When one thinks of the best vegan baked goods in Toronto, Sweet Hart Kitchen takes the cake. Founded by Alex Courts and Julia Hart, the story of Sweet Hart Kitchen is one built on passion and support. We’re so proud of what these two women have created, and their interview below captures the entrepreneurial spirit we know and love.
Tell us a bit about your business!
We started as a wholesale business, supplying raw treats to local businesses across the city. We’ve since evolved to offer a large range of sweet and savoury treats — raw, unbaked and baked — that are seasonally inspired, nutrient-dense and completely free from animal products, gluten and refined sugars. We opened our storefront in April of 2017 and have been quickly growing to meet the demand since!
What was the “aha” moment that sparked you to pursue this?
Julia: For me, it was the gradual realization that this thing I really, truly loved – turning whole foods into amazing treats for myself and others – was actually a viable living. I was the only thing standing in my way. And then I met Alex, and we developed this amazing momentum that has brought us to where we are now.
Alex: The love for creating and sharing said creations started from a young age I’m pretty sure. When I was a kid I didn’t know what that would mean necessarily, until I started experimenting in the kitchen. I experimented with different art forms, but always found my way back to food. The “aha” moment happened pretty early on in that experimental stage, but it wasn’t until I started to see a demand for what I was putting out into the world that I started to see this as something to pursue. My partner helped me put the pieces together initially and then once I met Julia, it was as if everything started to make sense. Baking (and unbaking) is one of the things that brings the most joy and peace into my life.
If you could do anything differently, how would you do it?
There’s probably something that we could have done differently, but we think everything happened the way that it did for a reason. Divine timing and lessons learned if and when any mishaps occur.
What do you do in your spare time to stay motivated?
We’re constantly testing out new recipes and soaking up inspiration from other amazing people, bakeries and restaurants. But we really believe in rest and self-care too, and stepping away from the business to do that can sometimes be the key to staying motivated for all the day-to-day aspects of what we do.
Is there anyone in your life who has provided guidance or wisdom throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
We’ve been fortunate to have a supportive community of small business owners in Toronto who have been able to guide us through some of the growing pains. Their wisdom has been invaluable. We’re also both lucky to have supportive partners who have been there cheering us on since we opened.
What do you do when you’re feeling “stuck”?
Stepping away from the kitchen and going offline can help. Redirecting energy to other fulfilling things, and allowing solutions or breakthroughs to occur more naturally. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by your business…and it’s really hard sometimes, to feel okay stepping away for a moment. But there are times when you just have to.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I think connecting with customers and other business owners who are just as passionate as us. Being able to feed people good-for-you versions of their favourite treats is awesome, too.
When it comes to being an entrepreneur, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Resources! Resources! Resources! There’s an abundance of financing and business coaching programs/opportunities available for entrepreneurs. Sweet Hart Kitchen started on a loan from Futurpreneur Canada and a grant from the “Biz Launch” Enterprise Toronto. We’ve been so lucky to know other entrepreneurs who have been through this process before, and who helped guide us towards so many resources and connections we wouldn’t have known about.
What is one skill you’d love to pursue and develop in the next few years?
Instead of a single skill, we’re always aiming to sharpen our all-around abilities as business owners, whether in the kitchen or while assessing our finances.
How do you like to unwind from a busy day?
Julia: Mug of tea, yoga at home, cuddles with my animals. Oh and being cooked for is always nice. :)
Alex: Ditto to everything that Julia shared above! A venture around the city on my bike helps too.
Do you have any passion projects going on at the moment?
Sweet Hart Kitchen is pretty all-consuming! We’re always working on little exciting projects having to do with the business.
How would you like to see your business evolve over the next year?
We’re always working to expanding our wholesale and building a team big enough so that we can be involved in more markets and festivals.
Most memorable moment you’ve had with a customer?
We’ve had lots of customers take the time to let us know that something we make has blown their mind, or changed their perspective on food, or otherwise really affected them. And that feels like the ultimate reward.
What advice do you have for someone looking to pursue something in the health & wellness industry?
Do it! Do it now. And don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to the community. The health/wellness industry is highly collaborative and supportive, as is this city.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What about the business?
Currently we’re focusing on doing the best we can each day/week/month. :)
Hero Image Credit: Now Toronto