When restaurateur Sandra Joseph started her business, she lacked a ghost kitchen to fill restaurant orders.
It was a huge change for Joseph, who owned a restaurant in Kuwait. But when she immigrated to Windsor, Ontario, in 2006, she had to start from scratch to secure a place and build a clientele.
About nine years ago, she became a vendor at the downtown Windsor Farmer’s Market – a Saturday street sale that closes Pelissier Street from Wyandotte Street West to Park Street West between May and early December. Now she owns a brick and mortar version of her restaurant, Rasoi, in Tecumseh.
The market, she says, is what allowed her business to take off. And she’s not the only one to give him credit for his success.
Over the past decade, around 25 businesses have moved from the farmers’ market to the big leagues, securing storefronts in the neighboring city or county. These include Carrots and Dates and Anchor Coffee in Windsor, Christine’s Bake Shop in Leamington and Walkerville Candles in Essex. This has been a hidden economic generator for Windsor-Essex and has helped create a sense of community among small business owners.
Rasoi means âmy kitchen,â according to Joseph, who says the idea is for people to eat their own homemade meals. Joseph says her food is a fusion of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine – something she did by creating her own spices.
Although it’s been almost a year since she bought the store, Joseph says she still can’t believe it’s real.
âIt’s a little thought, a little vision, a little dream that’s on your mind all the time,â says Joseph, who runs the business with just the help of her husband and two sons.
“I built my clientele [at the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market], it was a place where people started to know me, to know my food, they recognize me and they come week after week. ”
WATCH: Cooking with Sandra Joseph de Rasoi
From cardboard signs to “legitimate business”
“I really think the [farmers’ market] allows people to practice the entrepreneurial trade, âsaid Steve Green, manager of the Windsor Town Center Farmer’s Market.
“I see their very first day when they come, but I also see how they evolve.”
One salesperson, Green remembers, started two years ago with cardboard signs and a small table. These days, he says they operate like a “fully legitimate business,” with proper branding and an organized booth.
âNot only does the market grow bricks and mortar, it literally grows and helps business people mature in their approach to what it takes to be a successful businessman. Many of them when they start here, they have no idea what they’re getting into, “he said.
And that was exactly the case for Chance Coffee owner Ryan Nantais.
Without the downtown Windsor Farmer’s Market, we don’t know what we would have done because it’s basically our storefront.– Zule Anchamah, new market seller
Nantais started roasting a bag of coffee at the Saturday market. These days, there are bags of coffee beans in its new storefront on Drouillard Road in the Ford neighborhood of Windsor.
The boutique opened in mid-September.
âWhen I started it was all on a smaller scale,â he said. “It went from ordering 100 bags to 1,000 bags to 5,000 bags.”
Four years in the market, he says, taught him what he was capable of.
âI was just doing things by hand, making coffee by hand, realizing it wasn’t working, and then moving on to more equipment,â he said.
“I would probably tell young Ryan to work a little less, catch his breath but stick to it, that it’s all worth it in the end.”
The market allows companies to experiment
Green calls the market a “laboratory” for commercial sellers – it is a place where they can experiment with branding and products.
And that’s exactly why Joseph says she always uses the market.
Any new article is first tested on her family, she told CBC News with a laugh. But once he gets past them, he heads to the market, where she says she gets real-time feedback from customers.
âThe response here is immediate. People eat the food and they come back and they say,â she said. “Feedback to me is very important because it tells you how your food is … I can see the change in myself by trying different recipes.”
Meet some of Windsor’s new business owners
The market itself has been around for 15 years, but it has only been in the last two or three years that it has grown in popularity.
The demand to be a seller in the market has doubled, according to Green. During the pandemic, the squares quickly filled, with nearly 80 vendors gathered on the downtown street.
One of the more recent members of the supplier is Penny Cardelli, owner of Snow Peak Cold Brew for coffee and tea.
âIt’s really great, we’ve seen pretty big growth in us. There have been people coming back every week and I really notice the people that have come back,â she said.
“Having a peak of snow in everyone’s hands is just a dream.”
A few stalls from Cardelli is Zule Eats – the smell of Ghanaian meat pies and patties hangs in the air.
People are drawn to the smell and then to the boisterous demeanor of owner Zule Ankamah. She says the market is her showcase and without it she wouldn’t have a business.
âToday is our first anniversary, we started during the pandemic,â she said.
âWithout the downtown Windsor Farmer’s Market, we don’t know what we would have done because it’s basically our storefront.