A big-city location may be coveted by many businesses, but it can be difficult to catch the attention of customers with so many choices. Such locales also come with a variety of stresses not found in a small setting. In that light, it’s not surprising to see entrepreneurs heading to the rustic countryside.
In the picturesque village of Wellesley, one couple found just the right niche for their small business.
You can smell the scents of smoke and wood long before walking into Wellesley Gourmet Meats and Cheese, owned by Billie Ross and Bill Ross.
“Wellesley, it’s the hometown charm that we like, the country feeling. So we wanted to open our store as that,” said co-owner Billie Ross.
Located on Maple Leaf Street just past the Nafzinger Road intersection, the tiny store is bursting with traditional wooden furniture full of local products and gourmet treats.
The store got a popularity boost when its signature homemade hamburgers and chicken burgers ended up on grills in the village following a spring opening. Now that colder weather is at hand, customers are looking for comfort food and, right now, something to accompany the festive season.This is their first Christmas, yet the owners are already used to the informal, friendly relations of a tight-knit community.
“I love the personal part. We know our customers and they know us, first name basis and that kind of thing.”
Ross described how a new customer stopped her outside of Wellesley Public School to place an order for a gift basket right there on the street. Ross took it down and was able to deliver the goods to her customer’s door.
”Where in Kitchener-Waterloo could you ask somebody to make you up a gift for Christmas and have them deliver it?” she said of the decision to keep the business in the village.
This is the first time Ross has run a business, but the industry is an old friend for partner Bill, who has worked as a butcher and business owner for many years. He sold his half of a market in Guelph, Ross explained, to start a business closer to his childhood home in the village of Petersburg, in neighbouring Wilmot Township.
Now Ross is trying her hand at customer service and marketing while Bill fills the shelves with tasty foods, many of which are prepared right in the store.
The shop has enjoyed some word-of-mouth fame since it opened, with customers travelling quite a distance to sample the products.
“It’s been amazing; the support is wonderful from the community and the surrounding communities. New Hamburg and Stratford, even Kitchener and Waterloo,” Ross said.
This holiday season products are being grabbed of the shelves, as it’s the time of year for parties and dinners. Ross has noticed certain products are going fast.
“They are doing a lot of meat and cheese platters and they also buy a lot of our condiments, gift baskets. I’ve done a ton of baskets this season,” she said of her customers’ choices.
These days, she added, many customers want a “one-stop-shop” but Wellesley Meats and Cheese is just not big enough for that. Instead Ross took a different turn by offering specialty products with a traditional twist.
“You want to have enough products for people who come in. A lot of times they want that one-stop shop. We can’t really offer that in this space so we try to specialize and bring in unique products they can’t get anywhere else.”
The store makes its own fresh chicken, schnitzel, chops, and fresh sausage. As for the rest of the products, they are as local as they can find them with the exception of an American company. The preserves – which stand in glass jars on many surfaces in the store – are made by a couple in Huntsville. They drive a total of six hours to deliver the preserves to the store, Ross said.
The store is gearing up for another busy weekend as it opens Wednesday through Sunday, a time when everyone has time to shop, Ross said.
With a new business even the two days off during the week don’t seem like holidays for the partners.
“I’m running, picking stuff up, dropping off orders, picking up orders, which I enjoy, but that would probably be my biggest challenge. It pays off: it’s well worth it.”