Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tom Wen, co-founder of The Social Blend, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My business is a cafe that specializes in specialty coffee as well as Korean-style macarons. Since we do have a duo product base, our customer base for each side is different. Majority of our coffee customers are those that are local to Yonge/Eglinton, while our macarons are mostly foodies or dessert-goers.
Tell us about yourself
I come from a very corporate background; since my graduation from Western, I have always worked at the major banks in Toronto. Even right now, I am working as a project manager at a major bank full-time while also managing the cafe. I actually never worked at a retail business until I started The Social Blend. I even got rejected a few times when I applied to coffee stores like Starbucks while I was looking for a career. This was actually one of the reasons why I wanted to start the cafe.
I have always genuinely enjoyed the cafe culture and environment since high school. Studying at a cafe, hanging out with friends, or catching up with someone. As I was growing up, I went to many cafes across many cities. I noticed that many of them were missing an aspect to what I would have pictured as an ideal cafe, such as poor customer service, low-quality ingredients, or lack of innovation over time.
Over the years, I compiled and built the idea of opening my own cafe. After graduation, I became roommates with my childhood friend, who was also interested in starting his own specialty coffee shop. He was actively learning the third wave of coffee. However, nothing was concrete until our third roommate moved in in 2017. He was a manager at a Ramen store, and he wanted to transition out of working for others. The three of us had the right skill set and knowledge to help cover the areas of starting a business without much overlap. I brought the project management/corporate experience. My childhood friend brought the specialty coffee knowledge, and the new roommate had the operation experience. From there, The Social Blend was born.
What motivates me each day to do what I do? The answer is easily to see that my decisions and actions have a direct positive effect on others. Whether it be a happy and satisfied customer or a staff who enjoys their time at work or seeing the growth of my business. My philosophy has always been "good vibes attract good vibes." I want to make sure that I do my best to ensure everyone enjoys their experience with "The Social Blend," externally and internally.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think the biggest accomplishment as a business owner was to survive and growth during the Pandemic with almost no experience as an entrepreneur. I have never worked at a retail business, nor did I own a business prior to The Social Blend. To top it all, to survive an unpredictable pandemic that caused many small or large businesses to close their doors but for us to grow rapidly.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think one of the hardest thing that comes with being a business owner is how very little people can relate or understand what you are going through. It honestly is extremely tough. Every decision, every choice you make will impact the lives of others and the future of your business. One small mistake or a wrong choice could collapse everything you worked so hard for. Above all, there really isn't anyone who can give you the exact right advice as it is very hard to know how The Social Blend operates end to end unless you have been there through the whole journey.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The top 3 tips for someone looking to start, run and grow a business today are just start it, put yourself in your customer's shoes and continue to improve and innovate. What I mean by just starting it is that most times when you have a business idea, and you ask your friends what they think. The biggest hurdle is "Has this been done before? or What is so unique or different about your business idea?". I have seen many people give up on their idea because of these questions and don't even try. When I first started, I didn't think a specialty coffee shop was a very unique idea as they had already been many specialty coffee shops.
I just wanted to see what I can do with my cafe to become more well know. I also never predicted that we would end up making Korean-styled macarons as a product. We were also not the first business to make Korean-styled macarons, but I can confidentially say that through our choices, we became the most well-known Korean-styled macaron store in Toronto.
The next tip is very essential to how The Social Blend grew to where it is now and how we continue to improve and innovate. We try to listen and see things from a customer's point of view. If I were to walk into the cafe to buy a coffee, what would I like to see or if I want to buy a macaron, what taste would I like? I have always disliked the extremely sweet taste of traditional macaron, which is the reason why ours focuses more on the flavour rather than the sweetness. Another example is that, see many of our customers at the beginning wanted more flavours from us, we created the rotational flavour program. We have six flavours that we change every month, and there are months where we ask our customers what they want us to bring back.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Yes. We hope to continue to improve and better your experience at The Social Blend. Please let us know if you have any ideas or suggestions for us to try. We would love to continue to challenge and improve ourselves. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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