- The West End Well started as a co-operatively run grocery, café, and meeting space, located at 969 Wellington St. W. Unfortunately, our business model has proved to be unsustainable. Because there is still genuine interest from the community to see the co-op succeed, we closed the grocery and café late September, in order to explore alternatives. If you wish to be kept informed on our next steps, please subscribe to our mailing list on the right hand side of the main page. The West End Well is also a Good Food Box and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop-off site.
The following documents outline key aspects of the Co-op's approach:
We envision a healthy and sustainable community that is nourished by our connection to each other, abundant local food, a fair economy, and a creative and vibrant culture.
The West End Well is a co-operatively run grocery, café, and meeting place. It is a hub for food, learning, and the arts that promotes an engaged, connected, and sustainable community. The mission may change as we reinvent ourselves. Stay tuned.
- Our Board
The West End Well Co-op was incorporated in February 2013 as a multi-stakeholder, for-profit co-operative in the province of Ontario. The co-op is governed by a board of directors that was elected on 10 July 2014, at the first annual general meeting.
The members of the board of directors are:
Kirsten is an organizational consultant who specializes in stakeholder engagement and change management. Before consulting, she worked in federal agricultural policy and ran an urban organic farm. For the past three years, Kirsten has been involved in Sustainable Living Ottawa West, working to establish a network of backyard gardens in the Hintonburg, Wellington West and Westboro neighbourhoods.
Terry Kimmel has been involved in the alternative energy field for the past 15 years. With an academic background in chemistry, Terry has worked in senior consulting roles with a variety of clients. He is a former President of the Canadian Hydrogen Association and a former Vice President of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. He is a Director of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy and the Chairman of the Partnership for Advancing the Transition to Hydrogen (PATH). He is an advisor to the South Africa Department of Science and Technology Hydrogen programme (HySA). Now in semi-retirement Terry has been involved in aspects of SLOWest and most recently was the Executive Producer of a film on urban cycling called Bike City, Great City.
Jack McCarthy has been the Executive Director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) since 1989. During his tenure the Centre has significantly expanded its program base, providing a vast range of health and social services targeted to the needs of the residents in west central downtown Ottawa. From 2004 to 2011, Jack was the Chairperson of the Canadian Alliance of Community Health Centre Associations (CACHCA), a pan-Canadian advocacy body for CHCs. Jack received the Joe Leonard Award honouring individuals “who have made outstanding contributions to community health, shown outstanding leadership with respect to health policy, health promotion and disease prevention, or furthered the recognition of the social determinants of health on a community, provincial, national or international stage”. Jack provides the West End Well with significant insight into the neighbourhoods of West Ottawa and the social fabric of the people living there.
Agnès Revenu's work has focused on communications, particularly in the area of international politics. Her interest in this area, as well as in human rights and citizen engagement, has been matched by a deep interest in spirituality and personal and collective growth. Her desire to seek new ways of bringing spirituality and concrete, applied disciplines together led her to launch in 2009, along with a few friends, the Art of Living Community Network -- a volunteer, informal and values-based network of people keen to share knowledge and expertise related to quality of life. The West End Well vision and activities are a natural evolutionary step in reaching this goal.
For the past twenty years, Bill has provided organizational consulting support to organizations in the non-profit and public sectors. For ten of these years Bill was a founding partner in the collaborative work group and now practices as an independent consultant. Bill’s practice has focused on integrating the principles and dynamics of healthy natural systems in the design of organizations and communities. In 2009, Bill helped establish Sustainable Living Ottawa West (SLOWest), a grassroots community network in the west end of Ottawa exploring how to live in an environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling way. This volunteer engagement provides Bill with a rich array or relationships and an in-depth understanding of the neighbourhoods and communities to be served by the Well.
David Mazur-Goulet is the owner of The BeetBox: a small-scale, organic market garden located in L'Ange-Gardien, QC and a supplier of fresh vegetables to the Well. Having grown up down the road from the café, David's motivation for joining the board of directors stems from a strong connection to the neighborhood and a deep appreciation for the co-op's vision. David is keen on sharing what he has learned over the past decade which runs the gamut from starting a farm business, working with the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op and small businesses, and three years of business studies at Algonquin College.
