Business Name: Rustic Cosmo
Owner: Nicole Crowe, 35
Type of establishment: Restaurant
Address: 1278 Queen Street West, Toronto M6K 1L4
Closest major intersection: Queen and Dufferin
Hours of operation: Mon to Fri 9 — 4, Sat 9:30 — 4, Sun 10 — 4 (& opening for dinner in the Spring)
How did you come up with the name of your business?
We moved from rustic, rural Orton, Ontario (outside Guelph), down to cosmopolitan Toronto. We have a lot of names; people have a lot of different names for us. But as long as the cow [sign out front] is mentioned, we know what they’re talking about.
Who started the business?
My mom and dad started it.
Did they have a similar place before the move?
No. My mom was a stay-at-home mom; dad had a construction company.
Did it ever cross your mind that you would own the restaurant?
I think eventually I knew I would take over. I’ve always loved being here; I’ve been here since day one.
When did you take the reins?
About 14 years ago.
Do you have business partners?
No — it’s just me and my wonderful staff.
Were your parents your role models in becoming an entrepreneur? Or did you have outside sources of inspiration?
All of my family are entrepreneurs. My dad always had his own construction business. My grandfather also had a construction business.
So, growing up, was entrepreneurship not so much a calling as just your “normal?”
Yes. That’s a good way to put it.
What did you do before?
Studied Early Childhood Education at Sheridan College. I was a private nanny for a couple of years, and then decided to move on from that.
Was that your “sowing wild oats” phase?
Sort of. When I was growing up, I always wanted to have a daycare. It was my dream, and so I went and did E.C.E. It may have ended up differently if I was working in a daycare setting as opposed to being a private nanny.
Do you have a family?
No, I’m single.
So I guess I don’t need to ask you the family life-work balance question?
Do you plan to have a family?
Not at this time in my life, no. I’m quite happy with what’s going on. Keeps me busy.
Any you a member of any support groups for entrepreneurs?
No, but I am a board member on the B.I.A. My family has always been extremely active in the community. I’m on the streetscape committee, and we’re working on getting new planters and really sprucing up the street this year, so that’s cool.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to be involved in the community?
Oh, totally. If the people running businesses in the neighbourhood don’t step up to make it a great place to be, then it’s not gonna get done. Parkdale is full of so many wonderful business owners. It’s such a mix of old and new businesses on this strip now, it’s great. Everyone interacts; we all help each other out whenever we can, and do what we can to bring people down to Parkdale.
What made your parents choose to move to Parkdale?
I’m not sure, but we’ve been here over 20 years now. Parkdale’s always been a very eccentric neighbourhood. It’s great, very community-based. It was a different neighbourhood 17 years ago when we started the restaurant.
How has your restaurant evolved as Parkdale becomes more gentrified?
When we opened, we were Parkdale’s original coffee house; there were no other coffee houses around. We started off with just coffee and desserts — cappuccinos and fun coffee drinks — and then, over the years, we just gradually evolved. We put in the kitchen about 10 years ago. We always did quiches and salads, so we had food options, but not much at the beginning. I had a hot plate before. Now we’re a full-service restaurant.
Do you find keeping up with food trends challenging, or is that something that you thrive on?
We follow food trends to a point; a lot of what we serve has been on the menu for the whole 17 years we’ve been here. We can’t take it off; people just order it anyways. Like the chicken, avocado and brie sandwich. It’s been on the menu since the day we opened the doors.
Do you use marketing consultants?
No, it’s just me. We just kinda go with what the customers are asking for. They let us know what they like.
Do you think a restaurant like this could open now and succeed in this neighbourhood without the kind of history Rustic Cosmo has behind it?
Yeah, they could definitely succeed. The neighbourhood is so much busier now than it was 17 years ago, so it’s kind of a whole different world. It’s all about customer service and giving the customers what they want. As long as you’re providing a comfortable space for them.
Is there something that you wish you knew when you first took over?
How much time it was gonna take. How much of your time it actually takes to run a business.
Watching your parents, did you have somewhat of an idea of that?
I had a good sense of what it would take. It’s definitely a trial-and-error process. Some things are gonna work; some things aren’t gonna work. I mean, when it comes down to it, if something needs doing then I have to be there to do it, no matter what anyone else does or says. I may be the boss, but if I’m here cooking that day, then I’m here ‘til the end.
Do you like working all the time, or do you find it a struggle to take yourself away every now and then?
Oh, I get away every now and then. I mean, it doesn’t take over my whole life. It’s a huge chunk of it, but I definitely have ‘me’ time. I make sure I have ‘me’ time, or else I wouldn’t love being here.
When you’re an entrepreneur, there really is no distinction between work and life because work is your life. When people ask about taking time away, do you feel like ‘why would I take time away from myself?’
Definitely. I live and work in the same building. So there is no separation between work and home for me. It’s more of an upstairs-downstairs kind of thing. I come down in the morning, do my baking, get ready for the day. I probably work harder here than I would if I had a normal Monday-to-Friday job. It takes a lot of dedication and time. It’s more passion.
And you love everything about it.
Exactly. I wouldn’t have it different.
What do you love most about it?
I love so much about it; it’s hard to narrow it down. It doesn’t feel like work– it’s like hanging out all day. I have great staff, my customers are amazing. We know all of our customers on a first-name basis. Well, probably not all of them, but a good chunk of them. We have about 250 regular customers who, if we don’t see daily, we see two or three times a week. We know what they want as soon as they walk through the door.
Do you think that has to do with the type of business you own? Or just the fact that it’s where you want to be and what you want to be doing?
This is definitely where I want to be and what I want to be doing. I honestly don’t know what else I would want to do. I’ve been doing it for so long! It’s what I do.
Is there an area of new growth that you’ve implemented, which wasn’t here when your parents owned the restaurant?
Brunch! We never did brunch when my parents were here. And brunch is huge. We have quite a large brunch menu. Every weekend there’s a line-up out the door. We’re also just getting ready to start dinner. Come the end of March — somewhere in that neighbourhood — we’ll be opening for dinner Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings. So that’s something I’m looking forward to. I’ve done dinner in the past, but it’s a lot to work 20-hour days, six days a week. That was my only reason for pulling it. But people have been asking for it a lot, so I’m willing to give it another go. We’re gonna see what happens!
Carolyn Grisold is the managing editor of Women of Influence Magazine and a contributing writer to various print and online publications (Post City Magazines, Toronto.com, Gallery Magazine, Argyle Magazine). Follow Carolyn on Twitter @CityandCharm. To suggest a female entrepreneur, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.