These are the People in Your Neighbourhood: Laura Barnes and Ken Gustafson
By Tim Morrison
EsquimaltReview.com continues a featured series entitled “These are the People in Your Neighbourhood“. In this edition, the Esquimalt Review profiles local business leaders Laura Barnes and Ken Gustafson of Esquimalt Plaza’s Serious Coffee. If you would like to contribute a community profile about an individual, group, organization, or business in Esquimalt, please send your ideas to Tim Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org
Serious Coffee: Waking up Esquimalt!
Who provides Esquimalt’s favourite source of community caffeine? Laura Barnes and Ken Gustafson are the co-owners of Serious Coffee at Esquimalt Plaza. The two business partners are proud proprietors of one of Esquimalt’s most preferred hubs for coffee and conversation.
Esquimalt’s Serious Coffee has been a success largely because of Laura and Ken’s strong roots in the local community. Prior to moving into Saanich, Laura was a long-time Esquimalt resident, raised her family here, and was active with the local school Parent Advisory Councils.
“I have made many friends in Esquimalt and, although I currently live in West Saanich, my heart is drawn by the desire to move back to the area one day,” says Barnes. “I am glad that our business is in Esquimalt as I continue to build relationships with the people here. It is a fantastic community with access to the Rec Centre and the ability to walk to almost anywhere, even downtown.”
Ken Gustafson agrees with roots that stretch deep in Esquimalt.
“I was born in Esquimalt and have lived all but a few years here,” says Gustafson. “I am a grad from Esquimalt High School. My father was in the navy for 25 years and my parents still reside in Esquimalt. My three children have also attended school in Esquimalt.”
Before putting their ideas and dollars together in coffee, Laura spent two decades with the Vancouver Island Health Authority in a variety of professional roles while lawyer Ken has worked at a Victoria law firm for over 27 years with a particular flair for advising small business owners.
“Our families had become close over the years as our children were friends in school,” recalls Barnes. “I had expressed a desire to change careers. Ken would suggest opportunities, but none seemed to be quite the right fit. Then one day he called and said ‘why don’t you go into the coffee business with me?’ It was very exciting as the View Royal location was about to launch and Esquimalt had been open nearly a year with great community support.”
That community support runs both ways. Local customers buy loads of coffee and, in turn, Laura and Ken return some of their profits back into the coffers of local projects. The local coffee franchise is a regular supporter of many of Esquimalt’s community events and fundraising efforts.
“Serious Coffee is a Vancouver Island-owned and operated business. That means we are local and we support initiatives that bring funds back into our community to support community,” says Barnes. “Some of the initiatives that we have supported over the past year have included the DND United Way Campaign, Westcoast Welcome, Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers Fall Fun Rally, Jeneece Place, local school/community events and a variety of other fundraising groups.”
Upcoming initiatives include supporting a local Tour de Rock rider in efforts to raise funds to fight childhood cancer. Support is also being provided to local DND Firefighters in raising funds to attend the World Police & Fire Games in New York, an exciting event for our military-based community.
“We have tried to create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere at the coffee shop so that people will chose to make it a meeting space,” adds Barnes. “We have an upstairs mezzanine that customers can reserve free of charge if they have a group that would like to make use of it.”
So, how are revenues doing and how has the experience been for operating a business in Esquimalt?
“We have amazing customers and that is what makes our business a success,” says Barnes. “I love how personable people are. They share their day, good or bad, with us and we hope that somehow we make it brighter.”
“We feel very supported by our customers. We certainly want to let them know how much they are appreciated,” emphasizes Gustafson. “For any business owner, it is a constant struggle to try to improve sales while keeping costs under control. Certainly, I would be happy to see a tighter rein on taxes and a better understanding of the significant impact this can have on local businesses. I understand that municipal costs continually rise but how do we, as business owners, recover from these additional expenses?”
Next time you pop into the Plaza for a coffee, be sure to ask if Laura or Ken are around for a chat about their favourite topic: Esquimalt.
“I believe Esquimalt still remains a jewel embedded in Victoria,” says Barnes. “It is beautiful, with great waterfront and local parks, easy community walking…especially the boardwalk that travels along the inner harbour. Personally, I would love to see more community events that bring the members of our community together in a social setting. I really love the Light Up parade and Buccaneer Days!”
“I have fond memories of the Buccaneer Days ‘Wakey Wakey’ vehicle making its rounds,” adds Gustafson.
A fitting comment for two positive business leaders of the community that play an important role in helping Esquimalt residents with waking up every morning and staying awake throughout the day. Next time you need your caffeine fix, drop by Esquimalt Plaza’s Serious Coffee and do your part to support Esquimalt. Our community will be the better for it!