Local Business Spotlight: Bamboo Natural Food Market

Bamboo Natural Food Market

The atmosphere at Bamboo is what you would picture when thinking of your friendly neighborhood food shop. The owners, Steve and Kelly Yorksie, are always around to help and answer questions – and trust me, after over 20 years in the biz they’ve accumulated enough know-how about health and natural products, there’s no lack of information from either of them. Both of their moms work there part time (adorbs, I know), and then there’s Amy, the marketing major, another smiling face whenever you walk through the door. The place is kind of like Cheers, everybody knows your name… and your kids’ names too. And likewise, as far as my children are concerned the store is called “Steve and Kelly’s,” not “Bamboo.” They love to come shopping with me, to pick out healthy snacks and maul Tucker when they get the chance. (Tucker is the Yorksie’s fur-baby who hangs out in the back most days).

Feeling like a valued “regular,” a friend even, is what keeps us loyal customers coming back week after week. Any of the staff are more than accommodating, the store is always impeccably organized, and if you can’t find what you are looking for they can most likely order it for you. Now that’s service!

Owning a business – and owning a business with your spouse – has its perks and challenges. Kelly was gracious enough to sit down with me before their usual Saturday rush and share some of her insight into running a ‘Mom and Pop Shop’ in Niagara.

What inspired you guys to open a health food store here in St Catharines?

Kelly: “We’d always wanted to own our own health food store. We’ve always been in the health food industry – it’s a big part of our lifestyle. We’ve talked about it for years, for about 20 years. We were tired of working in corporate and all the stuff that comes with it.”

‘Cause you guys worked in a corporate grocery store, correct?

Kelly: “Yep, for Loblaws. Working for Loblaws, Steve was a part of launching all the [Natural Values departments] in their stores in the Niagara Region. Then I opened Niagara Falls and then Welland… and then they changed ideals – obviously it’s about money, it’s not about health. And we didn’t like it. So then there was an opportunity to leave and we left.”

I’d imagine that going from corporate to owning a small business is quite a change. What is the best part about running a business for you?

Kelly: “There’s so many good things about it. Obviously being your own boss. Being able to make your own rules. Doing what you believe in, and actually follow through with it. I think it would be very hard to go back and work for somebody now.”

As a husband and wife team you work together, then go home together. How do you make that work?

Kelly: “When we are outside in the car, when we get here, I say to Steve, ‘Okay honey, have a good day.’ And then you come in the door and put on a different hat, it’s not the same relationship. Business hat inside, and when we leave again we become husband and wife. Because we have to. Because if we don’t consciously make that decision everything just runs together. We get here and we [become business partners] and then when we leave we’re ‘Kelly and Steve’ again with Tucker.”

That’s a really interesting way to put it! I’ve never heard that before… So what makes your store unique?

Kelly: “I think the fact that we don’t sell meat. I think that stands out. We are one of the first vegan/vegetarian food stores in Niagara.”

Very Cool. Why did you decide to go the veg route?

Kelly: “The reason we did it – first of all, I don’t eat meat. We were both inexperienced with meat, so we thought, we don’t really need to open with meat. This was just a personal thought. We didn’t know about health regulations – how that was going to be handled, who we were going to get our meat from. We just didn’t want to dabble in that when we first opened a young business.  And it was funny, when we opened the doors, people liked that. So we stuck with it. It was sort of by accident, really.”

 What [about Bamboo] are you most proud of?

Kelly: “That it’s actually been successful. That it’s lasted. People like it, people like us, people get it. You’ll often see me – I’m on the floor, I’m up at cash, I’m doin’ my thing… but there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. It’s sometimes so overwhelming. It’s that piece that people don’t see – to try and balance both, so you’re okay out there, but back here there’s so much work. [I’m really proud of] the fact that I can handle both, or that we can all handle that. You’d think it’s just a little health food store, but all the stuff that goes on, I never thought [of before opening the store].

We’re not here to make millions, we’re just here to make a living. We are here to work within the community, not to take away from other places. We don’t want to be a competition to other health food stores. We want to work together.”

That’s awesome,  this is pretty much why I’m doing this whole [Local Business Spotlight] thing – because of the local Niagara community vibe that seems to be so prevalent around here… So where do you see yourselves in 2 years?

Kelly: “In two years, I foresee us sort of reinventing the store, because will be passing our 5-year mark; our 5-year mark is big. We are hoping to reinvent what we are all about. We could be in a different location. Hopefully maintaining the success we have right now. Hopefully [we will be] able to take a bit more time away… for my own health. And hopefully we will have a bit more staff and the moms won’t have to work here anymore; we’ll be able to let them officially step away.”

It looks like they have a clear vision and it’ll be exciting to see what big things are next for Bamboo. I sure do wish them organic-produce-carrying truckloads of success!!!

Bamboo Produce June 2013