There are two rules for success in any business: find a need and fill it and, most importantly, love what you do and do it better than anyone else.
EcoCafe owner Edward Denyer chose coffee and he is a firm believer that coffee is not just a lifestyle; it can also be a bridge to bring people from different cultures and walks of life together, to learn from one another and to share knowledge of their respective cultures.
On his website, ecocafestjacobs.com, Denyer says, “I have always loved to converse, communicate and learn; what better way to do so than through others over coffee?”
Coffee, he states, “was simply our medium, but our business was about people and about relationships.”
Denyer spent his younger days living with his parents in Columbia, where he learned – and continues to learn – a great deal about the coffee industry; from the growing stage to roasting distribution, brewing and selling, as he currently does at the EcoCafe location in St. Jacobs.
He is committed to sharing that passion and knowledge
Currently he does a live Podcast from his EcoCafe location at 1441 King St. N., St. Jacobs, doing interviews with friends, fellow coffee enthusiasts, growers, musicians and even customers.
One day, Denyer and his fellow investors at EcoCafe were talking and he asked: “How do you get to know more about the people you interact with? So, I thought, let’s do a podcast.”
“I wanted to know, for example, more about the guy I buy my milk from,” he says. “It’s a local farm; he has Jersey cows, so he came in and we got a bunch of information from him and yes, we got a whole new insight into who he was and who some of these (other) people are.”
So far the podcast, which can be found at listennotes.com/podcasts/coffee-matter-podcast-eco-cafe-Ssr_7ucGk2Z/ has featured more than 50 guests on 15 weekly podcasts, with listeners from around the world. Denyer plans to recruit more musical talent for the hour-long show, including a group that performs flamenco music.
Last year, he went to a Let’s Talk Coffee conference in Rwanda, organized by the group Sustainable Harvests (sustainableharvest.com/about-us). The group focuses on creating “transparent relationships that increase value throughout the supply chain, all while fostering greater sustainability,” an approach they call “Relationship Coffee.”
Denyer called it a ‘coffee voyage,’ as the conference puts growers and roasters in the same room, so small roasters, like EcoCafe, have access to better quality coffee, greater specialty options and other key perks to the coffee trade.
Denyer, who also sources beans from Ethiopia, buys his Rwandan beans from a women’s cooperative in Rwanda.
“It’s all 100 percent women,” he is happy to say. “Basically, the coffee is grown by women, harvested by women, it’s environmentally clean, it’s imported to Canada and it’s even served here by women at EcoCafe.”
“So it’s trying to keep that chain intact and stay true to the cause,” he says. “I just think that people here should understand what happened in Rwanda and why.”
Efforts like this one are where Denyer strives to connect people using coffee as the bridge. He is also Chair of the St. Jacobs Business Improvement Association (BIA) and continues to build bridges at home and abroad.
Denyer, who’s been in business 18 years now, says Covid didn’t force him to shut down at all. Coffee production is considered an essential business.
They did have to make some changes to deal with the pandemic, but Denyer is confident that his business is safe and secure.
“You just have to make sure you have the protocols in place, address the needs of the people and continue on.”
Retailers, he says, are suffering though.
“Typically, in a retail store you have to peruse inside to understand what’s there to buy. That’s a more difficult thing.”
“It used to be interactive,” he says, “but you have to provide opportunities for people to understand everything you do and why you do it and they will come inside. They may spend less time, so if you can showcase what you do in other ways – whether it be digital or social media – then people are apt to purchase from you.”
Denyer says the core of his business is roasting coffee, so if the pandemic goes on another year, his business should do okay, regardless.
“People will drink coffee,” he says, “but for me, it’s a bigger problem if we run out of coffee.”
Denyer doesn’t think that will happen either, as his supply chain is well intact.
Now in his fourth year as Chair of the BIA, Denyer believes smaller businesses are in a better place to deal with the pandemic and its inherent lock downs because they have the infrastructure to swerve and pivot to meet the challenge:
“People always ask me, ‘Well, how has (the pandemic) affected you, but the thing is this – a small business always has to face big issues. It’s always a challenge. Every day there’s something; either a refrigerator breaks down or you run out of nitrogen or the espresso machine is not working.”
“Anything can happen,” he says, “and you’re always on the fly, dealing with it, but those who do best are the ones who’ve succeeded in the bigger picture because they’ve made changes and adapted to what’s available – and they continued to push.”
Some businesses don’t have that ability, according to Denyer, “because they grew too large or they just find that change is very difficult.”
Change is necessary, he says, and you must expose what you do and see whether your infrastructure allows it.
“It can make you or break you.”