Month: April 2019

xo chats with Nunzio Presta

Father of David and Leia // Founder and CEO at BizON

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

Nunzio is the Founder & CEO at BizON, an online marketplace where people can buy, sell and grow businesses or franchises every day. We were put in touch with Nunzio by the Vaughan Business Enterprise Centre, which provides one-stop services for aspiring entrepreneurs and existing business owners. In (one iteration of) my former life, I had the pleasure of working at one of the business enterprise centres where I was able to coach up and coming entrepreneurs – and let me say, there are a TON of amazing resources available that founders can tap into and a great network of people (like Nunzio!) that you can connect with.

The thing that immediately struck Joelle and I upon meeting and talking with Nunzio is how deeply entrenched in family he is. He suggested having our photoshoot at Amazon Indoor Playground – a business that was successfully sold/purchased through BizON – and featuring his wife and kids in the shoot, which we absolutely loved.

Here’s our conversation with Nunzio where we really got to dig deep into his thoughts about parenting while being an entrepreneur.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial journey?

After my hockey career, I decided I wanted to go to business school. Out the gate, as a mature student, I was extremely motivated to fast track through my Bachelor of Commerce program with a focus on accounting – just like my father. However, I quickly realized that accounting just wasn’t for me. From there, I explored the entrepreneurship program (relatively new in 2009) and was intrigued by the similarities it had with the world of professional sports. Being an entrepreneur and an athlete are very similar. Like sports, entrepreneurship is grounded by hard work, focus, team effort, discipline, time management, taking action on uncertainty, speed, rebounding from failures and the list goes on.From there, I was hooked, I found my new “hockey”, something that drove me towards uncovering my “calling” in life – and that is “creation”. I am absolutely obsessed with turning ideas into something real, and entrepreneurship is the vehicle.

Where do you see your business in 5, 10 years from now?

I don’t know – I think setting 5 – 10 year plans are kind of tough. The truth is that businesses of “today” change way too fast and are filled with too many uncertainties to have a 5-10 year plan. Truthfully, you can have a 6-month plan that can potentially be obsolete, so it’s critical to be fluid in your thinking and adapt/evolve with clarity and speed. With that said, I can give you the answer as to where I see my business in the next 2 or 3 years, because as a leader it’s important not to get pulled into “today”. If we get too short term in our thinking, we miss opportunities to be truly creative and go a level deeper in terms of what we’re trying to build and if we get too long term our plans may be obsolete, so for me a 2-3 year plan is a balanced approach. With that in mind, I focus on looking at the business environment and world through a model I call S.E.T. This allows me to question everything through the lenses of social, economic and tech trends. This guides my vision and direction. So, in the next 2 or 3 years, I definitely see BizON as the market leader in the business & franchise for sale micro market – a marketplace serving a global community of professionals and business owners looking to buy or sell businesses or franchises between the prices of $1,000 to $5,000,000. I see BizON developing forward thinking technology that can help these segments grow and do better business. I see BizON as the go-to marketplace that empowers people to love what they do.

What is your favourite part of your work and why?

Seeing when a buyer connects with a seller via our marketplace and that connection leading to a successful sale. I just love seeing that we had a role in helping someone change his or her life for the better. Whether that be the seller looking to sell in order to fund their retirement or if it’s giving a 9-to-5’er the opportunity to find and buy a business or franchise that empowers them, inspires them, gets them jumping out of bed in the morning to do great work as their own boss. We are grateful at BizON to be part of this journey – a journey that can be challenging but yet fulfilling. This is my favourite part!

Being entrepreneurs (and parents) we tend to get a ton of (often unsolicited) advice. Any words of wisdom really stuck with you?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is that – “you’d rather own 1% of Microsoft than 99% of a startup that can’t get off the ground”. This reinforces the true motive of an entrepreneur, and that’s to build a business that adds value to the world.The motive shouldn’t be to get rich (yes your business needs to make money – there’s a difference). This advice sets the tone for how I build businesses. That’s why at the early stages of BizON, I was okay with dishing out equity to find the right team. My motive/passion was (and still is) to see my idea come to life and not to build as much wealth as possible. To be wealthy is the by-product of creating something special – it should never be the motive. 

Do you have a mentor?

Many. I definitely put value on talking, reading and hearing from the people that have created what I aim to create and that is a business that adds value to the world and a family that positively contributes to the well-being of our society. I think mentors (personal or professional) are super important because they do 2 things: 1) Set you with direction 2) Kick you in the butt with some reality checks.

If you could meet anyone, who would it be?

Richard Branson – I think he’s super cool and balances intelligence, fun and family the way I wish to. Also, his mindset on “doing good is good for business” is something that I align with. Nevertheless, it would be cool to play some tennis and have some drinks with him on Necker Island. Richard – if you somehow read this, my family and I are waiting for an invite haha.

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up around 5:30 am every morning (usually in some sort of S position with a foot in the eye courtesy of either my son or daughter – whoever decided to wake up in the middle of the night and call out for mommy or daddy, lol). If I can get a workout in, I will (usually on my spin bike), if not, I shower and meditate. By 6:30 am I am getting my children ready with my wife for the day. I usually kickstart my day by reading for 45 minutes at 7:30 am. After that, my day is scheduled minute to minute with tasks and meetings. I aim (when I can) to get home by 4:30ish to start cooking dinner for my family (something I absolutely love doing). We’ll usually eat around 5:30/6 pm and then my wife and I will get the kids ready and in bed by 7:30/8 pm. By 9 pm my wife and I get our adult time in (unless something with my business needs to be addressed). Then by 11 pm we’re in bed and resting for the day to come.

