Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kelvin Van Rijn, founder, and CEO of The Fritter Shop, located in Ontario, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
The Fritter Shop is a specialty dessert shop that makes fresh-to-order fritters at three locations in London & St. Thomas. We offer a wide variety of flavours like our classic apple fritter: a slice of a local apple surrounded by our homemade custard, wrapped in light, flakey pastry dough, then fried to golden brown perfection and tossed in cinnamon sugar! Yum! From our mouth-watering cherry cheesecake to our chocolate brownie to our classic blueberry, we have enough flavours to satisfy every sweet tooth. Our customers are people who are tired of the same old cookies, muffins, or donuts at every meeting or get-together. Fritters are something entirely unique, and there's a flavour to satisfy everyone's taste.
Tell us about yourself
I am a Dutch immigrant. My family moved to Canada from The Netherlands back in 2001. Our Dutch heritage is where our business stems from. Traditionally, apple fritters are eaten to celebrate the coming of the New Year in Holland. We have taken that sweet tradition and expanded the flavours from the classic apple to 17 flavours and counting. I started this business from watching my parents run their own bakery in The Netherlands and here in Canada. They have always been my inspiration to one day start my own business. Almost six years ago, I finally did it. My motivation comes from knowing I'm building something of value to our customers. A fresh, new offering of Dutch-inspired fritters, pastries, and other Dutch delicacies. My passion is building a brand people recognize. I've been able to use this business to help my employees pay their bills and reach their goals. That's so inspiring for me as well.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment has been our brand new, state of the art, production facility. I'm so proud of how our team has grown this business to the point where we could move into there. It's a 3,500 sq/ft facility with all the cool bakery tech you can imagine, from giant mixers, to an automated dough sheeter that rolls the perfect fritter thickness every time. These new frying systems cook our product efficiently and perfectly. I love working in that space. We call it the Fritter Factory.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One of the hardest challenges I face is the unknown. As we continue to grow and expand, there are new challenges none of us have faced every week. As the business owner, my staff looks to me for guidance on these challenges, but I don't always have answers. If I'm being honest, a lot of the time, I don't have the answer. But I'm incredibly lucky to have mentors and other business owners who are in my network willing to help. We always end up solving the problem, but I'd be lying if I said it couldn't be very stressful at times.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Start small, be patient, and network. These three tips are what have gotten me to where I am today. Start small; for the first two years, you likely won't know exactly what direction to take the business yet. You won't know your customer base entirely. There can be some wasted capital spent on promotions when it may not be necessary (I learned this the hard way).
Be patient; business is not a race. Don't compare yourself to what someone else has achieved in a similar time span. Comparing yourself to others will not help. Focus on what you're doing and how you can grow. I used to be so focused on being at X amount of locations by year five or X amount sales. I now focus much more on how I can make my current locations the best possible experience for our customers, and I've seen a big spike in sales because of that. Make 100 love you instead of trying to make 1,000 people like you. The growth will come.
Network; I touched on this earlier. You can't do this alone; no one can. Tell people about what you're doing. Use the local resources available to you to find funding opportunities or help solve problems. I've made some lifelong friends from doing this, as well as some of the best advice out there. In my experience, many business owners are willing and want to help other business owners succeed. But they have to know you exist. So introduce yourself.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
When you get to the point where your company is going to hire staff, always be honest and fair. We wouldn't be anywhere near where we are without our staff. They are the foundation of what makes this business work. Pay them well and treat them well; they will pay you back 10x over with hard work if they feel appreciated and respected. I feel that COVID-19 has awoken an anger in people about their work-life balance and how they're treated by their employer. They refuse to be treated like crap for pennies on the dollar in comparison to what some CEOs are making, and rightfully so. Find good employees and do everything you can to create a proper work environment, one that they'll want to stick around in. It's so much better to have staff who will stay with you for the long run than to have constant employee dissatisfaction and turnover.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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