Some of your favourite local shops got their start at the downtown Windsor farmers' market. Here's how
'I see on their very first day when they come, but I also see how they evolve,' says market manager
When restaurateur Sandra Joseph first began her business, she was running out of a ghost kitchen to fill catering orders.
It was a huge change for Joseph, who used to own a restaurant in Kuwait. But immigrating to Windsor, Ont., in 2006 meant she had to start from scratch to secure a place and build a clientele.
About nine years ago, she became a vendor at the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market — a Saturday street sale that closes Pelissier Street from Wyandotte Street West to Park Street West between May and early December. Now she owns a brick and mortar version of her restaurant, Rasoi, in Tecumseh.
The market, she says, is what allowed her business to take off. And she's not the only one giving it credit for her success.
In the last decade, an estimated 25 businesses went from the farmers' market to the big leagues, securing storefronts within the city or neighbouring county. These include Carrots and Dates and Anchor Coffee in Windsor, Christine's Bake Shop in Leamington and Walkerville Candles in Essex. It's been a hidden economic generator for Windsor-Essex and helped create a sense of community among small business owners.
Rasoi means "my kitchen," according to Joseph, who says the idea is that people are eating her very own homemade meals. Joseph says her food is a fusion of middle eastern and Indian cuisine — something she's done by creating her own spices.
Though it's been nearly one year since she got the shop, Joseph says she still can't believe it's real.
"It's a small thought, a small vision, a small dream that is in your mind all the time," says Joseph, who runs the business with only the help of her husband and two sons.
"I built my clientele [at the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market], that was a place where people began to know me, began to know my food, they recognize me and they come week after week."
WATCH: Cooking with Rasoi's Sandra Joseph
From cardboard signs to 'legitimate business'
"I really think the [farmers' market] allows people to practice being a business," said Steve Green, manager of the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market.
"I see on their very first day when they come, but I also see how they evolve."
One vendor, recalls Green, began two years ago with cardboard signs and one small table. These days, he says they are operating as a "full legitimate business," with proper branding and a curated booth.
"Not only does the market grow bricks and mortar but it literally grows and helps business people mature in their approach to what does it take to be a successful business person. Many of them when they start down here they have no clue what they're getting into," he said.
And that was exactly the case for Chance Coffee owner Ryan Nantais.
Without the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market we don't know what we would have done because that's basically our storefront.- Zule Anchamah, new market vendor
Nantais started out roasting one bag of coffee at the Saturday market. These days, there are sacks of coffee beans in his new storefront on Drouillard Road in Windsor's Ford City neighbourhood.
The shop had its grand opening mid-September.
"When I started everything was just smaller scale," he said. "It went from ordering 100 bags, to 1,000 bags to 5,000 bags."
Four years at the market, he says, taught him what he was capable of.
"I was just doing things by hand, manual coffee-making, realizing that wasn't working and then moving to more equipment," he said.
"I'd probably tell young Ryan to work a little less, just take a breath but stick with it still, that it's all worth it in the end."
Market allows businesses to 'experiment'
Green calls the market a "laboratory" for business vendors — it's a place where they can experiment with branding and products.
And that's exactly what Joseph says she still uses the market for.
Any new item is first tested on her family, she told CBC News with a laugh. But once it passes them, it heads to the market, where she says she gets real-time feedback from customers.
"Here, the response is immediate. People eat the food and they come back and they say," she said. "The feedback for me, it is very important because it tells you how your food is ... I can see the change in myself in trying out different recipes."
Meet some of Windsor's newest business owners
The market itself has been around for 15 years, but only in the last two to three years has it grown in popularity.
Demand to be a vendor at the market has doubled, according to Green. During the pandemic, spots filled quickly, with nearly 80 vendors gathering in the downtown street.
One of the vendor's newest members is Penny Cardelli, owner of Snow Peak Cold Brew for coffee and tea.
"It's just been really awesome, we've seen quite a growth in us. There have been people that have been returning every week and I really do notice the people that have come back," she said.
"Having a snow peak in everybody's hands is just the dream."
A few booths down from Cardelli is Zule Eats — the smell of Ghanian meat pies and patties hovers in the air.
People are drawn in by the smell and then by owner Zule Ankamah's boisterous attitude. She says the market is her storefront and without it, she wouldn't have a business.
"Today's our one year anniversary, we started during the pandemic," she said.
"Without the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market we don't know what we would have done because that's basically our storefront."