Being that the days are so jam-packed, how do you carve out family time, or time for yourself?

I stay committed to a consistent routine. This allows me to control my time and how I want to spend it. The bottom line is – I have 2 strict rules: 1) Allocating time and focus into sitting, reading, thinking and meditating – the things that centre me, energize me and keep me moving forward 2) Aiming to make it home for dinner every single day.

Being home for dinner every day is a great goal to set.

One of my role models is my dad and he made it a point, despite how busy his work schedule was, to make it home for dinner every day and I’m inspired by that.

How do you stay organized?

A lot of structure. I literally schedule everything in my calendar and then work and live by that calendar. I have realized that it’s not about the amount of time I spend on one thing, but rather how I spend the time – this keeps me super organized and efficient. 

Sometimes we can be a slave to our calendars – ever feel this way?

No – I control my calendar and that way I own my time and can stay disciplined. I have structure but I’m open and can be agile. Also, I surround myself with the right team set with high standards, operational principles and culture where my business can operate without me.

The concept of owning your time is really important to us, too. Speaking of time management – what is your childcare situation?

Do you really want to talk about this? How do I put it – it’s brutal! Ontario has the highest childcare prices in the country. Luckily my wife and I make it work and don’t look at it as a burden. However, everyone’s financial situations and obligations are different and it’s concerning because daycare has a ton of benefits for children. I implore the government of Ontario to look into this more diligently. It makes no sense (at least for me, from the outside) how other Provinces are able to subsidize childcare more than Ontario. I believe the most vulnerable and pressed segments in the world are the elderly, and new/growing families. More attention must be placed here.

This leads us to our next question about challenges that you face as a parent and entrepreneur?

Honestly, I am extremely fortunate to have the wife I have. She understands what I am doing, absorbs more of the “parenting” tasks and is extremely patient. As an entrepreneur, this is beyond important. When building a business, you experience high-highs, low-lows and relentless, hard work 24/7. Having spent 7 years with Melissa by my side, she has embraced these situations and continues to have the level of patience that inspires me to do so many things others would deem impossible. Because of this I rarely experience challenges when it comes to parenting as an entrepreneur.

What about being a parent has changed the way you run your business, or has it at all?

It has – I am now a big believer in working smarter, not longer. This has changed a lot since becoming a parent because you value your time way more – which is great since it forces you to run a business that is truly committed to operational excellence and finding efficiencies (doing more in less time). Moreover, being a parent has led me to think more long term, creating a legacy mindset. This means that I aim to create something that will make my family happy and proud, something (if they want) they can be part of in the future and something that will outlive me.

Someone told me early on that having a family and building a business doesn’t mix – there can often be a stigma that you can’t do both – I think that’s totally wrong and you can absolutely be an entrepreneur and have a successful family life, where no tradeoffs exist.

What are 3 books you would recommend on either parenting or entrepreneurship/business?

Truthfully, I’ve never read a parenting book, but I can suggest 3 books for entrepreneurship/business: 1) Little Black Stretchy Pants (actually talks about building a business with a growing family) by Chip Wilson – Founder of Lululemon 2) Good to Great by Jim Collins 3) The CEO Next Door by Elena L. Botelho, Kim R. Powell

What are your favourite tunes to listen to, to get motivated?

When it comes to music I am not the most loyal listener. I will just hit some random playlist on Spotify and if I like it I will listen, if I don’t, I skip! In general, I am a very motivated person, I don’t need mechanisms to motivate me, my “why” in life is super strong and I am super focused on driving towards my goals every single day.

Who inspires you?

Deep question. So here’s a deep answer: My wife’s patience inspires me. My children’s smiles and persistence inspires me. My mom’s love and encouragement inspires me. My father’s focus and discipline inspires me. The fact that even the greatest in the world have failed and succeeded inspires me.

Parenthood in a photo – fun, unpredictable, keeping us on our toes.

To be honest we could have hung out with this fun-loving family all day! You could feel the love, kindness and shared sense of humour between these two parents – with two kids under the age of 3, this is a feat unto itself! Melissa took time out of her busy work schedule – just one example of the support, empathy and understanding that she provides as a partner to an entrepreneur, and how no successful business person is an island. To learn more about Nunzio’s business (or if you’re interested in either selling or buying your own business and starting your entrepreneurship journey!) check his website here, Twitter here, or Instagram here.

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xo chats with Lonelle Selbo

Mom to Sebastian // Founder of LIFE AU LAIT

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

Recently we spent an idyllic day in Prince Edward County, or “The County” as the locals call it. We fell in love with 
the picturesque scenery, delicious food, the beautiful wines, and of course—the wonderful people. Lonelle Selbo was a fashionable city gal, through and through, then after her son was born she made a big move out to the country, launched a gorgeous digital magazine highlighting the best of the region, and has since fully embraced rural living. They say The County has the friendliest people and this rang true to us from the start, when Lonelle sent us her curated list of ‘must-dos’ for our day-trip, welcomed us with a big warm hug, and then insisted on switching seats with us at her farm table so that we could take in the waterfront view. We enjoyed a fabulous charcuterie board she ‘baked’ while chatting all things business and parenting. 

Let’s start with your life in Toronto and your decision to move here to the County.

Well, I ran fashion and lifestyle magazines in Toronto before my son was born in the summer of 2014. I was literally on the phone with my team from the hospital while I was in labour, “Move that story to this section! Swap that photo out for this one!” But from the first moment I met my son Sebastian—it was over: I threw in the towel for mommy-hood and stayed with it until this year when he started Junior Kindergarten. My husband Mark, Sebastian and I moved out here in 2017. Our plan was to grab a hold of the Canadian dream and live a simple country life—but what we found here was so incredibly beyond that.

