#StartupandSlay Digital Series: Tart & Soul Café

These Halifax Bakers Share the Secret Ingredient to Success

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Tart & Soul Café co-owners Safia Haq and Lisa Brow took their passion for baking and turned it into a profitable business

It started with a Facebook ad. Safia Haq and Lisa Brow met in baking school and had long talked about opening something of their own. At the time, the two friends were in jobs that were naturally about to end—that’s when they saw it.

“It just said, ‘Have you ever dreamed of opening your own café?’ And I was like, ‘Yes. I have dreamed of opening my own café,’” recalls Haq, who screenshotted the Facebook ad posted by someone looking to sublease a local Halifax café and sent it to Brow. “So we wrote a proposal, submitted it, had a few meetings, and then a bunch of other things happened, and here we are.”

Together, Haq and Brow opened Tart & Soul Café and wholesale bakery in 2017.
They offer an array of delicious confections and beverages, but also specialize in catering and wedding orders—including one that looked like a cake on the outside, but was filled with their signature cinnamon buns on the inside. Brow jokes that in their partnership, she’s the tart, and Haq is the soul—but like the name of their café, they work better, together.

Here’s how Haq and Brow baked up some sweet success, despite not having a background in business:

How would you describe your typical Tart & Soul Café customer?

Haq: It was really important for us for it to be super welcoming to anyone. We literally mean anyone. Any gender, any nationality, and age group, and for me, as a queer, Muslim woman who has mental health stuff too, it’s really important to feel like you fit in somewhere. Just being welcoming to everyone means anyone can fit in, and I think that makes our space really unique and important.

Lisa Brow: It’s like a warm, cozy feeling. Every second customer gets a hug when they come in here.

How did you transition your relationship from best friends to business partners?

Brow: We’re both very different people, but we play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve never met someone who works as hard as this person and puts up with this person, because sometimes I’m hard to deal with.

Haq: When one of us isn’t feeling something, then the other one just does it, even though it’s not necessarily what they want to do. For example, calling the bank or calling CRA or whatever. Or if one of us really doesn’t want to make bagels that day, the other one will do it because that’s just what you do in a partnership like this.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced with your business?

Haq: One of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced is the differentiation between working at your business and working on your business. Because we bake a lot in the back. We are always in the kitchen doing stuff. But at the same time, we are trying to grow a business and we have to do paperwork and we have to do admin stuff and we have to have meetings and go to business things and go out and be the face of Tart & Soul. You have to make the time for the stuff that doesn’t feel as important day-to-day, but it’s actually more important in the long run.

What relationship do you have with other local business owners?

Brow: We found our women entrepreneur support system by supporting these other businesses.

Haq: Because we do a lot of wholesale, we work with a ton of other café owners. We have been so honest and open with our other café-owner friends that it’s so nice to have this network of people who have been open a couple years longer, or maybe you have been open a couple years longer.

Brow: We want to build each other up. A lot of this industry, the food industry, is a lot of competition, especially among women. Everyone preaches, “Yeah, female empowerment, whatever.” But then when you actually get in the kitchen, it is not always like that. There’s enough business to go around in the café industry here. Everyone has something unique to offer, so we’re into talking to other café owners. If someone wants a really good pumpkin spice latte, we’re going to send them up the street to the café that our friend owns because we know they make a great pumpkin spice latte. If we don’t have something, we love to refer people to other places within our support group.

What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs who come from diverse backgrounds?

Haq: I think for other diverse women entrepreneurs, finding someone who is doing something similar to you asking them directly if they can offer some advice to you. Because people in any industry, if you’re approaching them with respect and enthusiasm and excitement, they are very willing to tell you what they know.

What is the scale of your business now, two years after you first opened?

Haq: So when we first started, we had three wholesale customers and that was around 30 per cent of our business. At the end of the first year, it was 60 per cent of our sales. Now we’re around two years and a few months, and we have 10-12 wholesale customers. It just keeps growing and growing. People recognize us on the street, which is weird.

Brow: Yeah, we blew all of our financial projections out of the water immediately.

How do you hope to scale up Tart & Soul Café?

Haq: We’re looking to expand, essentially we want to move into the space next door, turn that into a café, so have more seats, more fridge space. Turn the current café into a bakery with more table space. So more baked goods, more wholesale customers, more walk-in customers, more special orders.

Brow: Room for events. More room to breathe.

What advice do you have for other women who are thinking of starting their own businesses?

Haq: The one thing I would say to a young woman who wants to start a business and is not sure or is doubting herself is, “You can do it! It’s going to be hard, but you got this and it’s going to be fine.”

Brow: Find your support group, find your best friend to do this with every day because it is so rewarding.

To celebrate Small Business Week in October 2019, watch the Startup & Slay digital video series featuring six Canadian companies founded by diverse women entrepreneurs. This special project is produced by How She Hustles, with proud sponsor CIBC in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University. Help us share these stories online with hashtag #startupandslay and don’t forget to tag @howshehustles. We’d love to hear how you Startup & Slay, too!

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