almanac Urban Mill and Bakery. Launched in 2017 by Gabrielle Prud’homme, they are one of few artisan millers in North America.
A short aside here – my business, Go Tours Canada, is located in Toronto’s Distillery District. One historical artifact in the neighbourhood is the original millstone brought from England by the Gooderham and Worts in the early 1830s. IT WAS EXCITING TO SEE ONE IN ACTION! And it’s exactly what you’d expect – badass people hefting sacks of quality grain like some sort of old-timey gym.
From the moment they launched, Gabby knew this unique venture would need to emphasize being a great place to work. Featuring paid sick days and higher than industry average pay – they’ve retained valued employees far longer than usual in the quick-moving food-service industry.
When you’re in Ottawa, the double-whammy of Dominion and Almanac is a must-visit for any carb-fiends that want to support local businesses creating great jobs.
At Almanac, you’ll find baked goods made with unexpected grains like red fife, spelt, and rye. They’ve turned it into such an art that standard favorites like the cinnamon bun take on whole new and beautifully complex flavors. This passion is helping drive a unique business forward with great people in every job.
*Note – between the time this article was written and publication, NU Grocery’s Hintonburg location closed. They have now shifted focus to their online store and physical location in Old Ottawa East*
In late May 2022, Lili and I hosted our first event as BWA Directors. Valerie Leloup of NU Grocery spoke for a few minutes about her business and after that I knew I had to track her down in person. Valerie’s starburst energy led her to open Ottawa’s first zero-waste grocery store.
What’s concerning Valerie? Commercial Rent. Many businesses have spoken about the unpredictability of Commercial Landlord / Tenant relationships. There’s no built-in conflict resolution options or any kind of standard documentation. This is what Valerie highlighted as a specific concern – along with the others facing many of us like supply chain speed and persisting low revenue.
In November 2022, Nu Grocery closed their Hintonburg location. With revenue still down from 2019 and difficulty with their landlord – they decided to shut down and focus on their bigger Old Ottawa East location and online store.
This is the reality facing many businesses that are still hoping for a return to 2019 numbers. Rent relief has dried up and many are making difficult choices about the future of their enterprises.
While there are many struggles for business owners right now, Valerie brought up how we can build resilience. Watch her discuss it and then visit commercialrent.ca site to learn about our commercial rent reform campaign.