And this led to the the birth of a new child…LIFE AU LAIT!

Yes! LIFE AU LAIT was born in November, 2018, but behind the scenes it had been in the works for nearly 2 years and, honestly, there were a lot of minutes in that time when I thought it would never see the light of day. The second we landed in the County, I knew right away that I had to capture what it was like to live in this place and started mapping out the concept for the magazine, but work life looked so different here. I had no team, a tiny budget and the busiest, sweetest kid who needed my focus. With every week that ticked by, I felt more anxious about whether I was up to the job. The magazine had to represent what it meant to live here—it had to be perfect. Looking back at all that went right versus wrong, I realized that we all dream and we all hit roadblocks—but what is really important is to share them with each other, so we know we’re not alone when things get heavy, and to help us find the courage to keep pushing on.

So I pushed on. I slowed it down intentionally. I took baby steps, swallowing the guilt about this new pace. With just me behind the wheel, I wondered whether maybe LIFE AU LAIT should be a blog—but County life didn’t make sense exclusively in my voice. Plus I had lived and breathed magazines for more than 15 years and was still starry-eyed about weaving together great minds and voices to tell a story. In the beginning, I was the ‘everything’ of the magazine—creator, editor, designer, photographer, writer…as well as wife and mom. 

Eventually LIFE AU LAIT launched to the most overwhelming show of love and support from so many and I realized that the more love you put into your work, the more you get back. Then in the new year, I got really lucky and found some of the best people to beef up the masthead and help spread the word about this magical place.

Everybody we ask says this is a very special community.

It is an incredible community. There is this really unique intersection of art, food, wine and culture. Sebastian goes to school in this amazing little country schoolhouse where the headmaster comes out to greet everybody, high fives the kids and knows all of their names—it’s such a tight knit group. I truly believe that everything you do in your life leads to you finding a place that just fits, and for me, this is the place. 

How did the name LIFE AU LAIT, come about?

The early days of the brand started with the huge and eternal concept of ‘lait’—milk. Milk plays critical and controversial roles in both infancy and motherhood, it’s one of the most powerful industries in Canada and yet it’s an iconic part of the simple and sweet life. Those are all part of our experience of life and captures this beautiful chapter so very powerfully for me.

Living out here, as well as your background in a creative industry, must give you so much inspiration. 

I pull inspiration from every single thing that happens around me, particularly here. Every person I meet is talented, driven, interesting, cool—they motivate me to always be better too. And I’m moved every time I look up to see this beautiful infinite lake view. The water here changes every single day—some days it’s a classic Lake Ontario, glassy and dark, sometimes it’s the aqua blue and has big waves, like the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes the sun and the moon glint off of it like diamonds, other days there are gigantic icebergs or sparkly ice slushies…and everything in between. Then there are the multi-coloured lilac forests, the streets lined with hollyhocks, the pop-up ponds in summer that ducks teach their ducklings to swim in…that turn into killer ice rinks in the winter. There is also culture and fun, amazing fledgling businesses run by incredible people working so hard to bring their passions to life so their children can live in this magical place. This stuff is inspiration by the heart-ful.

It sounds truly amazing. Is it even possible to say you have a favourite part of what you’re doing? Or do you love it all? 

I’m really enjoying hanging out with all the great people in all the great places. I love getting out, exploring, doing something new every day and having beloved experiences to go back to on the regular. Being able to capture moments all day long with my family and my friends fills me with an insane amount of joy. Oh, and also, eating all the food and drinking all the wine with my amazing team-mate Kirstyn Mayers (also a mompreneur and owner of @outletfoodco and @pochettebloomfield).

What about some challenges?

It can be hard to run a business when we’re (my husband and I) both working from home. It’s so tempting to want to have more family time because we’re in such close proximity. And of course, it can also be difficult to be everywhere all the time—there are so many things that happen constantly around the County that I feel obligated (and really want to) to be present at, but of course, this just isn’t possible. So, learning to say ‘sorry, but no’ is a challenge for me!

Do you guys have a typical kind of day? 

Our little dude opens his eyes somewhere between 6:45 and 7:15am and bursts into our bedroom in typical ‘Krameresque’ fashion. He’s very chatty in the mornings and we get a stream of random things coming at us about everything he’s been thinking about all night until one of us gives up and crawls out of bed to turn on the coffee. Mark makes breakfast and school lunch and I get Sebastian and myself ready and we slowly get our act together to leave the house for around 8:30. By the time we’ve dropped Sebastian at school and landed somewhere—either back home or in my “floating office” ie. somewhere cool in the County that I’m going to be working from that day, it’s about 10am and I have a solid 5 hours of work until I have to leave from wherever to pick him up again. 

It’s a busy, but beautiful-sounding day. Do you have to make a concerted effort to make time for yourself between work and family life? 

I feel like a pretty lucky person who basically gets to work every day doing my dream job or spend time with Mark and Sebastian, my number one faves. I’m a serial over-committer though, so sometimes I get burned out and totally crash emotionally and have to work from bed for a day, but I usually feel pretty self-indulgent about that considering my work week schedule reads something like: Barrel wine tasting with X winemaker / Restaurant opening, lunch with X chef / Charity gala for art auction / Floating office in mobile sauna / Beach shoot with pizza and kids / etc. I mean, stop complaining, right?! The thing is, while all the things I do here are amazing and beautiful, and wonderfully idyllic—my job is to exhibit something that represents someone’s livelihood, the embodiment of their hard labour, talent, and dreams. Because I take that job very seriously, I take on a lot of self-imposed pressure and sometimes need to force myself to step back and wind down.

