In PEI: A Place Where Everyone Knows Your Name
Some people sitting or standing in a long morning line up at their local Tim Horton’s Coffee, will ask themselves why?
Over 20 years ago Kate Cormier, waiting for service in an endless morning coffee line up, asked herself why not open my own coffee shop?
Today, Kate Cormier and her multi-unit Bakin' Donuts is a Summerside, PEI business success story.
Kate began her success journey in 1992. She along with two partners left their employment at an Island hospitality business and opened a coffee shop. Later in 1998, Kate buys out her two male partners and takes over their then three Bakin' Donuts locations.
"I started to expand into more locations as soon as I took over the company," says Kate.
Today, Bakin' Donuts has six primary food service locations in small communities near Summerside. Bakin' Donuts also distributes their special blended coffee through 20 branded Coffee Express outlets. These satellite outlets are co-located with existing businesses around western PEI.
"We deliver and serve our fresh cooked bakery products to our foodservice restaurants. Four of the six locations offer breakfast. When the local Island fishing boats are leaving harbour we are open for them earlier at 4:00 am during fishing season. We stay open to 10 pm, seven days a week ( except Christmas Day)".
"We distribute our branded coffee blend along with tea products to our satellite locations. Mother Parker's provides our coffee beans. We grind our beans fresh daily in all our locations. Pure coffee, no additives, and you get a great coffee taste with our focus on quality", says Kate.
Kate started her career in the local PEI foodservice industry. She quickly earned her Red Seal Chef's designation while working in a Summerside restaurant. It was there she met her two initial business partners. It was her task to get all their morning coffee orders, and she says she often gave up because the line up of cars was taking too much of her morning. One day, in the lineup, Kate got the idea to open a better coffee and food experience.
"Everyone I talked to then, said we would not survive in the coffee business. We have succeeded because of our friendly staff, and our locations are the place where people come and meet each other."
During the 2011 national election campaign, Toronto's Globe and Mail did a national column of patron interviews sourced from local patrons in the Bakin' Donuts. The national newspaper writer described Bakin' Donuts as the centre of the PEI community where people came to discuss the issues of the day.
"When I started, I wanted to do for the coffee drinkers, what the old TV show Cheers did for bar patrons. I wanted to create 'a place where everyone knows your name'," she says.
"I believe I have achieved that goal. The biggest difference between us and the chain franchises is that my staff know that customer service is the key to our success. We have a reputation for it. Everyone that comes into our restaurant is treated like a friend."
"Today, on PEI, we are the Cheers experience of the coffee industry for our customers. We are not focused on fast but focused on friendly", says Kate.
Kate's husband Merlin has been a life and business partner through the build up of the business. The couple took the time to have two, now adult sons who are not involved in the business. "They each did their time as youngsters working in our business while growing up," she says.
Kate credits listening to what her customers want and ask for as the major influence in developing the popular Bakin' Donuts' restaurant menu. "I have always operated on the idea that you give the customer what they want".
"Early on, our customers asked for bagels. So, we started baking bagels from our kitchen. This menu addition was even before there were Bagel breakfast options from the chain stores".
"Then customers asked for bacon and eggs. Now our Steak (5 oz) and two Eggs with special Home Fries, and coffee Breakfast Special for $9.95 is our most popular menu item".
"We serve breakfast all day too. I think we were among the first to do that as well, says Kate".
"I spend a lot of time on purchasing to keep my prices in line for my customers. I belong to UNIPCO. I joined when I bought the business, and their rebates on my purchases over the years have helped me financially to grow my business.
"Being part of a buying group, and being a member of UNIPCO certainly helped me. I have taken no money from government agencies. Everything I did in growing this business, I have done on my own".
Bakin' Donuts employs a total staff of 70 among all their locations to serve customers.
"In 23 years, it is harder and harder to find quality staff. The key to our success is our staff and their focus on our customers as our friends. I have been so lucky to have attracted a great staff."
"I have been fortunate with success and what comes with it, which is that I am doing something that I love. I am in a position now with my business where I can help others. When you do what you love, it shows, and you are more likely to be a success at it", says Kate.