Nova Scotia·OWNING IT

This caffeine bar owner is putting her past restaurant experience to work

In our new series Owning It, we check in with entrepreneurs across Nova Scotia. First up is Jenna Oosterholt, owner of The Ville Caffeine Bar in downtown Halifax.

Jenna Oosterholt opened The Ville Caffeine Bar in Halifax almost two years ago

Jenna Oosterholt is planning to open a second caffeine bar in May. (Claire Fraser for CBC)

What's it like to be an entrepreneur in Nova Scotia right now? We sent the same list of questions to a number of different businesses. Over the next few weeks, we'll share their thoughts on everything from morning routines and core values, to backup plans. The series is called Owning It.

Video produced by Amy Grace and Claire Fraser for CBC (filmed in November). Graphics by Bria Miller. 

When it comes to her business, Jenna Oosterholt is all in. 

The 26-year-old has worked in the restaurant industry for around a dozen years, and knows it's not a piece of cake. 

"A lot of people think they can just open a restaurant and it's easy!" Oosterholt said in an email. "How hard can pouring a coffee be, right? But it is so much more than that. Not only do you have to be a leader in regards to staff, but you have to be able to give great customer service, work quickly, and multi-task, all with a big smile on your face!" 

Ossterholt started behind the cash at Dairy Queen, and moved on to work in restaurants as a hostess, server and manager. 

When she opened The Ville Caffeine Bar in downtown Halifax two years ago, she was ready.

"I had the experience necessary and the understanding of the hard work and creativity it takes to run a restaurant." 

Now, she's getting ready to run two. She's joined forces with Michelle Boyd, owner of Buttered Bliss, to open a second location. 

Here are some of her responses to the questions we asked. Answers have been edited for clarity and length. 

Q: How has your business plan transformed during COVID? 

A: Like any good entrepreneur, we find opportunity even in the worst of times. My opportunity was that I now had a lot of time on my hands and I was going to spend that time brainstorming on how to make The Ville better and further develop the Caffeine Bar brand. 

I took a deep dive into our first year of business and thought about what was working and wasn't working. Thought about what the clientele were enjoying the most about us and what wasn't selling as well. I decided to change our menu. I made our food menu smaller and expanded our beverage offering to include things such as smoothies and frappuccinos. I focused on our breakfast sandwich, the Sunriser. It was our bestseller, so I started to push the Sunriser and make it into The Ville's speciality.

I also restructured our hours to run more lean. It meant shorter hours but this dramatically reduced our costs for staffing. I also decided to reduce the amount of staff members per shift. I decided I would hire skilled workers and train them in a way that would enable them to handle high volume on their own. Comparatively from June, July, August 2019 to June, July, August 2020 we were down an average of 26 per cent in sales but get this — our net profit increased by 691 per cent!

If your journey as an entrepreneur was a road, what would it look like?

It isn't a road for me. I see it like a mountain. I have decided to climb the mountain because I know I'm tough enough to climb to the top. Sometimes I miss a step and I fall, sometimes I need to find a ledge to rest on, but I keep going because I know it's going to feel so freakin' good to get to the top.

At the end of the day, what are you most proud of?

I think I'm most proud of my ability to ignore the little voice of doubt and trust in my self and my abilities.