Ken Hoffman is a partner in One World Inc. (www.owi.ca), a consulting firm that specializes in organizational learning, innovation and stakeholder engagement. He has a background in community development and health promotion and has worked extensively with the community health sector in Canada and internationally. In addition, Ken has a strong interest how Community Economic Development can strengthen communities, which fits well with the values and vision of the West End Well. Ken is also an avid photographer, runner and occasional musician.
Jil has worked as an editor/writer in the health care sector for the past ten years. She works on an in-house communications team, creating marketing collateral, managing publications, and ghost writing. An interest in permaculture and locally focused projects led her to connect with the West End Well, where she works to promote a more sustainable way of life in her community.
You can contact the Board of Directors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAQ: Closing the West End Well Grocery and Café
Q: Why are you closing?
A: It’s a simple matter of numbers—after many months of seeking advice and making adjustments we’ve come to the conclusion that this business model just isn’t financially viable right now.
Q: What was the primary reason this venture failed?
A: It wasn’t one thing—it was a combination of numerous factors. If it was one thing we could put a finger on, that would have been much easier, but it really was a cluster of factors. We had a major financial setback with the delayed opening last summer, followed by three very good months, but in the winter we had very low sales. We reduced our expenses dramatically and hoped that the spring would see a return of strong sales but that didn’t happen. We had raised capital to see us through 18-24 months before breaking even but that has been depleted much faster than anticipated.
Q: How did this happen so quickly – in just one year?
A: The reality is that we were hit with a number of financial setbacks that we hadn’t anticipated—the delayed opening, a terrible winter, and very slow sales since then. Many people in the food services industry have told us this has been their worst year in a very long time and several established places have closed. Our capital has been depleted much too quickly to remain open as we head into another unpredictable winter.
Q: How long have you known that that the financial situation was this dire?
A: We have been very concerned since sales did not recover in the spring; we had called a special members’ meeting in June to let folks know we were watching the numbers and didn’t like what we saw. We went out again much more publically in July and received a lot of media coverage. That resulted in great sales in July but that tapered off and went back to unsustainable levels in August and the beginning of September. We’ve sent out several notices in recent weeks letting folks know that we’re not in a good position and that the Board would be presenting an alternative at the AGM on September 24th.
Q: Why didn't your members support you more financially?
A: We are keenly aware of the tremendous support the co-op received from people in the community, many of whom are members. We’ve definitely made our best effort to engage members, and created several mechanisms for them to give us feedback (e.g., surveys, a suggestion box in the store and online, and member engagement meetings). We suspect that many of the over 750 people who supported us by becoming members loved the idea of what we were creating, but weren’t able—for a variety of reasons—to make a significant shift in their shopping habits to include the Well as part of their regular routine.
That said, an incredible group of people came together and worked to create something in their community that they care about. This connectedness is a wonderful achievement and we believe that we have much more to do together.
Q: What were those major costs you hadn’t anticipated?
A: We were fully stocked and staffed to open July 1st last year when a contractor and a technical standards authority had a dispute about the location of a piece of equipment that had been installed on the roof. Over and over again we were told that this would be resolved in 3-4 days but it ended up taking two months. While some staff were able to reduce their hours and one major supplier took back an entire order, this delay ended up costing us about $70,000 before we opened our doors in late August.
Our sales in September through November were very encouraging and in line with our business plan but then they dropped 35% in December and remained that low through February. We made as many adjustments as we could while still maintaining our core functions but were only able to reduce our expenses by 25%. We lost approximately $20,000/month over the winter. Those losses decreased somewhat over the spring but nowhere near what we expected. With numerous other adjustments we brought our losses down to under $5,000 in July but August saw them creep back up to around $12,000. September has not been any better.
Q: Was your business plan adequate?
A: It was insofar as we were on target in terms of the numbers we expected to generate in the first couple of years. We had not, however, planned for the financial losses incurred before we opened or the extent of the reduced sales over the winter. This reduced our runway significantly as the business plan had forecast having 18-24 months before we needed to break even.
Q: What about groups that were using the space regularly – where will they go?
A: The meeting space on the second floor will continue to be available for co-op meetings and community groups. We will need to determine which of the groups that used the café space are interested in using the second floor space and how we can manage this with our corps of volunteers.
We will also lease part of the second floor to a new Sustainability Capacity Centre that will host several small environmental and social justice NGOs, starting on October 1st.
Q: Are investors going to lose money?
A: We hope not. We’re closing while we still have some capital left in the bank, in the hopes that we can create a new business model that will be financially viable and put our investors back on solid ground.
Q: What do your investors think?
