We caught up with Diana Olsen, the founder and president of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, in Kitchener’s historic Tannery building to chat about success, failure and the culture of coffee.
AS TOLD TO: Jeremy Freed
ILLUSTRATION BY: Uli Knörzer
I got my university degree, I went out and got a job in a corporate office for a large company, and I realized very quickly that that wasn’t for me. No disrespect to people who work in the corporate world, but my personality was not suited for it.
My father is an entrepreneur, and he built a team that’s like a family. He led them but was not a micromanager, and I think I learned that from him. I owe so much of the success of Balzac’s to the team of people who work for me; I let them take the lead, and they shine in their own ways.
Up until about a year or two ago, our growth was very organic. Basically, every café I’ve opened was an opportunity that I just couldn’t say no to. But for every location I said yes to, there were probably 10 or 20 that I turned down.
Making mistakes is just part of being human, so I don’t let mistakes define me, and on a macro level with the company, I do the same. We had to close down our Waterloo location, and every employee from that location now works at the Kitchener café. We did not lose a single employee, and we were really happy about that.
Contrary to popular belief, running a coffee shop is not easy—but it is a great business. People might be a little bit shocked when they realize what a struggle it can be, especially in the beginning, but most of the people I’ve met who own coffee companies also love their job.
THE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER RECEIVED
“It’s good to seek advice, but it doesn’t mean it’s the right advice. I can think of a lot of times when I was given advice but my gut told me not to do it and I was grateful that I listened to my gut. Be in tune with your intuition. Don’t listen to everybody.”