Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lucas Spinosa, owner of The Black Sheep Lounge, located in Welland, Ontario, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Black Sheep is a community first and foremost. In 2015, we opened our doors for the first time as a coffee shop with the mission of providing a much-needed safe space for Wellanders. Over the years, Black Sheep has taken coffee exponentially more seriously- now roasting direct trade coffee multiple times per week.
Our role in the community has expanded into monthly fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and providing the space for groups that don't feel welcome in other places. We now have the privilege of shipping our coffee across the country to other coffee lovers!
Tell us about yourself
Hi, Lucas here! Nice to meet you! I got my first taste of small business from my maternal grandfather (he owned one of the most iconic restaurants in Niagara Falls, ON. for 50 years). Some of my earliest memories are watching him glide from table to table, greeting his guests with enthusiasm- all the while I was dropping scrambled eggs on the floor... Although not a business owner quite yet, I watched my father oversee a large baking operation for my entire childhood.
When I turned 8, and my dad was 37, he opened Spinosa's Bakery (our family last name). The bakery signalled the beginning of a new era and mindset for the entire family. As a kid, I never saw the stress of being a business owner from my dad. Sure, we had many long days, got many pairs of jeans covered with flour, and took long road trips to buy used equipment from strange people, but he always made it for my younger brother and me. Almost 20 years, it still feels the same.
As much as I love the bakery, I am no baker. When I turned 18, I took up the opportunity to play music semi-professionally in the U.S. After a few years of that, an opportunity to open a café presented itself, and I took it. Coffee is for sure one of the great loves of my life - but people take the cake. I wanted to be able to graze from table as my grandpa once did. I wanted to give friendly hellos, remember names, challenge ideas, help people who needed it while simultaneously guzzling an unfathomable amount of coffee. I wanted to create a fun-loving environment like my dad. Fortunately, I get to enjoy the pleasures of this every day!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Accomplishments symbolize goals that have been surpassed. I have set many boring financial goals, but I believe the most important accomplishment I've achieved is flexibility. When things pop up, I am able to jump and adapt, push meetings, close for a few days, or host a party for my family. Having the freedom to choose is worth the sacrifices that come with entrepreneurship in my life.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I believe the hardest thing about being a business owner (especially in the service industry) is finding the right balance between what you want to sell and what you have to sell. For example, I own a coffee shop, and I'm passionate about coffee. I would love to have a café that only sells the things I love to drink since I would be passionate about every item. Realistically, that doesn't fly for most places.
We also sell tea, hot chocolate, juices, etc. It doesn't mean we don't take these things seriously. We do - it just means we have to try a little harder to make sure that most of the people that walk through the door can have a similar experience in quality.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Understand why you want to start a business. Do you have a great idea? Are you passionate about a specific field? It's important to understand because passion businesses operate very differently from those focusing on "the numbers." Both are incredibly exciting but are NOT the same.
- Demographics! One thing I seriously overlooked in the beginning. You need to know who you are selling to. How old are they? What area do they live in? All of this matters!
- Understand that your business is only second to family. Your staff depends on you to keep the business running smoothly. If you don't, they could lose their homes in the worst cases. Don't underestimate the damage caused by a lack of/ or poor leadership.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Leading the Black Sheep is one of the greatest privileges of my life. I am surrounded by friends & family. I met my girlfriend (now Fiancé) here, and many of my favourite conversations have happened between these walls. If you want to start a business- do it. Don't miss out on your chance to change your life forever.
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.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.