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The Roots of a Successful Business in Ontario East

Ontario East

Linda and Bob Marr always knew they would come back to Cobourg. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was the push that brought them back to their home.

The couple was living across the river in New Jersey at the time, arriving there through a circuitous route. They were married in Cobourg in 1987, and Bob’s job took them to several places in Canada, including Winnipeg and Brampton, with Bob travelling to the States before they moved to Texas and then New Jersey. That final move turned out to be short lived. After the attack on the Twin Towers, they decided to move back to Cobourg. It was a town Linda knew well, she was raised there. Bob and Linda appreciated the quality of life the town had to offer, and knew they did not have to go to the big city to be successful.

But what were they going to do? Says Linda, “Bob loved to feed people!”, so they decided to open a restaurant. They found the ideal location for the Buttermilk Café on King Street West, in the heritage district of downtown Cobourg. The building, constructed in the mid 1800′s, is next to the Henley Arcade and across the road from Victoria Hall, a national landmark. Linda and Bob also did their research. They found out what kind of foods other restaurants were serving, and looked for their niche. They found it in “Really good comfort food”. The goal was to make everything from scratch, including their own bread and desserts, with no additives and no preservatives. They buy locally as much as possible. The Buttermilk Café also found its niche in the area between a fancier restaurant and a diner. It is a family place, where patrons do not have to dress up to get real home cooking.

“One of the strengths in having a business in Eastern Ontario and specifically Cobourg, is the access to fresh produce, says Wendy Gibson, Cobourg’s Economic Development Officer. “Bob and Linda Marr certainly take advantage of this aspect of our Community. Their customers keep coming back to enjoy not only the comfort food on the menu, but to savour the seasonal foods picked at the peak of their taste.”

The Marrs also knew there would be challenges. In 2002, the year they opened, a very high percentage of restaurants were failing in their first year. Linda says that’s because many of those restaurants did not have a good business plan. Linda and Bob had experience in running a small business and knew what they were facing.

“You don’t open your doors and expect to make a living in a few months,” says Linda. “It can be three years, so you have to make sure you can survive for the time that it takes to build up a reputation.”

And the Buttermilk Café has certainly built up a reputation. For example, it’s a gathering place for a number of groups in Cobourg. A walking club, a financial group, and a men’s coffee group meet there weekly. It also accommodates a number of private functions and hosts various fundraising events throughout the year.

This all leads to a lot of “word of mouth” advertising. “Word of mouth is very, very good for us,” Linda says.

In searching for new opportunities, the Buttermilk Café went “beyond the doors of the restaurant”.

Now they are catering to larger functions offsite, including five large weddings this summer. Linda says, “Most of the catering was gained by word of mouth.” Although outside the Café, it will help keep the staff of 28 plus busy.

When asked what advice she would give to any new entrepreneur who wants to stay in business, Linda doesn’t hesitate. “Customer service is one of the keys to success. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, you have to be dedicated to your customer or client. You have to understand that they are the ones that are making you successful. If you look after the people, they will come back.”


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