Profile: Higher Ground Cafe


Bev and Drew Marshall share their story of owning Higher Ground Café in Belfountain, working and enjoying life in the Caledon community.

Describe your business.

Bev: Higher Ground is a café, a meeting place, a destination. We serve coffee, tea, baked goods, sandwiches, soups and fresh salads in the warmer months.

I’d say about 75% of our baking is done in house – cakes, cookies, butter tarts, but some things it just makes sense to bring in.

We care about the environment, so we serve fair trade coffee, and use fettuccine pasta as stir sticks.

In the summer we do ice cream, hot dogs and burgers, for the thousands of tourists that come through. We have a lot of cyclists, hikers and day-trippers in the warmer weather.

It’s a fantastic spot at this time of year [winter] for locals to come and bring their laptop get some work done or have a little meeting or meet some friends. It’s nice and quiet compared to the hubbub of the summer.

We are open seven days a week, all year. We are closed only on Christmas day.

It must be challenging having your customer base change so drastically over the year.

Bev: It is.

At this time of year [winter] we’re down to maybe 30% of our overall customers. From the long weekend in May until the fall leaves come down we are slammed, but this time of year it’s mostly locals.

Our business is weather-related so during the “busy” months if it rains we have a lot fewer people coming through.

I think the local community likes the quieter time of year, but for us, we know we wouldn’t be here without the tourists.

How long have you owned the business?

Bev: This spot has been a coffee shop for many years. It originated as The Shed, then they sold to owners that made it Higher Ground. They had it for about 7 years before I came along.

They were looking for a Manager and I was looking for a new career so I came and worked here for a little bit.

I have a long history in customer service, having done high-end catering and been on staff at Teen Ranch most of my adult life, but I was ready for a change.

I started working here in March of 2016 and then in October the owner wanted out – he was too busy with family and his primary business. So, we purchased the cafe.

Drew: Let me add that I was walking across Spain at the time and received an email saying: “We bought a café”.

Bev: [laughing] He did not have much input at the beginning.

What about now Drew, are you more involved or do you have another career?

In June I left the broadcast industry and my radio show. It was time.

We live on a farm and there’s plenty to do there, but Bev and I had a conversation about the future and she said she could use me around here, so I’m the quality control guy – AKA Official Taster!

Bev: He refuses to learn how to use the espresso machine, so he's pretty useless around here. He’s a good taste tester though [laughing]

Drew: I’m really proud of Bev. Neither one of us have experience running a business and the learning curve has been steep, but things are going well.

How long have you been married?

Drew: We met at Teen Ranch, got married - too soon really - but we’ve now been married for 31 years and have two children and three grandchildren.

In 2016 I walked the Camino de Santiago a 1200 year-old pilgrimage that runs from France westward across Spain - I spent three months in a vow of silence, because if anyone needed to shut up it was me.

I came back and the first words I spoke were “Will you marry me again?” Bev said yes…. but then we ended up separating for two years.

The happy part of course is that we did come back together and just last year went to Mexico and renewed our vows.

How do you like working together?

Drew: We struggle working together too much. So, we don’t work together too much. We both have strong personalities.

I don’t do a lot with the café, but I do organize our monthly concert series. Because of my contacts in the industry I know a lot of recording artists, it helps. It’s an opportunity for the locals to come out and enjoy some great musicians in our little venue.

How are you changing or growing the business?

Bev: The business was working before we bought it, so I haven’t changed a lot with the food except adding some gluten-free options. We will evolve into some healthier choices and cater to different pallets as we mature in the business. We have quite a diverse customer base.

You don’t make much on coffee so you have to figure out how to make money. We’ve considered doing dinner service, getting a liquor license, but there’s a lot to that. It’s a big investment with facilities, training and staff with no guarantee that it will bring more business or revenue – so there’s nothing in the works with that yet.

We are excited about the new landlords as they have started to reinvest in the building.

Is your farm local? Can you ride your horse here?

Drew: Yes, I can, and I do.

Bev: We are going to work something out in the back so that we can hitch the horse. Drew came up one busy weekend on the horse thinking it would be fun for the tourists and then realized that people don’t have any idea how to behave around a horse.

Drew: I ended up managing people rather than giving them a great unique experience.

Have you been in this area for a long time?

Drew: Our family was one of the founding families of Orangeville. And Bev and I lived together there until we moved into Caledon a couple years ago.

So, never city folk?

Drew: No. I think we’re allergic to pavement [laughing].

Drew: Because we have been in the area for so long, we understand the dynamic and concerns of the locals. We understand the concerns about being overrun with tourists in the warmer months, it’s challenging.

But we also know without the tourists we wouldn’t have a business. And in our experience, the vast majority of people that come here are nice, courteous. Sure there’s the odd one that isn’t but that happens everywhere.

What is the best business advice you could give?

Bev: I was lucky because I came into an established business. I don’t know how people do it from scratch – the investment needed would be a very scary thing.

I am fortunate that this business has great bones.

You can have all the drive and charisma, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales and owning a small business is not going to make you rich.

Really to sum it up I’d say, if you don’t love what you’re doing it’s not worth it.

What’s the best thing about living and owning a business in Caledon?

Bev: Caledon – the hills, it’s beautiful.

It’s a great year-round place to live, its central, easy to get to other communities and we tend not to go south [into the city] unless we really have to.

We have strong community ties. The locals treat you like family.

Drew: It’s beautiful, unique and warm. It’s the neighbours you can count on, the kindness of community is everything!

How have you created such a warm atmosphere?

Bev: My biggest thing that I train my staff on is that I want everyone that comes in here to feel like they are coming home. I want them to have a great customer service experience, in a friendly atmosphere. Everyone gets a greeting.

If there’s a lineup and people are waiting to be served than staff will greet or chat with people in line.

We're just trying to create a great atmosphere by taking the time to provide a personal touch and quality food.

We all know people don’t have patience for bad customer service - speaking to everyone, making them feel comfortable and welcome whether they are a local or a tourist. It makes a difference.

Drew: We both want this to be a positive experience for everyone that comes in, but also for our staff.

If you look around the cafe, there are a lot of positive messages – we remind the staff to monitor their own conversation and always stay positive.

Bev is one of the most positive people in the universe – no drama, no games - how she ended up with me I have no idea [laughing].

The locals here know this is a positive place… if you want a bitchy coffee shop go somewhere else [laughing].

Higher Ground Café is located at 17277 Old Main in the hamlet of Belfountain (Caledon) (map) | (519) 927-1748 | On Facebook: @HigherGroundCafeBelfountain

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