Yelp sat down with badass business owner Marie Fitrion to talk about her not one, but two, booming Toronto businesses, Urban Acorn Catering and Urban Acorn Market. What started as supper clubs blossomed into a catering hustle, then their own catering kitchen, and eventually also a merry little market serving Toronto’s westside Junction neighbourhood. Here’s what our friend Marie had to say…
Why did you decide to start your business? Tell us your backstory!
I suppose if I am honest with myself I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit; I am also quite stubborn, a workaholic, and have a deep satisfaction in helping others achieve their goal. That being said if you had told me a decade earlier that I’d be running a catering company I would have laughed you out of the room, but that’s exactly what happened…
I was a newly single third year PR student going to a first date at the Art Gallery of Ontario. My date Daniel was a chef, something I initially dismissed (much like when someone tells you they are in a band) only to discover that he had fierce talent and passion but no business support. As we began dating more seriously I offered to join him on small event to take pictures and help him develop a business plan. I would eventually write a plan for a Toronto-based catering company called Urban Acorn (a nod to the art exhibit showing on our first date).
Five years later we’ve build this amazing little network of Toronto-based chefs and business owners who believe more in collaboration than competition. Our company was founded on the simple but powerful idea that food is a connector; the social lubricant needed to bring people together. With that spirit we focused on ensuring those with dietary restrictions and food preferences such as vegans and gluten free guests could participate in social gatherings as easily as their friends. We believe food should unite, not divide people!
Why do you love doing business here in Toronto?
Toronto has fast become a hub for Canada’s food scene. There are lots of big players here and although we don’t get recognized on a global scale, we have talent in this city that rivals that of New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.
What I love the most about Toronto’s food scene is that it is as diverse and multi-cultural as its people. Name any nationality and you’ll be able to taste it here, any dietary restriction can be accommodated, and there is this beautiful ‘come as you are’ mentality woven into its culture.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
One customer reminded me that in addition to quality and price, excitement is a contagious feeling and when customers see your passion and enthusiasm for your craft they will want to work with you, help you achieve your goals, and be part of your story.
What’s your advice for other business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
‘Mapping out the customer experience’ is key for any business, because at the end of the day, long after your services have been completed, customers will always remember how you made them feel during your interactions.
In my case this means having a frank and honest ‘no BS’ chat about the wedding industry. My job is to be part advocate for the client’s needs and part reality check. Weddings are exciting, overwhelming, fun, expensive, and ‘once in a lifetime’; I make it a point to help my customers as much as I can even if the end up not using our services. Connecting them with other reputable vendors in the city is key to proving a great experience.
Next time you’re in Toronto be sure to visit Marie, Daniel, and their growing empire of treats. Until then, continue to use Yelp to find the best businesses, and if you’re a business owner be sure to use the incredible free tools: biz.yelp.com