Christine Whelan FEO, March 2, 2023, VOL. 4 ISSUE 14
At Little Red Coffee, they believe there is more to a coffee shop than a quality cup of coffee.
At 46 Queen Street in Fort Erie, just two blocks up from the Niagara Parkway, …..
In 2019, Les and Vanessa Lakewood moved to the neighbourhood from Toronto.
Les is originally a local to the Niagara Region while his wife comes from Toronto. “We moved to Fort Erie before the pandemic, not ever expecting that to happen. I was working largely remotely as a software developer and my wife was is a professor at a university in Toronto.” When the pandemic hit, they were both grounded in Fort Erie.
“And in this neighbourhood that we have moved into, there was a lot of shuttered businesses, especially along our street — closed brokerages that are vacant now.
“One of them was this very cute storefront. This little, red storefront with charm. It must have been something at some point in time when this neighbourhood was active.”
He shared that every time we walked by the building, which was often, one of them would say, “I wish that was a cafe.”
Then Les decided to take a leap of faith. “And even though I’d never been a business owner or worked in the food industry in the last 20 years, I decided that, with the changes that were happening in my career, I wanted to take a break.”
The cafe’s door first opened in June. “We are a 100% independent coffee shop.”
The couple is really hoping to bring some people back to what Les calls a forgotten area since the end of the Friendship Festival.
“It is such a significant area in Fort Erie’s history and Canada’s history,” Les remarked.
“We do get a lot of support from the brokerages, the customs agents, even from people passing by on the bottom of the Peace Bridge. A lot of travelers will Google search and find us. That brings people to us regularly.
“But what we’re finding is, while there is great support for us on the social media community, we are still hearing people say, ‘We just heard about you.'”
They went with cute, simple, and on-point. The name comes from the building itself. “My wife named it,” Les began. “The building has this little red facade. We thought it should be something easy and that you’d know what it was as soon as you heard the name.
“When you’re coming down the street, you can see this red facade. People who are from around here would know it because it has looked like this for the last 60ish years.”
We brew with freshly roasted espresso, serve homemade food made with real ingredients, and invite guests into a welcoming atmosphere.
Local Is How They Do
They strive to keep their suppliers local to support local businesses. “You’ll see on the stories page of the website, several suppliers listed there. We buy local when we can, or work with small-scale suppliers of fine imported food and drink.
Among local brands are The Bagel Oven bagels and bread, Mado’s hot sauce, and ChocoSol Traders fair-trade chocolate.
Little Red Coffee Is For The Birds
The cafe uses Birds and Beans. “They’re a roaster in Etobicoke. I chose them because of their commitment to bird-friendly coffee farmers.”
Les continued, “Here we are, on the Niagara River, which is a significant bird migration pathway. The story, for me, just made a lot of sense. I’m really fascinated by birds, identifying birds and seeing them change throughout the season. Knowing that we are a migration path, I think is a great way to tell the story about how coffee grown in South America and South Africa is still tied to us through the migration of birds.”
Lakewood reached out for guidance. “I did a little research and found great support in the Niagara Small Business Enterprise Centre where I was offered mentorship and how to prepare my business plan and financial projections. And through that process, won a grant.
“Marc Poisson Leboeuf and Noel Leboeuf from SubCulture on Jarvis Street officially signed up for a two-year mentorship small business program to support me through the first two years of my business.”
Les is grateful for all their support.
“One of our staff right now is a student from the Goodwill Niagara job placement program. She is with us for a course of three months, getting hands-on job training experience working in a kitchen.” He added, “She’s been doing great.”
Little Red Coffee is a member of the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce, a half-time sponsor for Fort Erie Meteors hockey, and an event sponsor for Remarkable Women Entrepreneur Summit.
“A coffee shop, to me, is more than just a place to get a cup of coffee,” Les says. “To me, a coffee shop really is a third space for people to go and feel comfortable. It’s a spot for the community to be with each other and to meet others.”
Les mentioned the handful of new businesses that have come to the neighbourhood. He is hopeful and eager to find some collaboration with the southend businesses — both new and old — to find solutions to bring more people to the area and enjoy all that it has to offer.
Stories, menus and more can be found on their website. You can place your order if so desired, so it’s ready for pick up as soon as you pull up. littleredcoffee.ca
“We also work with Bridgeburg Deliveries and other delivery options, which you can find on our website.”
Photos by Les Lakewood