The Cherry Tree

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Kristyne visits the coffeehouse as often as she can, dropping in at least twice a week. To enjoy a really great cup of coffee is her main reason for going, whether she meets someone there or comes on her own to read. Snuggling into a cozy club chair by one of the fireplaces amid the warm décor, adds to the draw for her and many other regular customers. The Cherry Tree is like home away from home where you can meet friends, spend quality time for yourself or bring a laptop to take advantage of the high-speed Internet provided. According to regular customer Kristyne, it's a place where anyone of any age can enjoy. She and her daughter, Rachel, often spend time there catching up on their visits when she is home from college. Rachel and her boyfriend, Matthew, sometimes come in for a hot drink after an outside activity, such as skating. His parents, Sandra and Mark, often make the coffeehouse a stop during a weekend stroll. Sandra offers, "I think the Cherry Tree is a great addition to Blenheim. Mark and I love it." A couple of years ago, owners Rick and Lisa Andruchow had been contemplating a type of business to run. They decided a coffeehouse would be ideal. When taking leisurely walks around town, they would often wish for a relaxing spot to enjoy a coffee before heading home. Lisa's background running the Laura Secord/Hallmark store in Chatham and Rick's master's degree in business and love of cooking made a coffeehouse the right choice for them. Blenheim seemed an appropriate setting to open this type of establishment as nothing else like it existed. They thought the busy location, where many out-of-towners come to shop, added to the appeal. Additionally, Blenheim is close to the beach where many cottagers have their summer homes. Stopping at every café they came upon, even on a trip to Quebec City, they searched for the best layouts suiting their tastes, and tried myriad types of coffee in their search for the best available. They read every publication they could find about the beverage. When it came to coffee, they planned to be experts in the field. That was only the beginning of the couple's research, since they wanted to enhance the experience with high-quality food. It was to have genuine flavour, unlike many restaurants, especially chains, which keep their food bland in the interest of appealing to the public. While watching many restaurant makeover shows, they found that chefs stress freshness and local ingredients. Lisa, who loves gardening, could grow most of the ingredients herself. They kept busy with all that they had to learn and consider - laws, suppliers and resources selling commercial items - while they waited for the building on the main street they had purchased to become available. Each experience proved a challenge in its own way, such as sorting through government regulations to find what applies to a restaurant business. Even getting information about the espresso machine and training for it was a resource difficult to find. Shopping became a priority, taking over their lives as they desired everything for their coffeehouse to add to the warm environment they envisioned. As they shopped, the layout gradually came together to match the image Lisa had formed in her mind. Once Rick and Lisa took over the building, they worked on the remodeling themselves. This way they could have control over every detail. Meanwhile, the business needed a name. Having the word "cherry" as part of it could make use of the marketing of the town, like the Cherry Festival. The couple brainstormed on possible "cherry" word combinations. When the name "Cherry Tree" came up, they thought it perfect. To add to the appropriateness of the name, they later found out coffee beans are the seeds from cherry-like berries often called coffee cherries. The many drinks offered on the menu go beyond the basic fair trade organic coffee, which they receive weekly and grind fresh each time a pot is made. Authentic lattes, cappuccinos and café mochas are among the variety of choices. Smoothies and frappés are popular cold drinks in the summer. As their hard work was becoming a reality, they started interviewing potential staff. Having cheery employees was important to them. Rick says, "We only wanted people who got it; who were interested in the type of atmosphere we were creating." They consider themselves fortunate to have ended up with staff with superb work ethics, though Rick and Lisa's willingness to do anything they expect the staff to do, such as clean bathrooms, serves in encouraging their employees. As for themselves, they put 200% into the place. Loving what they do goes a long way in the enjoyment of the time spent there. Rick divides his days between the Cherry Tree and farming with his dad, who understands if Rick needs to run up to the coffeehouse for an emergency. Generally, farming is flexible; planting and harvest is the exception. Lisa does the bulk of the running of the Cherry Tree. She serves customers, oversees staff while working with them, carries out the ordering of supplies and pays the bills. Rick mostly deals with government paperwork, only working on the floor occasionally. Both work on the floor more than they imagined they would, but that is the economic reality of opening at the onset of a major recession. Adapting, improvising and staying cost effective will help keep the business prosperous. Rick and Lisa have been amazed at how the food has become quite popular. They originally thought it would only enhance the business after the morning coffee rush was over. Coffee places they had been to offered food, yet nobody seemed to indulge. The Cherry Tree's paninis and salads offer unique combinations of food, herbs and spices that wouldn't normally be expected, such as the popular ham, apple and brie panini. The awesome food has brought in customers that may not have otherwise come in. The couple occasionally offers features, such as the roast turkey and cherry panini, to take advantage of food in season. They also often feature drinks, such as the White Christmas Latte at Christmas and the Cupid Cappuccino for Valentine's Day. While putting the business together, Rick couldn't have imagined the response the town has had. They get plenty of favourable comments and the merchants appreciate having them there. Rick says, "It feels good to help downtown Blenheim." At the beginning, Rick and Lisa were ambitious with their hours of operation, since what works in one community may not work in another. Rick comments, "We didn't tell the town what we wanted; we let the town tell us what it wanted." They found there wasn't much call for coffee in the evenings in Blenheim, so they adjusted the hours accordingly. Though regulars have commented on wanting the Cherry Tree open in the evenings again, they understand there is not enough customer traffic to warrant it, and also appreciate the time the couple need to spend with their family. Sacrifices have been made in their lives to take care of the demands of the business. Even on days off they come in to bake, clean or work on the appliances. They've been fortunate to have their parents help with their three children. Otherwise, the basement is set up for the children to play or watch movies. People are impressed that the Cherry Tree is a family run establishment. Occasionally, a visitor to town asks if it's part of a chain. The staff member proudly states that it is privately owned. Rick and Lisa saved and sacrificed for a few years to own and run a business they, and the town, can be proud of. Lisa looks around her coffeehouse, sees one person on his computer, another comfortably reading a magazine and two women catching up during a long-awaited visit. She says, "It makes me happy to see enough people in here happily chatting away or using the Internet for research. To me, that is bliss; that's what we wanted. Everyone is relaxed and comfortable. It's a gathering place - that's important to us."

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2009


Comments

Read your article about the Cherry Tree - it made me want to go for lunch there again soon!! -Janet

I have spent so many comfortable and cozy winter afternoons there, ensconced in one of those voluptuous armchairs by the "fire", looking out the window and reading. I so enjoy the relaxed ambience, the soft jazz classics in the background, and the friendly staff. The visit makes my day!

-Mary

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