Olsen says their, “mission at Balzac’s is to uphold this declaration by giving our customers a sense of belonging and ‘time well spent’ with an authentic café experience.” Balzac’s strives to embrace the rich history of the coffee shop as it existed during de Balzac’s tenure as one of the most prolific writers in French history. It was a time when the experience of a coffeehouse was just as important as the coffee itself.
Exterior of Balzac’s flagship café in Stratford, Ontario
zeeBigBang spoke with Olsen about what sets her cafés apart from others. “I strive to integrate into the communities we inhabit by blending our own creative expression with the personality of the neighbourhood. We don’t impose a prefabricated, replicated brand onto a community with little regard to its unique or historic characteristics. Each of our seven cafés is deliberately and notably different, and each is a continually evolving reflection of the local community which embraces it.”
Vintage-inspired posters represent each unique Balzac’s location
True to Balzac’s namesake, Olsen’s coffee shops support and rely on the arts communities where they are located. With locations in culture heavy places like Stratford and the Distillery District in Toronto, Balzac’s faithfully taps into the rich history of the coffee house. “The relationship between Coffee and the Arts is historic and enduring. We will always be there for one another, providing a space for creative energy to flourish and stimulants to push that energy to new heights or, alternatively, our Citro-Booster has been known to bring some spirited artists back from the edge of the abyss – otherwise known as a brutal hangover.”
All of Balzac’s blends are roasted at their Stoney Creek head office
The best way to personalize each location, she says, is simply, “By hanging around the neighbourhood and meeting the people. There is always a tangible feeling and energy that I want the space to evoke.” She says, “I try to pay homage to the space itself, be it the history of the building’s use or the design era it was built in.”
Her dedication to personalizing each site extends far beyond atmosphere and location. Olsen believes in applying the same mentality to the products they sell. “We roast our own coffee, we offer all local organic milk/cream in our beverages and we always source our products from companies which embrace the same business philosophies and commitment to quality as our own.”
Balzac’s sells gluten free and vegan baked goods
Olsen says there are many benefits to sourcing products from regional artisanal suppliers. “The quality, the freshness, less use of preservatives, less carbon-footprint, building a social business network, supporting the local economies, but most importantly…the taste is always better when the producer is passionate about what they do. That is what customers come back for.”
Diana Olsen, founder and owner of Balzac’s Coffee
When asked what advice she could give to entrepreneurs looking for a way to stand out from the crowd when launching and running their own businesses, Olsen had this to say: “Be authentic, have a clear personal vision and stick with it, even if it means losing some clientele. Your business will never please everyone, so just work at pleasing those like-minded people that get, and appreciate, what you are doing. Also, be very cautious of advice from others whether it is free or paid for. When times are tough, it is easy to doubt yourself and get steered in the wrong direction. Stay the course and success is more likely to follow.”
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