In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak with Jaide Hatfield and Joel Murga of Jaide and Joel’s Baking Company, a vegan, gluten-free bakery and café in Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada. The young couple — both in their early 20s — share their insights on becoming first-time business owners amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They also share pointers for great vegan and gluten-free baking and how persistence and self-confidence finally pay off.
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Clover: Tell us about the history of Jaide and Joel’s Baking Company. How did you first get into vegan and gluten-free baking?
Joel Murga: The story starts a fairly long time ago, actually. When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, so I grew up living with a celiac diet. Jaide grew up as a vegetarian and was also sensitive to gluten.
Fast forward to 2018: my sister was stepping down from the bakery she was running. I had the idea that I would take it over and we would try our hand at gluten-free baking. Specifically, I wanted to do gluten-free protein baking. I brought some of the treats that I made to Jaide. She tried them, and said they weren’t very good. Jaide told me, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. And we’re going to do vegan and gluten-free.”
In April of that year, we attended our very first farmer’s market in Penticton. The customers down there were amazed that someone had the idea to come and do this in the Okanagan Valley. We didn’t realize how big it was going to get.
Clover: How were you able to continue to grow your customer base beyond the farmer’s markets?
Jaide Hatfield: The markets were ending in the winter season and our customers wanted somewhere to buy our goods. We thought we’d reach out to some local businesses, like coffee shops and stores, to see if they would take on our products. We then partnered with UBC and with Nature’s Fair. We’re now with an independent grocer, similar to a superstore kind of grocery store. Our dream was always to open up our own retail location one day.
Clover: That’s amazing. You make it a point to educate customers in vegan and gluten-free baking. What are some of the pointers you tell your customers?
Hatfield: In vegan and gluten-free baking, what it comes down to is science. You have to treat it differently than you would regular baking. We educate our wholesale customers, too, telling them whether to put the products in the freezer, in the fridge, or in an air-sealed container. Our bagels and bread, for example, have to stay frozen. When reheating, you have to reheat it extra long so that it reactivates all of the binding products in it and it makes it super soft and squishy again. You can’t just de-thaw a bagel and eat it right away. Joel went to school a little bit for science, so he knows a lot more about the process of it all.
Clover: What’s the science behind gluten-free and vegan baking?
Murga: When it comes to gluten-free and vegan baking, you start with figuring out about your binders, your activators, and your emulsifiers. You need to know a lot about the proteins and which proteins can hold what up because sometimes you’ll end up making something, but then it’ll just completely deflate.
Clover: How do you test your recipes?
Hatfield: We’ll take it to our family members who don’t eat gluten-free or vegan because they are the harshest critics. If it passes for them, then we know it’s good. I think that’s what makes us stand out because we won’t release a recipe until it’s absolutely perfect and we are sure it is good enough.
I know when people hear the words gluten-free or vegan, they’re like, “I don’t know, that doesn’t sound so good.” But we’re here to debunk that. We tell people, “Give it a shot, try it, and I swear your life will be changed.” And so far, that’s been true.
Clover: Tell us about your storefront, which you recently opened.
Murga: I was scrolling through Facebook looking for commercial spaces so that Jaide and I could continue our venture because like many [businesses] during the pandemic, our company kind of took a beating. We really needed to find something that could take us to the next level.
Hatfield: In early March 2020, we were looking at signing the contract to the storefront and then a big announcement went out about COVID-19. We didn’t know how serious COVID was at the time. We thought maybe this would blow over in a couple of months and decided to hold off. We’re glad we did. It came to the point where because our business was primarily wholesale at the time, all of our wholesale clients that we supplied to had to shut down. We didn’t have any business.
The [storefront] space was still available when we wanted to go back in the summer, and it felt like a sign. We got the place in early August and then we worked our butts off for two months trying to open up.
Clover: How did you adjust your business to meet COVID regulations?
Hatfield: When we opened on October 27, 2020, we were able to offer inside seating. We had the partitions, the COVID dividers, and a lot of stuff set up. For the most part, it’s actually been a much bigger success than we thought it would be, especially during the pandemic.
We love how we have our own order screen with the Station Pro and the customers have their own screen. When we’re putting in what they’re ordering, it comes up on their screen with the amount so they can read it for themselves, which I find really helps people as well. Not having to pass [devices] back and forth definitely helped a lot, too.
Clover: How did you decide to use Clover for your payment processing?
Murga: We were shopping through a bunch of different POS systems. Once we came down to the hardware, there were a lot of hidden costs involved that you didn’t find out until the last minute when you got the invoice. Jaide got an ad on Facebook about Clover and started reading up on it. The more we talked about it, the more we liked it, and we saw how user-friendly it was. We called one of the sales reps, and they were the greatest. Dealing with one of the sales reps for Clover was a completely different experience than dealing with all of the other ones. They were pretty straightforward and didn’t try to hide any of their fees. We were like, “Let’s do it.”
Hatfield: We set [Clover] up and it was so easy. We trained our staff on it and they picked it up within half an hour. It’s super quick and very straightforward, which is great. We just started using Homebase and I wish I learned about it sooner. It’s helped us so much. It’s got scheduling on it, payroll, time sheets — everything is included. It’s been a lifesaver these past couple of weeks. We love our system.
Clover: What do you see for yourselves in a post-pandemic world? What are your medium-to long-term goals for the business?
Hatfield: We’re looking at opening up a second location at the end of next year or the beginning of 2023. We get a lot of people from Alberta coming here saying, “We don’t have anything like this.” I think there’s definitely a need for [our offering] in other places, too. We’d love to get our bread, bagels, and some cakes — we’re working on ice cream cakes right now — in larger stores, too. We could get our products farther across Canada that way.
Clover: What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurial-minded business owners at the beginning of their careers?
Murga: I know it’s pretty corny, but just don’t give up. Everyone isn’t going to believe in you. Everyone isn’t going to see what you see or value what you value. Keep believing in yourself and keep working hard and know that what you’re doing will eventually pay off.
Hatfield: I know it can be really difficult and you might not get a lot of support from the people around you. You kind of have to be prepared for that. No one’s going to believe in you and your business like you do.
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