We’re shining a spotlight on Baddies and COPS, two small businesses in the food industry located in Toronto, ON, founded by Alexander White. We chat with Alexander, who shares his story on how he started these businesses after moving to Canada from Australia, the challenges he faced amidst a global pandemic, as well as the rewarding moments that remind him why he started this journey.
Tell me about your businesses. What are they and why did you start them?
I’ve got two different businesses. The first one, we started in 2016 and it’s called Baddies. It’s an Australian style brunch restaurant, which we started because we wanted to share an Aussie staple with Toronto locals. Coming from Sydney, brunch is pretty standard any day of the week. However, when I moved to Toronto, about eight or nine years ago, I realized that brunch was only a weekend thing and coffee was never a focus at those restaurants. The team and I brought everything together in 2016 and we hit ground running. Since then, we’ve fortunately been featured in a lot of articles and magazines and online publications.
Our second business called COPS, which we started in 2018, is all about coffee and doughnuts. At COPS, we worked with a food scientist and a fine dining chef to create exciting recipes for delicious crave-worthy comfort food. COPS is known for hot doughnuts that are made from scratch and fresh-to-order.
When we first launched COPS, it actually started off quite slow. We began with serving mini donuts in packs of six or twelve. However, the nearby offices started catching on and ordering hundreds at a time. So, we had to quickly pivot packaging and our style to cater to this new demographic. We realized that there was a huge gap in the Toronto market for high quality, freshly made mini-doughnuts from scratch in bundles of 36 or 50 ordered within 10 minutes. Thankfully, COPS has been doing well through the pandemic and we were able to open up two other shops in Toronto’s East End in addition to the COP-up – a COPS doughnuts pop-up.
What were you doing before you started your businesses?
When I moved to Canada, I originally got a job at Dark Horse as a barista and that was my first entrance into coffee. Coming from Australia, where the coffee scene is pretty evolved with independent specialty shops, it was shocking to see the amount of franchises over here. However, there wasn’t really anything like what I wanted to create so I spent the next few years working at multiple different coffee shops, different businesses, and did a bit of traveling to get more research. Eventually when I came across a location in Toronto five years ago, that’s when we decided to take the leap by opening our first business, Baddies.
What do you think has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt along this journey?
Baddies is more of a traditional concept as a dine-in restaurant. It was pretty small with only eight tables but we have managed to fit over 20 people in. When it comes to the metrics, it’s vital for businesses in the food industry to be busy all the time just to make things work. I definitely learned things the hard way when making ends meet and paying bills. It’s not really about the sales that you’re doing but the margins on all those sales in order to make the metrics work to ensure the business is actually successful.
That was a harsh reality that I learned with Baddies. In the beginning, you always think, “I’m gonna be different with my business and the way I do things” and that’s just the entrepreneurial naivety. However, I also think as an entrepreneur, you need to have an almost-childlike ignorance, because it’s that naivety that makes you risk taking the leap, otherwise, you get analysis paralysis. There’s people who have ideas all day but they’re too analytical so won’t ever make the leap. COPS is a perfect example of a pretty ridiculous idea – to serve just two things, coffee and doughnuts. In order to make those metrics work, you have to serve hundreds of people a day. But then, because we took that risk, we’ve seen the business evolve into selling thousands.
How does using an accountant help you with your businesses?
We originally used QuickBooks Online until our current accountant switched us over to Xero last year. Xero has made running our businesses simpler, streamlining our processes making it more efficient and effective.
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
It’s definitely been an interesting journey, having the two shops and seeing how they’ve been affected differently. With Baddies, as soon as COVID hit we knew we had to do something to pivot so we came up with a burger shop called Well Done. We did that originally just for a week to try something different and it was pretty successful. None of us knew how long the pandemic was going to last and with our dine-in closed for a year and a half, we had to do something. So we brought Well Done back for a few months and then eventually, we decided to just close that up. We pivoted again and did a COP-up, a COPS doughnuts pop-up within Baddies in the evening, which is still running now.
With COPS, as soon as COVID-19 hit, we knew that offices would close meaning people would not be going to their offices with our freshly made doughnuts. So we pivoted to offer a service we called ‘Munchies Hours’ where we delivered our delicious doughnuts to our customers between 5pm and 10pm. In contrast to COPS, traditional doughnut shops tend to make all the donuts at the beginning of the day so there wasn’t anything similar to what we were doing that we knew of. After realizing that business was pretty steady between the hours of 5pm and 10pm, we decided to extend our hours by opening between 12pm and 10pm. Then, at the peak of COVID when more and more people were ordering takeout, we decided to extend our hours again by operating between 9am and 11pm, and we continue to do so. Now, we’re running COPS at three different locations in Toronto.
Finally, how do you feel about your business prospects in 2022, and beyond? What are you most excited about?
It’s definitely exciting seeing COPS growing. Just seeing how much people enjoy our product, we realize we’re onto something special here. We’re actually building the infrastructure to create a global company with COPS and that’s the plan – to roll the business out across Canada before eventually bringing our doughnuts to the States and other major cities across the world. For us, as long as we’re proud of what we’re putting out on a daily basis, we’re doing something that we believe is great, then that’s good for me.
The Small Business Spotlight series helps us understand the mindset of small business owners and is a reminder of why Xero is in business – to support and help make life better for those owners so they have more time to focus on their business.