What is your go-to dinner recipe?

I totally stink at cooking. My husband, however, is a former chef and he has a beautiful repertoire. I stick to creative, pretty stuff, like cheese & char boards.

Which you clearly excel at! Each item is so lovingly placed and artfully curated. Are you as organized with your work? Any tips for how to stay organized?

Organization is my lifelong challenge and especially after becoming a mom. I found that my focus was always only on Sebastian and everything else just flew out of my brain. Four years later, I’m pretty sure this is a permanent condition! These days I use a planner pretty religiously, take copious notes, and always remind everyone to remind me of basically everything constantly.

We live by our planners and we can’t seem to get completely away from analog! 

Is there something in your closet that makes you feel great?

I have totally simplified my shoe collection since moving to the County and basically, I live in Blundstones all fall/winter because they go from the vineyard to the brewpub, and then slip ons in the warm season, like Natives or Soak slides that take me from town to beach with cuteness and no fuss. It’s insanely liberating to always be comfy, situation appropriate, and look cool enough—though not high fashion in your footwear. I’m loving it.

Are you loving on any Instagram accounts lately?

My friend Lauren from @thisrenegadelove is a forever inspiration. She’s a champion for all that’s good in the blogging industry, she’s a lovely human, and she takes beautiful, honest photos. Another person I love is Tara McMullen who’s just joined the LIFE AU LAIT team as our official photographer. She’s an incredible mom to the most wonderful little boy. She’s so talented and real and brilliant and her photos and captions about motherhood and life are so inspiring. Then there are the gajillions of winemakers and chefs and farmers and makers and other County gems that make up the balance of my Instagram follows…

Being a city girl, would you ever move back to Toronto or is it PEC for life?

As you can probably tell, I’m pretty smitten with The County. When we planned to move here we planned to live our lives in the countryside and travel regularly to all the great cities we love across the globe. While we do travel a little—mostly to New York and London (my husband is English and all of his family are there), I’ll admit that we’ve stuck pretty close to home since moving. Between the beach, food, wine, and culture…it’s a hard sell to leave.

It sounds like the County has a plethora of cool peeps living and working here and it feels like you know most of them! Is there anyone you’d really love to meet that you haven’t yet? 

This year it’s David Frum. He has a place in the County and he’s a great political writer. I’m totally not—I typically distance myself from politics—but I love talking to great people about great things they know and (since Hitchens is off the table) I’d love to sit down, drink wine, and chat politics and life with David!

What are some things about being an entrepreneur in PEC that you feel are unique to the area/environment?

There’s an interesting landscape here because a lot of the business is seasonal, so people hustle really hard in the low season to stay afloat and never get to stop moving in the high one. Our magazine exists for both the locals and the tourists, so there isn’t ever a down time, but the reality of the number of tourist-reliant businesses here that we support isn’t lost on me and is something we always have to consider in how we approach our content at different times of the year.

Have you noticed differences with your parenting style in PEC versus in Toronto?

I have definitely embraced the lifestyle and the pace here. In Toronto, I felt I didn’t connect with the community as much in the mommy playgroups where I was the only mom in a sea of nannies. I loved my ‘caregiver crew’, but I was missing that connection with other parents, where we could chat about our long terms goals for myself and my child. Out here in PEC the children’s amenities are amazing. There are a ton of other young families and we’re all going through similar things with our kids as they grow up together. And don’t get me wrong, we love country life, but believe that it isn’t always straightforward! There are septic tanks to deal with, bug clouds that come out in June, and a major influx of goose shit on the lawn when they get home from Florida in the spring. But we look at all of these things as great adventures and funny down-the-road stories and, in the end, Mark, Sebastian, and I get to go through it all together.

How do you stay motivated to hustle all year long? We would be totally distracted by all the amazing things happening all the time!

I’m a romantic, I guess. I see the beauty in absolutely everything and the love I have for this place and the people in it is all encompassing. I love working with people who are extremely talented and passionate about what they do, which I’ve found here almost without exception. I’ve worked in publishing for a long time and never felt this way about my job before and I know it’s because I’m investing in the place I plan to spend my life in. The place where Mark and I will raise my beautiful little boy and watch him grow up breathing clean air, eating vegetables straight out of the garden, and feeling the soft, white beach sand in between his toes. It’s all pretty motivating.

If you’re considering a trip to Prince Edward County, be sure to visit LIFE AU LAIT and read up on all the great places to visit, and learn all about the people and their stories. We didn’t want to leave and it certainly won’t be our last trip to the County—with a vibrant and dynamic startup/parenting community there are so many more stories to share. 

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xo chats with Doris Wai



Mom to Melody // Founder and Creator, Love Lettering

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

Doris Wai radiates positive energy. We visited Doris at her home office and studio and left feeling energized and inspired. We chatted about a podcast, her recently published book, her daughter Melody, and what her biggest struggles are.

Your work space is so clearly integrated with your living space.

My office is upstairs and that’s where I do most of the administrative work. The dining room and the area near the window are where I do large-scale lettering pieces for Love Lettering. I work on Posecards™ in the basement. 

Tell us about Love Lettering and Posecards. How did you start your businesses?

I used to be an office manager for an import/export food company. It was a great environment, I enjoyed the work and I was there for a few years. I learned how to wear a lot of different hats and to be adaptable and efficient, since it was a small company. Unfortunately growth in the company was limited and with the yearning to spend more time with Melody, my daughter, who was two at the time. I decided to pursue my passion for lettering and see if that would grow into a business.

