Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jill Johnson, Owner of Bitter Sisters Brewing Company, located in Calgary, AB, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are a neighborhood brewpub. Many of our customers are from the neighborhood and surrounding areas. We do not have a specific demographic; it spans every age group. Very popular with young families, after-work folks, after-sports people, and the neighborhood.
Tell us about yourself
My sister and I have been in the restaurant and bar business for 23 years. We formerly owned the Atlantic Trap and Gill, an East Coast-style pub and live music venue. We ran that business for 20 years. The concept had run its course, and we wanted to open something more in line with our stage of life and who we have become. We were looking to create a space where we would be comfortable taking our families and friends and something that would appeal to the neighborhood. We were always huge craft beer fans and thought our location and space would be perfect for a brewery. We will really want to be connected and involved in our community and be a meeting place for friends and families. We both love being a neighborhood hub and are very proud of the great beer and food we provide.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We opened 32 days before COVID; prior to COVID, we were closed and renovated for seven months. Needless to say, COVID was devastating as we had no reserve funds built up, and laying off great staff then bringing them back and laying them off, again and again, was awful. We had a very successful opening and closing so soon after was devastating. The financial strain was overwhelming, as was the stress. We fought through it, filling growlers and selling cans and to-go food, and our community supported us so strongly it was amazing and helped us pull through. I think COVID was the biggest challenge we faced, and navigating our way through and coming through the other side was a huge accomplishment.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing is probably being pulled in so many directions. Sometimes your bartending, washing dishes, deciding on beer label designs, paying bills, negotiating credit card fees, deciding on large purchases for equipment, picking suppliers, negotiating utility prices, etc., wear a lot of different hats, and it can be overwhelming. Right now, inflation is our hardest challenge; we do not want to raise prices but cannot absorb the constant increase in our costs.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Pick your business partners very carefully. Hire a great team that is especially strong in areas you tend to be weak. LOVE what you do.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
My sister and I are very fortunate to have been business partners for 23 years. Our kids are best friends, and our lives overlap in every area, and we keep making it work without much conflict. We are lucky to have such a wonderful relationship in business and life.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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