A: We’ve kept our members and investors posted at every stage of this process. There is no one who invested in this project who hasn’t been made aware that we’ve had our struggles. Those investors trusted that we were doing our best to see our way through, and we were. They also know that we still have their best interests at heart and are working to make their investment sound.
Q: Did you have the right staff?
A: We were able to engage a very talented and dedicated group of staff and volunteers who brought in a wide range of expertise and experience. All of us have been challenged to learn more and expand our skills to try and make this enterprise viable. A successful social enterprise requires a new combination of skills that many people are coming to understand, and few of us individually have all the skills and experience these new models require.
Q: What are you doing for the staff you’re dismissing?
A: We have been transparent with our staff throughout this process. As it turns out, many of them have returned to school this September and a number of others have already found other work. We’ve given the remaining staff notice, and will be fulfilling all of our financial obligations to them.
Q: Why did your GM leave several weeks ago?
A: Back in May, in response to our growing challenges, our GM recommended that he step aside and that we find someone with more expertise in grocery marketing and merchandising. It’s a tribute to Nate and our working relationship that he has worked with us to manage this transition over several months in a way that supported the needs of the co-op. He has been able to find another position, and we know that a unique business model like what we have pursued and intend to pursue may need someone with a different skill set, so it has worked out for both sides.
Q: Are the same people going to develop the next business plan?
A: We’ve already begun to recruit some fresh faces to think about the potential for an alternative business model. We will also have a few folks who know the detailed financial experience of the co-op, who will lend their knowledge of its history, investors, and values to any upcoming plans.
Q: What will happen to the building now?
A: We’re working with an advisor to create a short-term plan to get us through the winter, which likely involves renting out the space. We’re also working with a team to discuss long-term options for creating a project that is more feasible and viable.
Q: Can you tell us anything more about that at this time?
A: We don’t have anything concrete developed yet, but we do hope to be able to announce it or have it in the works by the spring.
- Co-ops & our food system
What is a co-operative?
"Co-operatives (or "co-ops") are legally incorporated organizations owned by their members who use their services or purchase their products. Co-ops can provide virtually any product or service, and can be either non-profit or for-profit enterprises. The co-operative sector keeps dollars circulating within the local economy, provides secure employment and is a means to revitalize and sustain healthy communities.
As its name implies, a co-operative is people coming together to meet a common need. Possessing a high degree of collective entrepreneurship, the co-operative business enterprise model is inherently ethical in its treatment of its members, employees, suppliers and the environment. Co-ops serve a range of sectors, including housing, food, worker, agriculture, service, financial, youth, aboriginal and community."
Food Co-ops in Ontario
Two helpful videos from the Local Organic Food Co-op Network
"The premise of co-operation is simple. Individuals come together to democratically govern an organization that serves their needs as members. Co-operatives weather economic recessions better than traditional forms of business, have a business survival rate twice that of other forms of corporations after 10 years, and employ more than 15,000 people across Ontario. Within the world of food, co-operatives exist at every stage in the food chain, whether growing, processing, distributing, retailing, or serving food.
Through the principle of “one member, one vote,” co-operatives give individuals a chance to build strength collectively, creating something that is more than the sum of its parts. By providing an opportunity for small, local operations to work together and get their products to market, food co-ops put the “culture back in agriculture,” help to shorten the distance from farmer to eater, and keep value (money, jobs, investment) within their communities. Membership within a co-op elevates all stakeholders to greater levels of engagement and empowerment, moving the consumer to the role of food citizen, and giving greater voice to farmers, producers, and workers.
This video features members and leaders from co-ops across Ontario who are involved in the Local Organic Food Co-ops Network, telling their stories and illustrating the diverse ways in which these member-based organizations are increasing food democracy by engaging communities in the very process that nourishes them.
With the growing presence of the co-op model in Ontario, there are a plethora of unique co-ops, guided by place- and culture-specific needs, goals, but with shared values, which are ultimately working together to make our food system more democratic. Hannah Renglich, Animator for the Local Organic Food Co-ops Network, describes the variety of initiatives: operating farmers’ markets and student cafes, facilitating online platforms to connect consumers and producers, shipping food directly to remote First Nations communities, collectively running farms, and teaching high school students about sustainable agroecological practices. The co-operative model progressively evaluates itself with a triple bottom line accounting approach, placing an equal focus on concern for community, environmental sustainability, and healthy economics." (second video)