The oh-so-welcoming smells of freshly made, raspberry-jam-and-coconut macaroon tarts and lemon meringue pies fill the air.
Turkey, vegetable and macaroni soup is simmering.
Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town is pouring out from a local classic rock station through the speakers.
Say hello to the Sweet Side of the Moon Bakery and Café.
On Glace Bay’s McKeen Street, baker Terry MacLeod has once again taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, provided nine people with jobs and transformed an empty building near the local Tim Hortons into a diner.
It has cost him about $300,000.
“It’s a significant amount of money for me,” said MacLeod in an interview. “The idea was to invest in a small business and, as I near my retirement, it will provide a retirement income. That’s the hope anyways.”
It’s a dream shared by tens of thousands of Atlantic Canadians.
According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia had the greatest number of businesses big enough to hire employees in Atlantic Canada at 29,922 by the end of 2015, the most recent for which figures are available. Prince Edward Island had the least at 5,935. New Brunswick had 25,509 of these employer businesses and Newfoundland and Labrador 17,526.
That’s 78,892 businesses that provide jobs in the region.
The lion’s share of these, almost 98 per cent, are small. Across Canada, 54.1 per cent of all employers operate businesses with less than five employees.
Think mom-and-pop shops and service contractors.
Small, yes. But these companies pack a big punch when it comes to job creation with 87.7 per cent of net job growth in the decade ending in 2015 coming from them.
In some cases, the impact of just one entrepreneur can be staggering for a community.
“Sometimes, it just takes that one person to set the spark,” says Dr. Mathew Novak, an assistant professor at Saint Mary’s University and an expert on the revitalization of downtown cores.
In St. John’s, chef and serial entrepreneur Todd Perrin is creating exactly that kind of buzz.
After buying the historic Mallard family home in Quidi Vidi Village in 2011 with his wife, Kim Doyle, and sommelier Stephen Lee, Perrin transformed it into a restaurant that has since acted as a magnet for foodies and heritage buffs alike.
“It’s received international attention,” said City of St. John’s Councillor-at-large Dave Lane in an interview. “It’s one of the go-to restaurants, not only for St. John’s but also in Canada.”
Then, the entrepreneur created The Inn by Mallard Cottage, an eight-room inn in two buildings that look like historic Newfoundland homes, across the street.
Along with the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company founded by David Rees and David Fong in the mid-90s, these latest developments are now drawing in so many tourists and locals to the Quidi Vidi Village area as to make parking and traffic flow an issue with residents.
“Todd has set a spark,” said Coun. Lane.
These type of area developments aren’t only happening in Newfoundland.
In Yarmouth, N.S., Mandy Rennehan, the daughter of a lobster fisherman who often struggled to put food on the table for his family of six, learned at an early age there was hope.
At 18, she left home with nothing but a suitcase and a smile. Or so claims the website of the company she founded, Freshco, a maintenance, projects and restauration company that helps retail businesses revamp their digs.
Today, Rennehan, who is affectionately nicknamed “Bear”, is the chief executive officer of the Oakville, Ont.-based company.
That 22-year-old company has 58 full-time employees and a network of 300 contract employees across Canada and the United States. While the privately held company does not divulge its exact revenues, a Freshco spokesperson did say the company does between $20 million to $40 million in sales annually.
And Rennehan is still deeply committed to her hometown.
Three years ago, she bought several buildings in downtown Yarmouth, including the old jailhouse, a windmill, a row of storefronts and several residential buildings.
The windmill became her Yarmouth home. The row of storefronts on Main Street was spruced up and Rennehan has since founded another company, RennDuPrat, there and employs eight full-time workers.
Her total investment in revitalizing Yarmouth in the last few years alone is estimated to be about $4 million and the buzz in the community is that a major project is going to be announced in the next few months for the former jailhouse she now owns.
In small towns throughout Atlantic Canada and elsewhere in the country, it’s homespun entrepreneurship like this, fueled by business people filling local needs, that is doing the heavy lifting when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.
“There’s no silver bullet solution (to economic revitalization),” said Novak. “A lot of it has to be rooted in the local community.”
Mahone Bay in Lunenburg County has lifted itself up over the years and built a thriving tourism sector in its downtown with maritime-themed bars and restaurants with quaint and whimsical names.
Acadia University in Wolfville and St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish have provided an opportunity for businesses there to cater to the student market.
“Guysborough, formerly a quiet town, is increasingly making a name for itself by creating a brewery (the Authentic Seacoast Distillery & Brewery) and coffee roastery (Full Steam Coffee Co.) and that creates jobs,” said Novak.
According to the downtown revitalization expert, these communities are doing it right.
“It’s better if you don’t bring big companies in but instead foster it from within,” he said.
The idea for solid economic development is to build on a community’s local strengths and create an experience with which customers can identify. At Full Steam Coffee, owner Glynn Williams has tied that roastery’s identity to the region’s seafaring past.
Laser-like attention to the bottom line is, of course, necessary for a business to survive. But Novak says many entrepreneurs also feel a strong need to better their communities.
“Profit is a motivator. They’re business people. They want to make money. But another motivation is their roots and wanting to give back to the community,” he said. “They might buy an old building and restore it.”
In Glace Bay, it was the call of his hometown in the Maritimes that led MacLeod to plunk all that money into his business.
The 58-year-old, who previously owned and operated another bakery in Glace Bay, sold it 14 years ago, went back to school, and became an occupational health and safety officer.
But by the time he graduated, the North American economy was in the throes of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Companies were laying off, not hiring.
“When I was looking at the opportunities, they had dried up,” he said.
He turned to Fort McMurray to pay the bills, undertaking the Maritimers’ all-too-familiar back-and-forth migration to Alberta for work.
It took its toll.
“Travelling from one end of the country, going through airports and then taking a few days to get back into things, you wind up with maybe a week at home before you have to go back,” said MacLeod.
He decided there had to be a better way.
In Glace Bay, there was an old, empty building. It had been built as a Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation outlet, then transmogrified into a jailhouse, then converted into bar dubbed The Cell Block, and finally a restaurant called Elliotts.
MacLeod snatched it up.
“I was born and raised in Glace Bay so I have a soft spot for the town,” he said.
A fan of the rock group Pink Floyd, he named the business the Sweet Side of the Moon Bakery and Café as a wink to the band’s iconic 1973 hit album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Then, like many entrepreneurs, he weathered the almost inevitable stream of negative comments from doubters.
“A lot of people look at me and say, ‘You’re crazy!” he admits.
But there is a plan. With the Sweet Side of the Moon currently taking up only a little more than the front half of the building, MacLeod still has plenty of room to expand later or rent out the back half of his building and bring in a steady monthly income from his investment.
And what is starting off in Glace Bay is something the entrepreneur is hoping could one day be just the start of a much bigger company.
“It could be a franchise opportunity,” he said. “It’s on the table. We have to streamline (the operation) to the point where you can jump in and get a place like this up and running in a short period of time … Every franchise in the world started with just one outlet.”