Love Lettering is my main line of business where I hand letter onto beautiful objects – for events, home decor and gifts. I’ve published a book where I teach people how to hand letter beyond paper. I also have a YouTube channel where I host tutorials to show people how to use lettering in their lives every day from decorating, to parties to thoughtful presents. This channel is called The Lettering Lifestyle

“I would love to write another book! It was a true labour of love from the design to the content inside, I poured my whole heart into it. I’m going to spend more time this year promoting it.” You can buy Doris’ book, Extraordinary Hand Lettering, here.

Posecards™ are designer photo props and photo prop greetings. They were designed for the big and small celebrations of everyday life and perfect for outside the photo booth, and perfect for selfies.  They are for every occasion you need to buy a card, Christmas/Valentines/Birthdays etc., as well as those moments Moms cherish forever like the first day of JK and the moment they lose their first tooth. 

How do you divide your time among your various lines of business?

Previously, most of my focus and energy has been on Love Lettering. This year my goal is to devote at least 50% of my time towards Posecards™ since I feel like in the long term, it could be a more sustainable line of business. 

You are constantly creating! What are elements of your work that you really enjoy? 

I love teaching! So the YouTube tutorials, the book and the in-person workshops that I host are all extensions of my work that I really enjoy, where I get to share my love of lettering with others. As a teacher, I really enjoy helping people get over the misconception that lettering is really hard or takes a very long time to perfect. There is that element of perfection, for sure, but I teach that the enjoyment comes through the process. I love adding words to an already beautiful object. 

Doris was recently featured on Sidehustle School where she talks big tips for first-time business owners.

Conversely, tell us about your struggles with the business.

Well for one thing, I have SO many ideas. It is a real struggle for me to focus on just one idea at a time, because I want to do it all! And of course, learning to let go sometimes and realize that it’s ok not to spend 100% of my time thinking about my business.

Do you feel like there are one or two things that have helped you succeed?

Working a TON of customer service jobs! From working at McDonald’s to being a waitress, it’s been best way for me to learn how to manage people, how to deal with customers and how to talk to people face to face. 

Dealing with people is a super important skill to have. And not just dealing with them but leaving them with a warm, great feeling inside after interacting with you which is something you’re honestly so great at. 

“I keep this pretty pillbox in my purse for when I need Tylenol. I just love having beautiful little trinkets around to make everyday items a bit more special. My purse also will always have a calligraphy pen, sketchbook, chapstick and cream.”

Do you draw inspiration from specific sources for your work?

Have you ever read the book Steal Like an Artist? That really resonated with me. Most of my inspiration comes from within – it’s what I want my life to be. I want to leave a creative legacy for Melody. I’m literally inspired by everything – I want to spend more time travelling so that I can absorb what’s out there in the world. 

Speaking of stealing like an artist…your work is so beautiful and original. Have you encountered others who are a bit too heavily ‘influenced’ or ‘inspired’ by you? And how do you handle that?

I try not to focus on copycats, but redirect my energy towards moving forward and constantly innovating. I really don’t mind people being inspired by my work – it’s flattering! But just don’t claim it as your own. I just try to avoid negativity and drama in my life overall, so I don’t spend too much time dwelling on it.

We can’t help but notice your beautiful Christmas tree…sitting pretty in your living room in March.

I used to be obsessed with having the perfectly decorated tree, with ornaments placed exactly where I wanted. Since having the business, I’ve completely let go and Tan and Melody just go for it. It’s not perfect, but it’s done.

A testament to just letting go.

Yes! And the fact it is still here in March kind of shows you where I’m at. 

“A big part of my YouTube channel is encouraging people that lettering can be a part of your everyday life.”

Absolutely, we’re all busy and we all prioritize differently. Speaking of busy, hit us with your typical day.

I wake up around 7:30am and make breakfast for Melody and our dog Pepper and I walk her to school. My perfect morning would be spent eating and reading (I’m loving Michelle Obama’s Becoming right now). Usually in the mornings I’m taking care of emails, administrative work and social media. I pack some orders. Even though I work from home, I rarely spend my time doing housework – Tan takes care of laundry and cleaning. I’m always focused on the business. 

“ I created a storybook character for Melody called ‘Miserable Melody’ because when she was little, she never smiled! I want to write a children’s book series around different activities where Miserable Melody doesn’t seem to enjoy herself, but at the end of every evening when she’s being tucked into bed, she snuggles with her mum and finally smiles. Melody is the main reason I do what I do, because I want to leave a legacy for her.”

Melody comes home for lunch every day so she’s back for an hour around noon. I usually book meetings in the afternoon – lunch meetings at 1pm are the best because I get to eat and get work done at the same time. Tan works for the TTC so he’s up early and goes to bed early. So after Tan and Melody go to bed around 8pm, I spend the evenings working on lettering.

It sounds so peaceful to be able to have the house to yourself and just work away.

Sometimes I’m up until the late hours! You’ll see my Instagram stories at 1am or 2am!

We’ve totally seen those stories when we are up late at night ourselves. 🙂 When do you squeeze in time for yourself?

I make a lot of time for myself. I get my lashes done and it took a few years for me to get over the guilt of just sitting there for a couple of hours, not being productive. But it makes me feel good and I’ve just let go of the guilt. I’m really social so I like going out with friends or attending industry events. 

Time to talk favourites. What are some of your favourite tools to use?

For lettering, I love Stabilo All and Bohin France mechanical chalk pencils (seamstresses use these). 

Favourite Instagram accounts?

Right now I love @newdarlings, @goodtype and @kiss925 specifically to watch clips of the Roz & Mocha Show, they are hilarious.

Favourite TV shows?

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Vanderpump Rules…any reality show where I can just listen to the drama without actually having to watch!

