Jake Gaudaur knows the road workers fairly well: they seem to have been tearing up the road in front of his café for months. “Any luck?” he asks one of them. The worker replies, “Not yet. We’re going to try over there.” “The sidewalk?” asks Jake. “No…over there,” says the worker, pointing to a spot in the road that is still untouched.
Jake smiles and shakes his head at the same time. Walking away, he says, “Our location definitely has its challenges.”
Recently, the roadwork closed off vehicle traffic to Jake’s store, Gaudaur (pronounced good-oar) Natural Foods in downtown Orillia, ON. Prior to that, he says, it was the construction of a massive library across the street from the store, gobbling up a convenient public parking lot in the process. And before that, it was a water main breaking and a few other issues.
Despite these set backs, Jake marvels at the resiliency of his customers – and his staff’s ability to find a way to serve them. “We always find a way to accommodate them. Scooter deliveries, phone-ahead orders, carry-outs… we always manage to make our customers come back. And our customers are loyal enough to find a way to see us.”
Jake says it may be his product selection that initially attracts customers, but it is the shopping experience that keeps them coming back. “I believe our store stands out from our competitors. As well as supplements and body care, we offer organic meat, dairy, grains, medicinal herbs, spices and local products including honey and maple syrup. Our customers – local and from afar – always compliment our selection for a store so far north of Toronto. Mostly, though, it’s our knowledgeable staff that makes the difference. Genuine care for the customers and keeping up with the latest trends and products keeps us voted the number one health food store in Orillia.”
Jake can’t say enough about his strong service team. “Our in-store staff includes Melinda Leicht, who has been with us for over 28 years as the primary consultant, nutritionist Stefanie Belanger, with us for five years now, and media specialist Debra Rowe, who has been with us for nine years. Megan Bell is our web master and the café staff consists of Kassandra Nelson, café operations and smoothie expert and Shawn Fortier, our amazing chef.”
Gaudaur Natural Foods has been a fixture in Orillia for decades. Jake became the store’s proprietor in 2006, and it was one of those things that developed more out of necessity as opposed to a long-term plan. In 1986, Jake’s mom Eleanor bought the small health food store in Orillia where she had been working, renaming it Gaudaur Natural Foods and moving it from a tiny house into its current location on Andrew St. in the downtown core. It thrived for years, and built up a loyal customer base. In 2004, however, Eleanor was diagnosed with cancer. Jake, who had been working and living out west, came home to help her at the store. In 2006, Eleanor passed away and ownership of the store transferred to Jake and his brother and sister. With his siblings already immersed in their own careers, it made the most sense for Jake to be the sole owner, so within six months, he bought them out.
Gaudaur Natural Foods is located in a stand-alone building, and has a sales floor of roughly 2,200 sq. ft. Half of that is a dedicated food room, while the other 1,100 sq. ft. houses vitamins, supplements, HABA and everything else. Food accounts for 40 per cent of the store’s sales. Supplements also make up 40 per cent of sales, while the final 20 per cent is generated from HABA. As a bonus, the building features a full-size 2,200 sq. ft. basement, which doubles as Gaudaur’s stock room.
In recent times, two events have created some excitement at Gaudaur. The first is the opening of the GNF Café, at the corner of Andrew and busy Mississauga St. (the downtown’s main street), right next to the store.
“Opening the café became a reality after many customers had requested that we have a place they can eat good food,” explained Jake. “Renovating the store to add a café was going to cost a fortune, so we ended up occupying the building next door. Things just fell into place and we started testing recipes for the menu. We created dishes that are simple, delicious, organic and almost entirely comprised of products from the store. The café has given our customers a trusted place to enjoy great food with a staff catering to their specific diets.”
Jake reports café feedback has been very supportive. “The customers compliment the menu and the atmosphere and return time and time again for its special service. The staff is knowledgeable about the menu and can help customers make good food choices, especially with sensitivities and intolerances. Our customers are happy to have a reliable place to go to get delicious, organic meals that are prepared fast, but not fast food. We do our best to provide organic food items with the flexibility of preparing items specifically for customer needs. Customer service is very important to us.”
The café is quaint. Situated in a 100-year-old building, it has true character and a unique appearance. “One of the original features, the ceiling, has an intricate pattern that creates a cozy and unique ambiance to the café,” Jake explains. “It is located on a corner intersection with large windows, allowing customers to watch downtown activity if they choose. The walls and counter are simple black and white and we chose a variety of different style wooden chairs which have been colourfully painted to add character.”
The café is already catering local events, and works closely with the famous Orillia Opera House, which is located two doors down. Café staff readily shares its specials and new recipes on Facebook and Instagram, too.
The second major event to involve Gaudaur Natural Foods was announced in June, when the store joined the Health First Network (HFN). “We are so proud to be members of the Health First Network. We look forward to the response to the monthly flyers and know it will be such a big help introducing the store to all the baby boomers moving into the area. The discounts on product will help us bring better prices to our customers, which will allow us to continue to be competitive in the marketplace. The Health First brand is also of great quality and gives us an opportunity to bring new and exclusive variety to our customers. We already had customers asking for the brand even before we put out our first flyer.”
Jake says although Gaudaur Natural Foods has initiated several promotion campaigns on the radio and in the newspapers, he says the most positive response he has seen has come from supporting community events, charities and the very popular Mariposa Folk Festival. “We have also spent a lot of time improving our website for easy navigation as well as media updates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our email list.
Now, with being part of Health First Network, Jake says he is excited about the marketing support his store will be receiving. “For the first time, we distributed the flyers in our local newspaper in July. We are anticipating a great response.”
With the new café in full swing, and with the power of the Health First Network behind it, not even the never-ending road construction can stand in the way of progress for Gaudaur Natural Foods. •
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