The restaurant biz is one the toughest businesses to be in, and this is the one I have dedicated the last 7-1/2 years of my life to. It has been a dream come true and one I would like to share with you.
I know I have written this before and spoken about it at several conferences, how Sweetgrass started. Well, here’s just a little recap – the idea came about at a family dinner, the talk of “what if” we one day opened a Native restaurant and served fine First Nations Foods. It was an idea that drove me to pursue my education in this field – a certificate in Hotel, Restaurant Management and then a degree in Culinary Arts. With my family, we did our business plan, worked hard at finding grants and set our minds on “just doing it”. We aimed high and decided to open in the Nation’s capital, Ottawa.
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro is a restaurant like no other. It is a place where we showcase our Native foods in an upscale manner, a place of comfort with warm inviting tones, Native music in the background and art by talented artists on the walls. We have contributed to the community through catering events, hosting special evenings, food demos and art shows. We have even travelled as far as Mistissini and Montreal with our food and service, and hopefully we can do more.
Along with opening a restaurant come many hardships. It is not as easy as it may look to some. Being in the city, the rents are high, food supply has to be constant, frequent staffing changes and let’s not forget, TAXES!! Yes, the latter is the killer and one that many restaurants struggle with and are brought down by. We humbly opened our restaurant at a low cost, worked day and night with friends and family. Our opening date was November 15, 2003, and off to the races we went.
The first few years were a learning experience, with none of us ever having owned a business before. We were young adults trying to make it in a world with lots of tough competition. With next to nothing to advertise with, we managed to put Sweetgrass on the map with Ottawa’s Best New Business within our first year, and got many other mentions as one of Canada’s top restaurants. All merits that we are so proud to have achieved.
Over the years, we have had repeat patrons who love our food and believe in the concept of Sweetgrass. From Chiefs, MPs, cabinet ministers, celebrities, hockey players, First Nation people and non-Aboriginals, we have valued each and everyone for 7-1/2 years. Without these people, we would not still be here.
Today, I struggle with keeping my life’s dream afloat. As the sole proprietor being immersed in all aspects of the business, it is a place that I now only begin to understand. The numbers owing to the government, suppliers and utilities are huge and I’m not sure if I can get out from under it to be honest, not alone anyway. We have sought additional funding over the years but to no avail, and we probably just didn’t know whose doors to knock on. I find asking for help hard to do, especially when you’ve done things by yourself for a very long time.
I recently posted on Facebook that we are on the verge of closing and asked for your support through prayer, ideas and financial donations. This restaurant is a Cree-owned business and I believe it has done our people proud. Where we go from here, only God knows.