Favourite meal?

We eat out a lot! Like 5 times a week. We love going to Hunter’s Pizza. 

Favourite ways to spend time with Melody?

Pottery, painting, going out to eat, crafting together and Candy Crush! 

Favourite things to buy when travelling?

I love picking up tools or stationery as souvenirs! Like a cool pair of scissors or a tape dispenser. Anything that is beautiful and useful.

We really admire Doris for so many things – her passion for what she does, the motivation to keep on creating and innovating in her field, and her ability to stay up past midnight on a regular basis. 😉 To check out Doris’ latest work, be sure to visit her website, YouTube channel , and buy her book here.  

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xo chats with Hidde + Sarah Zomer



Parents of Evo and Hugo // Owners of Flame + Smith

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

One of the must-try spots in Prince Edward County, Flame + Smith came highly recommended to us by locals. Not only was the locally-focused, flame-kissed food a major draw, but we were excited to chat with Chef Hidde and General Manager Sarah, a young married couple with two little boys, to hear first-hand about their decision to pick up from Toronto and start a restaurant in the country. Hidde was born and raised in Amsterdam and the couple met there while Sarah was doing her Masters of European Studies. They eventually found their way back to her homeland of Canada where they lived and worked in Toronto for a few years – Hidde as a chef at foodie fixtures Carbon Bar and Nota Bene, Sarah at a government organization. We settled into one of the uber comfy leather banquets at Flame + Smith to talk all things restaurant and family. 

Tell us how Flame + Smith came to be. 

After we moved back to Toronto from Europe, we took a weekend trip out here and it really reminded me of home (Amsterdam). There is fantastic terroire, art and community here. We could tell that there was potential for growth and we wanted to have space and a place we could raise our kids. After years (and I mean, over 10 years) of dreaming and discussions, our business came to life. This was a 120 year old building and we put a lot of thought into the renovations and design. Surprisingly the build was smooth, but for a while we were commuting between Toronto and Prince Edward County (PEC). 

That must have been difficult, going back and forth.

Especially since Sarah was pregnant with Hugo at the time. Eventually we found the perfect property not to far from the restaurant – now we have a 2 acre property, with a bit of water so the kids can canoe and fish, and space for us to grow vegetables. 

What is your concept for Flame + Smith?

We focus on supporting local farmers and organic food. Our menu highlights woodfire cooking (we call it farm-to-fire) in a very approachable manner – you can be a foodie or just want to drop by for a beer and a burger. Sustainability is very important to us and we use local wood from three or four great suppliers. We do our own in-house butchery – we’re trying to leave very little trace and waste with our cooking. We also like to support local talent as much as possible, for example the tables in our event space are crafted by local carpenters. We strive for excellence and ultimately we want people to have a great time, excellent food and a fun atmosphere.

The decor and atmosphere is gorgeous.

The biggest compliment to us was when really good friends of ours who have known us for 15 years, said “I walked in and it was just totally you guys.” They could see elements of our style throughout the whole space – the colour scheme, the furniture and the music. 

Speaking of the music, clearly it plays a big part of the atmosphere here. 

Hidde: Sarah and I really like music and again always changing on this front. 
Sarah: Hidde is probably a bit more of a nerd on this and starts playing music when he wakes up until the time he goes to bed, and all day at the office. 
Hidde: I grew up with a lot of soul and roots reggae and artists like Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Prince, The Congos, Desmond Dekkers, Bob Marley, David Bowie all made a big impression on me.
Lately we listen a lot to Father John Misty, Gil Scott Heron, Whitney,  Miike Snow, Beck, LCD sound system, Future Islands, The National, Lee Fields and Charles Bradley, Massive Attack…too many to list! We also like rock – the Pixies, The Clash, Nirvana, Pavement, Talking Heads, Joy Division and of course lots of the Smiths! And electro too, old school hiphop…jeez this is really hard. 

That’s a fab playlist…it really creates a great vibe in here. Tell us about your favourite part of running this business.

The excitement of the restaurant – the contact with the guests when they come in. The creation of the menu, the working with the team – when it all comes together it can be a really fun and exciting thing. Seeing the restaurant in full swing, the bar full, the servers engaging, the kitchen hustling, the vibe is there and it can be a beautiful thing when it all comes together.

Let’s talk about what a typical day looks like.

The kids, Evo and Hugo, wake up Sarah at 7:00am or earlier. She gets up, gets coffee and breakfast going with their help sometimes. Otherwise they make a mess with the toys and watch TV. Hidde gets up by 8:30am and we eat breakfast as a family and all continue getting ready. 3 days a week Hidde drops them off at daycare around 10:30am. By 11:30am both Sarah and Hidde are at the restaurant. Hidde manages cooking in the kitchen, Sarah does the office work and sometimes serving a lunch table.

At 4:00pm we have our staff meal where we go over the evening’s service and menu items, special notes, upcoming events, maybe a wine tasting or a menu item tasting. Sitting down to dinner together is important for us to promote healthy attitudes towards eating and bridging the relationship between front of house and back of house. 

Hidde gets back into the kitchen for the evening rush and Sarah then makes a mad dash to get to the daycare for 5:30pm pickup. On the way, she may pick up menus from the printer, stop at the Beer Store, get fresh flowers or other errands for the restaurant. Then it’s dinner, some playtime, followed by the bedtime routine before the kids turn into zombies. At which point Sarah either works until midnight doing some more admin or falls asleep sometimes even curled up in the kids’’ bed, once in awhile even before the boys drop off to sleep. 

Hidde will work the service and close the restaurant, arrive home around midnight or later, watch some TV for a bit to calm down and then retire for the night.

