Never Judge a Book by It's Cover!!
This is my true story about how I have grown to love and cherish my community, the landscapes around me, and how Muskoka and the surrounding areas have made me a better person, and helped build my success as a business. In this Blog, I will be highlighting local city and town events, put a spotlight on great businesses doing great things for their community, and on a community that do great things for us as businesses, and also for others around them. In this first blog posting, I would like to take it all back to where it all started…. a long, almost 5 years in the north!!
My husband, (then fiancee) Francis and I moved to Huntsville in the summer of 2014 for a job that Francis got. At this time, I did not know that my aspirations and chain of events would lead me down the entrepreneurial path. I have worked in kitchens, catered, run management for chip trucks, and have loved cooking my entire working life. It was my first job, and continues to be a large part of what I do, today.
I started in Huntsville working for fast food chains, coffee shops, and sales positions for the ease of finding work. Francis and I moved around quite frequently over the course of the next 5 years, due to landlords repossessing their space for personal use, or for other such not at fault causes. Renting in Muskoka is a very difficult thing to do when you have time to plan and look around, and is double that difficulty when you need immediate housing, often with little choice available.
We were only at our first address a couple of months before moving into our second Huntsville rental. I scored a job as a Line Pivot and hot end cook, full time, and thought I had it made. All the while, planning our wedding, which changed venues and cities when we moved, which took place July 4th 2015. With little time to re-arrange and on a tight budget, we somehow pulled off a beautiful wedding, with ceremony at the Dyer Memorial in Huntsville, and reception at the Legion. This was an extremely difficult task to plan in Muskoka, especially since we had only lived there a year, and had very little friends and no family in the area. Our entire wedding, but a select few, plus guests had to travel to Huntsville, our wedding was scheduled on Canada Day long weekend, and there were next to no hotels/motels available by the time we started booking blocks of rooms! We were just about in order, when our caterer cancelled and I catered MY OWN wedding the night before and day of. Thank goodness for my kitchen training here!!
I had struggled with my weight since I was in high school, and when I had dropped over 30 lbs for my wedding (to fit in my dress), and then gained back almost 10 in 8 days on our honeymoon where I constantly “rewarded” myself for all of my “hard work” (aka STARVING myself!) over the last year, losing the weight, I had had enough of the yo-yo, and wanted to take care of myself and my family better.
It was around this time that I found Team Beachbody and their workouts, supplements, and I became a coach. I loved helping people succeed, I loved being a part of someone’s joy and happiness in their own successes. I found such satisfaction in what I did, and I was helping myself by losing weight and getting fit and strong. Because of that program, I decided to get a Certification for Health & Sports Nutrition Coaching. And for over a year, I felt completely content, but not quite fulfilled in running my own business. But I wanted something more. My love of food, health, cooking, and sharing my journey, all just didn’t feel right with me outside of a kitchen.
Fast forward to 2 houses later. An entrepreneur looking for a way to seek a better way to do things. Start researching ways to improve, when BAM!! Opportunity is looking right at you! Perfect part time job literally down the street came available, and does not require too much responsibility or time, and a place just came up for rent in my budget! In November 2017, SmithFit House opened as a registered business and Cafe in Bracebridge. It was a way for me to sell wholesome, real, fresh foods with health and general wellness in mind. But the space was very small, and very limited.
This is when a friend of mine suggested (more like asked) me to cater an event. She had a friend looking for catering for a reasonable cost, and she didn’t feel comfortable doing it, as she wasn’t a licensed, or insured food business. Having no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed.
When we first arrived in Huntsville, we found it very difficult making local friends. Almost all of the people we met and connected with were other recent moves to the area, and people just passing through. We found it difficult to navigate information, and thought we would never truly be apart of this community, and even thought of moving to an outer city because of it.
But I didn’t give up. It felt difficult selling health and wellness to the community. It felt difficult to prove myself, my skills, and my helpful nature. But this wedding and this new opportunity (that in reality scared me half to death and almost made me quit a few times!) to put all of my favorite things together, and shine doing the things I KNOW that I do best, changed everything for me.
Being a small business in the North has taught me so much about this community. You just have to confidently put yourself out there. Let people know what you do, and how you do it. BE apart of the community. If you want business, if you want to meet new people, you have to be willing to put yourself in situations and willing to also give back to the community. When locals see your trying, when they see you willing to put in an effort to EARN their friendship, earn their business, earn their trust that you are not going to damage their structure, they will, in turn, provide you suggestions, share your business, refer your company, take time to participate in your business, or purchase products from you. They will go the extra mile to help you succeed. There are SO many AMAZING people, small businesses, and helpful families who just love to give back. This community amazes me every day.
You can never truly appreciate the value of the north until you are willing to get out and really explore all it has to offer. Just clicking a couple searches on Google could never lead you to some of the amazing sights, sounds, festivals, art, history, or awe-inspiring landscapes that we are so well known for!
Just like a mini Niagara Falls, Muskoka is home to 3 Breweries, and I really didn’t fully appreciate what I was missing, or the true north heart that these brewing companies offer, before a little trip “off the beaten path” (their slogan, and actually) to the Muskoka Brewery for a Guided Tour of their facilities and some samplers with some very knowledgeable, friendly staff. A friend of ours is a fanatic of small batch breweries and begged me to take him to do a tour of at least one. Being the closest to us, and the most local to me, we chose Muskoka Brewery.
The atmosphere when you first pull in is completely Muskoka. Silly parking signs with riddles make you smile before you even see the front of the building, it is wheelchair accessible and you can even bring your dog inside! There is always a smell of burning campfire from the iron burn barrels out front, crafted by Muskoka Fire Pits out of Gravenhurst. When you walk inside, you instantly are greeted by a happy face, willing to help. And they really know they’re stuff about their products!! They are happy to walk you through the beer “lingo” and have such a wide variety of flavors, some of which you can’t even buy unless you’re there, that everyone gets what they like. Even the soda they offered was locally made!
And if having a fun, friendly, knowledgeable staff, wide variety in selection, truly Muskoka atmosphere, and using all natural ingredients, making their products ‘healthy” wasn’t enough, then they aim to please, and have created a foundation that gives directly back to their immediate community!! The Brewery is owned and operated by locals, and has a fund that raises money that goes where it’s needed to help those in need in their immediate community! It just warms my heart over and over to think of the impact that one small business can make, and the love and gratefulness of the community to give back into growing that business. That’s a truly strong tribe in the community, that I so admire, and am grateful to be a part of.
Had I not ventured from the most popular walked trails of Algonquin, and had not been led off a literal beaten path, I would not have even seen the Logging Museum Trail in Algonquin Park this past summer. A highlight to Algonquin history that I never would have learned about.
If it had not rained, during house guests with kids, I never would have been brought to the Bracebridge Sportsplex, and never have re-tried rock climbing for the first time in well over 15 years.
Had I not started a business, and gave up when things didn’t go my way, or I ran from the things that scared me, I never would have needed to ask the community to trust me. I would never have had the reason to assert myself into the community, and ask for their help. I never would have seen or heard of the amazing things I continually learn and love about Muskoka.
I’ve learned that to become a true local, and to get “in” with the local community, you have to make their community your problem, too. Because if you want to be a local, you have to act like a local, and truly mean it. And it will become your community, too. You’ll only get what you are willing to give, and to never judge a book by it’s cover.
And it only takes one person to whisper a new experience you’ve never tried or heard of, and it’s my job to be that little birdie, when we go out, we’ll let you know what we think!
Until next time,
xo Katie Smith