By Heather Heagney –
Kitchissippi residents and visitors to the neighbourhood will soon have another cafe and eatery to visit. Set to open in late March, Little Jo Berry’s Coffee and Eats will feature lunch dishes, vegan sweet treats, and dairy-free coffee drinks. Taking over 1305 Wellington St. W., co-owners and siblings Josephine (Jo) and Jimmy Masterson look forward to welcoming customers very soon.
“Little Jo” recently answered some questions for KT.
Kitchissippi Times: You previously worked for Mandi Lunan at the former vegan bakery, Auntie Loo’s Treats. What did you learn from your experience working there?
Little Jo: I learned so much from working at Auntie Loo’s. There was an incredible team there – we were so close and we still stay in touch. We had the kind of environment where you could brainstorm and pass ideas around, and everyone would get all revved up and excited about creating. I learned the importance of creating that kind of positive, healthy workspace for your staff.
KT: Will all the treats at Jo’s be vegan, and if so, why is that important to you?
LJ: Being vegan is so important to me but my treats don’t need to be defined that way. Vegan food is delicious and I would rather people come in and try my treats and be amazed, rather than to avoid them because of assumptions of what vegan food tastes like. My baking will always be vegan. I believe in tasting what you create, always.
KT: When did you fall in love with cooking and baking?
LJ: Since I was a kid I have been in the kitchen. My brothers and I used to listen to the Rolling Stones and make perogies with my dad. He would have us doing prep and learning about spices and different flavours. For me it was healing to be in the kitchen, it felt familiar, it was how we bonded as a family. As I grew up and lived on my own, it became very soothing to cook and bake.
KT: So what are you planning for the menu at Jo’s?
LJ: There will be savoury treats as well as sweet. I want to be able to do little lunches and take away treats as well. Recently I have been playing around a lot with my version of “Poptarts” and I’m pretty taken with them. I want to be able to serve unique offerings that excite people.
KT: Will you source ingredients from local suppliers?
LJ: Working with local suppliers is so important to us. I have so many contacts and suppliers from my previous jobs so I can’t wait to work with them again. One of my brother’s friends helped us with our logo and website and one of my buddies just opened a silk-screening company so she was able to work with my ideas and make us some really cool shirts. We always try to go with people we know in our community first. That will be a standard for us.
KT: Tell us about your co-owner/business partner, Jimmy.
LJ: My business partner is my big brother Jimmy. Best guy you could ever meet. He is so supportive and backed me up right away when I told him that I wanted to do this. A plumber by trade, he also does gas fitting and heating so he is pretty much building our entire kitchen. He has put in so many hours at the shop. It has been a really incredible process going to the space and working on this empty canvas and making it our own. It’s going to be the kind of space where I can look at a molding and say, “Hey, I did that.” Or walk across the tiles my brother and his friends laid and be proud of the work that has gone into it.
KT: What do you hope the atmosphere of Little Jo Berry’s will be like?
LJ: I owe so much of my strength and ambition to the kind words and support of so many people in Ottawa. I want them to feel appreciated and welcomed at our space, which will be very clean and minimal with a bit of retro flare. It’s my dream space.
KT: As a new business in the neighbourhood, do you worry about the local competition?
LJ: No, I’m not worried. I’ve been flooded by lovely messages from ultra-cool shops like Bread By Us and Holland’s Cake and Shake offering support and kind words. The small businesses in Ottawa are a real community – we take care of each other and work together. Wellington West has already been so supportive. My Instagram account is full of amazing shots from other people who are excited for the business, and people have stopped me on my walk to the shop to tell me they can’t wait for it to be open. It warms my heart.
This is a condensed version of an interview with KT.