Getting home after midnight on the regular must be hard on family life. Having said that, how do you guys create time for yourselves?

Well, this is hard to gauge when you enjoy what you do when you’re at work. Having the mornings together as a family is our golden hour, we never had that with our lifestyle in the city. We have a pre-schooler and a nursing baby. We’re not sure there are many parents in this situation that have a lot of ‘alone time’. Maybe they can give us some tips!

It definitely felt like we were in the thick of it when our kids were that age. Having support helped a lot.

We go to the Hub Childcare in Picton part-time and we’ve made some really nice relationships with our staff and we’ll have a server or two help out. Especially when Hugo was a baby and we’d bring him into the restaurant – all our staff would take turns watching and holding him.

What are the challenges you face as a parent and entrepreneur?

Yeah where to begin with this…I think the hardest thing to manage in our first year is finding the right balance of time spent on work and with the family. We try not to talk about work too much when at home with the kids. It’s changing and improving as we get our groove with the restaurant. We were aware of the risk and hard work Flame + Smith would demand and that is taxing on family life for sure. Especially with moving the family, having a baby and opening a new restaurant from the ground up.

Some of our friends thought we were crazy and we probably wouldn’t recommend doing all three in the same year to anyone, but we did it and we are still together and stronger than ever.

Favourite cookbooks?

This is a hard one, cookbooks are like music to me always changing and we collect lots.

I do have to say that concept driven books that focus on say, a product or technique like fermentations are always great and reviewed with most at the house and in the kitchen.

Books like Tartine, Harold McGee, books on making bread or charcuterie I tend to use more than books focused on a single restaurant or chef, but then you have books like Joe Beef, Au Pied de Couchon, and Cabin Sucre pushing the boundaries and changed everything that we thought was possible in a cookbook. The illustrations, the creativity and photography I would say almost pushing at controversy sometimes.

Any favourite kitchen tools?

My new Axe that my sous chef Rory gave me. It’s pretty sweet!

Hit us with your go-to recipe.

Cheese fondue, in the winter we have this at least once a week together.

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Hidde: Prince
Sarah: David Bowie

Can you share advice with us that really resonated with you?

It’s now or never. Don’t do this when you’re old.

We capped off our visit to Flame + Smith with a delicious meal that was flavour-forward and fresh from the farm. They say the best food is that which is cooked with love and we saw that in spades at Flame + Smith – in the thoughtful details of the restaurant decor, the shared laughs between the team, and the beautiful moments between Hidde and Sarah and their adorable little boys. 

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xo chats with Lucas Chang

Dad to Keira and Leah // Co-Founder and Director, Programming for Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs and Co-Lead, Startup York Region

If you’re active in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in York Region (or in some circles in the GTA for that matter), the name Lucas Chang might sound familiar to you. Lucas is a fervent advocate for entrepreneurs, evident through his own lifestyle and the ways in which he has chosen to give back to the community through his work. We joined Lucas at YSpace, one of the many places he frequents for meetings or speaking engagements, to chat more about his life as a business owner and parent.

YSpace is York University’s newest community innovation hub based in Markham, Ontario that supports high potential innovators to create a thriving and robust pipeline of talent. They help a growing number of entrepreneurs, community members, and youth build and scale their sustainable and impactful businesses in the York Region.

How did you become an entrepreneur and what was your background before doing what you’re doing?

I left my last full-time job in 2013 after spending 15 years in large corporate settings (TELUS and Accenture). I left because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I didn’t have a set idea in mind, so I started out by starting a business consulting practice, with the mindset that if I didn’t land a contract within six months then maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. 

I ended up landing that crucial first contract which paved the way for what was to come. In January 2014, I started as a co-lead of Startup York Region, a platform for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and with local resources. Since then, Startup York has hosted a round table to understand what was needed in the region for entrepreneurs, partnered with several libraries in York Region to co-host the Entrepreneurs In Residence speaker series, and continues to host Startup Drinks, an informal, regular opportunity for local business owners to connect. In Jan 2015, I ran Startup Weekend York Region. I wanted to help propel that momentum forward for participants of the Startup Weekend, so I put together an inventory of resources in York Region. The first version was 7 pages and today the document is 29 pages. 

In putting the document together, I noticed there was nothing for teens who were curious about (not yet committed to) entrepreneurship – either they needed to skip school to find help outside of what was offered in class, or they had to wait for help to come to their school. I had the idea to bring startup founder training to high-school students during times that worked for them, and drafted the agenda for the Y2 conference. The first Y2 conference took place in October 2015, and we ran a second one in April 2016. In spring 2017, Y2 piloted an in-classroom program – 9 modules that took place weekly, and expanded on what we had done with the conferences, taking into account feedback from students and teachers. In fall 2017, we started delivering the program at other schools, and invited (and paid) other entrepreneurs to teach within schools. Since then, Y2 has run our 8th conference, we’re teaching at a few schools, and starting to teach design thinking to teachers. While I’d like Y2 to be my full-time focus, our revenues are still growing, so I’m consulting on the side to make personal ends meet.

With all of the work that you’re involved in, how do you carve out time for yourself? And for your kids?

I struggle with that – less because work is overwhelming, but more because I enjoy my “mission” and doing stuff to help more students build their problem-solving skills (and life skills) is fun for me – it’s easy for me to get caught up in an idea, and forget to do things like eat. What I do is book time in my calendar to do my own thing (for CrossFit, for naps, for Netflix) – this helps me feel less guilty about not doing work that I feel I should be doing.

