With the worst of the pandemic era hopefully in the rear-view mirror, Jennifer Foster made the bold decision to open her second and much larger CW Coops location in Barrie.
Despite the adversities faced during the pandemic, Foster remains optimistic that the restaurant industry will come back stronger and more robust.
“There are so many opportunities and creativity that came out of COVID,” she tells BarrieToday.
Foster believes that shutting down operations gave restaurant owners the opportunity to reset, prioritize and truly understand the value of staff and customers.
“People love to eat out and can do it in so many ways that were fairly primitive before and are so developed now," she says.
Foster, who also operates the popular chicken-wing brand in Angus, credits the support that restaurants received during COVID for making her second location possible.
“Through promotions, webinars, changes to services, etc., there were opportunities to grow as a business owner that I may not have received if the pandemic didn't happen," she says. "And it truly made me a more aware, educated, responsible, and creative restaurant owner."
The intention was not necessary to have a "bigger" business, but when you come across somewhere that is just perfect, you have to go for it, Foster adds.
“We have always thought about expanding to Barrie. We just kept looking for the perfect spot and finally found it. We are excited about being on the water and being in such a great location," she says.
Because of the sheer size, Foster plans to engage in a broader scope of customer experiences, such as sports-themed events, music and entertainment, private functions, and larger community events.
Wing lovers will be able to order both traditional wings and a number of fun flavours.
“Sometimes the number of flavours can be overwhelming, but I truly believe in a good way. We have the ability to have fun with it," Foster says.
She notes CW Coops is not a franchise with a single business model, yet every owner has committed themselves to ensure the brand provides a quality wing product above all else.
“This is a nice, unspoken bond that facilitates consistency in products and atmosphere regardless the location," Foster says.
She attributes her decision to open a second restaurant business at a more challenging and risky time to her entrepreneurial character and supportive family.
“I am so fortunate to have a partner and a family that support me and jump headfirst into my crazy ideas," Foster says.
Foster has worked as a server and bartender since she was 16 years old. She worked in restaurants to put herself through school in the field of social work/child and youth work.
“I co-owned a business in the field of social services but continued to bar-tend throughout even that. It is something I have always truly loved," she says.
One day in her mid-40s, she decided that a restaurant owner was what she wanted to be when she grew up: “Restaurant and entrepreneur are the best of both worlds," she says.
Foster also values the lessons she learned along the way.
“From when I started bar-tending, the people I have met as customers, those who I worked with and those who have mentored me have always touched my heart and taught me so much," she says.
As for the struggles endured during the pandemic, Foster finds it was "extremely" important to improve her management approach.
“Historically, I did not pay as close attention to some details I think I should have and it affected how my business operated," she admits. "With Angus and now Barrie, I am very actively involved. I get the opinions of my staff who work in the business and incorporate those into how we move forward every day.”
Foster likes to think that the restaurants are an extension of her family and says she treats them the same, with respect and loyalty. The restaurants also serve as a space to create great moments, great experiences, and camaraderie.
Foster hopes to replicate the same environment in the new location as she does in Angus.
“I feel this ultimately makes customers happy and it will be great to repeat that experience there.”