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No lack of caffeine here: Winnipeg coffee businesses see growth through local support – Winnipeg

No lack of caffeine here: Winnipeg coffee businesses see growth through local support - Winnipeg
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While the pandemic saw many businesses shutter, it also saw some open, grow, or evolve by shoring up customers in a time of economic challenges.

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Sheepdog Brew Co. is a tasty example of how the power of caffeine and brand development can open new doors.

For first responder Shawn Black, the company started as a hobby. Selling bags of coffee at farmers’ markets and in select retailers was a side hustle that he didn’t realize would grow into something much bigger.

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Black points to a cold brew trend emerging from the United States that inspired him and his business partner to develop a beverage of their own.

Coffee grounds are soaked for 20 hours in cold water, before filtering the coffee twice, leading to a smooth finish.

The now popular Sheepdog cold brew has humble beginnings, according to Black.

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“We thought, ‘Oh man, that’s really cool,’” he told Global News.

“So we started bottling up our first batches in the basement of a church in Elmwood that had a commercial kitchen. We would do one bottle at a time.”

But those bottles exploded in popularity, aided by their bright and approachable branding.

“I really wanted to make a coffee company that felt different than all the other coffee companies — where we’re like a beer company but we sold coffee instead,” Black said.

Black said he reached a point where he either had to go all in with the business or slow down due to limited capabilities in production space. That led to the creation of a production facility in Oak Bluff, about five minutes southwest of Winnipeg.

Sheepdog Headquarters was even chosen with coffee in mind. Black said he tested water quality in different locations, and the current spot was the best fit for making the best product.

“With our cans, we’re brewing for 20 hours, you get twice as much caffeine,” he explained. “Then we triple filter and drop liquid nitrogen in every can so it pours like a Guinness beer.”

The business in Oak Bluff has a fully stocked fridge of cans and cold brew concentrate, along with a café menu, inviting patrons to stop by and grab a specialty drink.

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Along with online sales through the website, Sheepdog cold brew is also sold at more than 100 businesses in Manitoba, something that Black said is aided by strong customer support and business partnerships.

“I think there’s more support than ever for supporting local. Because without the partnerships of other local businesses, we wouldn’t succeed,” Black said.


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Manitoba Chambers president Chuck Davidson said businesses coming together has been essential for economic recovery post-COVID.

“The reality is we’re a small province. I think what we’re trying to do in a lot of these collaborations is find some of those cross-minded businesses, local collaborations, supply chain opportunities, to work together. That’s how a lot of those businesses are going to be more successful,” Davidson said.

“I think that’s what’s really key in Manitoba.”

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Davidson said he applauds the businesses that popped up during the pandemic, and those that continue to open in 2023, acknowledging the challenges that couldn’t be overcome without Manitobans who want to buy products made close to home.

“It hasn’t been the easiest time for a lot of businesses. But I think a lot of what we’re seeing is those that are able to make it through are doing it with the support of local communities,” Davidson said.

“It’s critical and we’re going to continue to have that ‘support local’ mentality as we move forward.”

Lavanda owner Cede Sebelius is also familiar with the challenges that come with maintaining a customer base during a pandemic.

While Lavanda opened in late August of this year, she’s already a seasoned business owner with her company Spreads By Cede, where she sells natural nut butters online and at over 20 retailers.

“That’s where I learned a lot about how to get this place up and running, and it’s been a wild ride but it’s been awesome,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius said she credits that familiarity with the food industry with teaching her the ins and outs of business development in the local market.

“I was a little bit nervous just knowing how the last few years have gone; however, I was prepared for that,” Sebelius told Global News.

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When storefront space opened up at 185 Smith St., surrounded by apartments and downtown offices, she decided to jump in, serving up coffee, baked goods, smoothies, and plant-based treats in Winnipeg’s core.

While opening the café fresh out of a pandemic was daunting at times, Sebelius said local support is a key factor for her drive.

“There’s so much opportunity in Winnipeg for new spaces like this that are unique. Especially downtown Winnipeg.”


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