I try to keep my time with my daughters, Keira and Leah, focused on them – I leave the laptop and phone in another room when we’re together.  I’m not perfect at it by any means, and sometimes I feel like I’m a bad parent, but I do try to stay present with them.

And there are times that I just need a break – when I’m feeling particularly worn down or tired, I give myself time and make sure to book it in the calendar.

Speaking of calendars – with two kids age 12 and 14 involved in lots of after-school activities, how do you manage to keep it all in check?

It’s all about managing the juggle, I think. For example, on Wednesdays, Leah has gymnastics practice from 5pm to 8:30pm in Markham, and Keira has volleyball practice from 7:30pmto 10pm in Scarborough. My Wednesday routine is to drive Leah to gymnastics by 5pm, head to CrossFit which goes from 5pm to 6pm, then head over to pick up Keira to drive 45 minutes to volleyball; I then head home to make use of the 2.5 hours (and eat at home instead of at a restaurant), and then head back to pick up Keira (Judy picks up Leah at 8:30pm).

While I’m at home, I’ll usually make something for Keira that she can eat post-practice, which I pack in a thermos for her to eat on the way home. In terms of overall organization, I rely on my calendar and to-do list pretty religiously.

“I started off just with a couple of stickers from conferences or work-related events, and Leah just took it over and totally customized it.”

Organization is key! Any other tips for keeping yourself organized?

I schedule time in my calendar to do work, so that I don’t lose myself in meetings and not have time to do actual work – and I schedule in things like workouts, eating, travel time, and sleeping early, because I’ve found that if it’s not in my calendar, I’m at risk of not doing it.  

I see my total work in streams, and I’ll mentally check on where each stream sits to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.  My to-do list is organized by those streams.

If I know something is due in 2 weeks and I need someone’s feedback before it’s finalized, I’ll send the material now and ask to book a feedback session say in a week – this way, I know there’s progress on this project even when the ball is not in my court, but I’ve set myself up to catch the ball when it returns.

You mentioned a pretty hectic-sounding day earlier. Is that a pretty typical day for you? 

No two days are the same! For example, this week is all over the place. On Monday, I’m running an all-afternoon event for some grade-8 students who are in the full Y2 in-school program. On Tuesday, I’m training 40 teachers on how to deliver design thinking workshops to their students. On Wednesday, I’m with my consulting client. On Thursday, I’m at York University to do some SHAD York things. On Friday, I’m speaking 3 times at one school in Richmond Hill (and have 2 conference calls in the midst of those speaking engagements).

What’s common to each day is this – each morning, I wake up and take a few moments to think about my intentions for the day. I usually ask myself “How will I make others’ lives better today?” before I fix myself a coffee and a bagel.

“This is my office! I’m all over the place so this backpack has my entire office inside – my laptop, cords and cables and notebooks.

Coffee is an absolute must for me as well! But since we can’t survive on a liquid diet alone, do you have any go-to recipes that make your busy life easier?

I’ve been preparing food that can serve as multiple meals (e.g. pasta sauce) on Sundays, and reheat it during the week – to reduce the temptation to order out. Some of my go-to recipes are:

  • Oven-roasted chicken thighs with potatoes or rice
  • Bulgogi over rice
  • “Lazy pot” – basically hot pot, but cooked on the stove so it’s less of a production

We’ve relied on technology like Marco Polo, Facetime and text to stay in touch. When I chauffeur them to and from activities, I’ll find a place to work while they’re doing their thing so I can stay on top of work and make use of the time.

Sounds like you have the meal planning on lock. What are some challenges that you’ve encountered with being an entrepreneur and a parent?

My daughters are 14 and 12 now, so they’ve got their own lives and passions. Keira, 14, loves volleyball and art, and Leah, 12, loves gymnastics and coding. Being there for them – be it chauffeuring them, watching them, hanging out with them, supporting them with their school work – has been challenging, particularly because we’re in different locations most of the time. 

Along with challenges of being a parent entrepreneur – can you share how your unique situation has positively impacted your kids?

I think what I strive to teach my kids is that no matter how many times you get knocked down, figure out how to get yourself back up. I speak about my challenges pretty openly with the girls and hope that it teaches them something. I want them to have these moments bookmarked in their mind about “I was in a tough situation, but here is how I got through it.” I don’t want them to make decisions based on fear, and I want them to know that they can help themselves even if a parent isn’t always there. I also point out to them that it’s the effort that counts – if you put consistent effort, over time you’ll net positive. These lessons aren’t necessarily unique to being an entrepreneur but I’ve definitely put myself out there a lot because of what I do, and I do think this is a learning opportunity for them.

A lot of your work actually involves high school age students. How do the girls feel about this?

Both girls have volunteered at multiple Y2 conferences, and I beta-tested the program in Keira’s grade-7 class a couple of years ago. While Keira has gone through the Y2 program, she’s at a point where it’s less cool to have her dad involved in her day-to-day stuff, so that’s something we’re navigating together and something that I’m definitely conscious of.

What’s your favourite part of the work you do? You kind of alluded to this earlier when you said you wake up thinking of who you’re going to positively impact that day.

I’m very grateful that I’m in this position where I can have a positive impact on students, and provide them with the tools and possibilities of problem-solving and entrepreneurship at an early age – and that I am blessed with opportunities to inspire the educators who then go on to work with the kids. 

What humbles and excites me is seeing someone – student or teacher – have that “Oh my God, I can DO this!” thought about something that they previously thought they couldn’t do. Seeing someone move from “no I can’t” to “what if I could….?” is something that fuels me.

As parents, this chat with Lucas really resonated with us. It makes us hopeful that there are people like him working to make a positive impact in the lives of young adults. Check out more about Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs here and learn about Startup York here.

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

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