Start Up Stories: Hearth
Everyone who has a food business dream looks around at businesses and wonders "How did they do it?". It seems like such a big project to take an idea and turn it into a successful restaurant, catering business, food product or food truck. It's easy to speculate that these people are different, that the founders had something the average person doesn't and that's why they are where they are. We hope showcasing some successful businesses in our city will prove that, with hard work and a plan, anyone can be successfully running their dream business.
We're going to start the first of this series with a new restaurant opening this spring that we're mega pumped about- Hearth. Hearth owners Thayne and Beth Robstad are an entrepreneurial power couple that often leave others shaking their heads, wondering how they're managing to do everything they're doing, while not compromising an inch of quality in their work. The have successfully run Caboose Catering since 2015 and a quick glance at their Instagram page (@caboosekitchen) will show the amount of effort they put into presentation. But food means more to Beth and Thayne than just looking pretty, they use quality local ingredients whenever they can and create incredible flavour combinations in their dishes. You would expect a couple this busy to be all work and no play but Beth is always ready with a warm smile and Thayne is someone you want at every party (check out that IT costume on Insta). Because of this they have built a loyal following of friends and supporters within Saskatoon.
Alright! Let's get to know the creators of Hearth a little better!
J: Hi Beth and Thayne! Thanks for joining me today and letting us in on a bit about how and why you started Hearth! For starters, how long have you been in business?
T&B: Hi guys! Thanks for having us! We took possession of the space that would become Hearth in September of 2017. Its been one hell of a grind but we are closer than ever and feeling great about it.
J: Tell us a bit about starting your first food business, Caboose catering.
T&B: We started Caboose catering in late 2015. We wanted to start off on our own but had zero capitol to do so. What can two cooks do with next to no money? CATER! It was a lot of work but great fun. We had to dismantle the décor in our living room for each gig. We used all the pots and pans in our house, and had Beth’s mom making us linen napkins for each event. It is funny to look back on but it felt bonkers at the time.
J: Oh my god that's too funny. Our husbands are always so frustrated with us for "stealing" things from our houses to put in the kitchen. "No honey, I don't think we ever had a blender...."
Did you have restaurant/food business experience when you started?
T&B: Both of us worked in kitchens our whole life. We both started washing dishes in high school and line cooking shortly after.
J: What made you decide to go into business for yourselves?
T&B: We have been together for 10 years now and although we didn’t really say it out loud for many years, we always wanted to have a restaurant together. A cook can spend a life time travelling and learning while working in many different kitchens and living in different cities, but for us the timing just felt right to strike out on our own. We felt we were starting to develop our own voice through food and wanted to refine it. There is a limit, justifiably so, to the amount of creativity you can showcase in someone else’s kitchen.
J: What inspired you to select the type of business/branding you have?
T&B: Hearth is a massive collection of everything we like the most. Its all very personal from the antique family heirloom cast iron stove, the storied treasures, elements of nature, to the psychedelic wallpaper in the bathrooms. We think it feels very “homey” in here. We want people to feel a little bit like there having dinner in our home because they kind of are!
J: I'm always curious about this, since it's a bit near and dear to my heart- do you work with an outside marketing and branding company or do you do it yourself?
T&B: We had help from a local design company (Fancy) for our logo. They hit it right out the park. As for marketing, we are doing all of it ourselves for the time being. We are striving for authenticity and it doesn’t get more authentic than DIY! We will see how things shake out in the long run, we may find ourselves spread a bit thin and look for the pros to help out.
J: We used Fancy for our logo as well. I know they've worked with a lot of other restaurants and food businesses in Saskatoon as well, such as Hometown, Picaro and Una. They seem to have what we all want! We have yet to find someone who "gets us" enough to do our branding though, it just feels too personal to hand off to someone else!
What has your start up process been like with Hearth? How long has it taken?
T&B: Well, its been pretty much half a year of renovations. We opted to do 95% of it ourselves. We fancy ourselves a little handy and we had A LOT of help from family and friends. It’s a little crazy to commit yourself to a full demo and rebuild but we feel it lends well to our story and the fact that we are frugal (and a little crazy). It has been the hardest thing we have ever done, but we have really grown by taking it on.
J: I still have no idea how you manage to work every day together on these sometimes incredibly stressful projects and stay married! I would literally end up locking my husband in a walk-in cooler.
What is one thing you would change if you could go back and do the start up process again (if anything).
T&B: Honestly, we would have hired a personal assistant. When we look back on the time we spent picking up materials, answering emails, and just generally running around in our van.. We could be have saved ourselves a month at least. Its amazing how much the little things can bog you down when your handling a big project.
J: I know! A personal assistant seems so indulgent when you're first starting out! But we're really learning how much faster you can grow and improve when you're not spending your whole day doing simple tasks like a robot.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge starting and what’s the biggest challenge you face day to day?
T&B: The biggest challenge was simply taking the leap in the first place. It’s insanely easy for doubt and worry to set in, and it can really throw you off the deep end if you let it. The biggest day to day challenge is much the same… Its all about managing the anxiety and doubt that come with the entrepreneur life. We do our best to practice gratitude and take care of ourselves.
J: Do you plan to expand your business or focus on improving the systems you have now?
T&B: We would like to really focus on getting systems for the restaurant dialed in. Down the road we would like to grow our catering business. We will do our best not to overextend ourselves as we have personally seen the death of a few restaurants for that very reason.
J: That's such great advice, it's so tempting to focus on growing but it's so important to make sure you're operating successfully at each new layer of your business before you move on.
Last question- what should we try first on the menu and why? :)
T&B: That’s an easy one! Our walleye wings! Our province is flush with beautiful lakes and the abundant freshwater fish that inhabit them. Everyone loves walleye fillets, but there are other tasty bits on that fish that go unused! We use the pectoral fin from a walleye, and the succulent meat at the base of that fin, fry it up crispy crunchy and enjoy them with some tasty local made beer. Waste not, want not!