Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Peter Smit, owner of Happinez Wine Bar, located in Saint John, NB, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Happinez wine bar is a small cozy place where the guests come to socialize and enjoy a glass of wine. We were the first Atlantic Canadian wine bar and opened in 2005, almost 17 years ago...Many of our guests are regular guests who come here often. We are open on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and sometimes have private events on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, as well as wine tastings. These tastings are usually small events with 12 to 24 guests, and we offer new wines from all over the world, and also sometimes particular wines like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and so many more...During the summer, fall and winter we also have a lot of tourists coming to our little venue to enjoy a glass of wine and the cozy ambiance. Many articles were written about the happinez wine bar over the years, articles from the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, and so many more. We also got a number of excellent reviews from TripAdvisor and other organizations.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Peter Smit, and I was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My first job after school was in Bouloris, in the southern part of France, and I worked at a small bungalow park and learned a lot and also became a guide for the tourists and took them to Monaco, Nice, Cannes, and so many other places in Southern France. Worked hard, little money but loved it and learned a lot about the hospitality industry and also about the culture, cuisine, architecture and so much more...After the summer I got a job in Avoriaz, a winter sports resort in the French Alps and of course learned how to ski and climbed the ladder in my career and became a front office manager in a 400 room hotel in Avoriaz...again learned a lot and had a great time. When I returned back to Amsterdam, I started working for Hilton International and again had a fantastic experience at the Amsterdam Hilton, where I also climbed the ladder in the five years I was there and ended up as the banquet manager. Then a promotion to Vancouver, Canada, where I worked for two years as assistant director of food and beverage...and again, a great experience, and I worked with a great team. Then a promotion to the Hilton hotel in Saint John, New Brunswick, where I was director of food and beverage when this hotel opened in 1983; after three years, I went to the Drake Hotel in Chicago, also a Hilton hotel....amazing hotel and experience. I worked for Hilton International for 13 years and learned a lot, and it was a great part of my life.

My wife at the time and our daughter returned back to Canada, and I worked for 14 years at the New Brunswick Community College and taught hospitality and tourism...again, a wonderful experience, and I had a great time. Then I early retired and opened the happinez wine bar.....The reason for opening this little wine bar certainly had to do that. I learned a lot about food and wine during my entire career, which took me all over Europe and also Canada and the USA. Especially in France and the other southern European countries that I got to visit like Spain, Italy, and Portugal. I really got to see and learn a lot about their food, wine, and culture....and there it started happinez wine bar!

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

First and foremost, really enjoy what you are doing. It also made me more part of our community, and I was involved in a lot of local organizations which helped and gave back to our community. We have also had a wonderful team at this little wine bar over all those years.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Never really had any problems till the COVID 19 pandemic started...We had to close for many months, and the revenue for our little business has been less than half over the last few years since the pandemic started. This was, of course, partly because of the closures and also because there were no conventions, tourists, and no big events like we experienced every year before the COVID 19 pandemic.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

First and foremost, develop a solid business plan before you start a business. Also, make sure that a financial plan and forecast are properly done before you start as part of your business plan. A good marketing plan and ensuring that there is a potential clientele that would be interested in your business. Also, be involved with local organizations that promote the businesses in your city.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

For me, the most important thing in my business life has been to love what you are doing, and of course, you also have to make a bit of money.

Where can people find you and your business?


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