Growing Identity

What is identity? It is your sense of self: your conditions, your character, qualities, and beliefs. It is what makes you unique. It is both defined by you and shaped by those around you. Forming an identity starts with knowing who you are, discovering your raison d’être, and finding opportunities to live up to your potential and live out your purpose. “Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

Brand identity is built in much the same way. Once you know who you are and what your mission is, you can find ways to sell your idea. With feedback your brand takes shape, carves its spot in the market and becomes a part of the community. You create your brand identity, but it is affected by everything around it: location, expertise of staff, opinions of customers and unexpected situations. 

Farm’r Eatery & Catering is a casual farm-to-table restaurant. A fresh addition to Toronto’s food scene Farm’r opened its doors in August 2017. Since then its journey of self-discovery has been one of rapid growth. 

Photo by Alex Banman

The idea for Farm’r sprouted during a conversation between two friends in 2014. Greg Martin and his friend from high school, Joy Ghosh enjoy exploring the city and eating out. While trying new places, they often imagined what it would be like to own a restaurant. One night they seriously discussed it and the seed for Farm’r was planted. This hypothetical idea began turning into a real plan.

With Greg’s background in finance, and Joy’s experience in marketing, the two friends were well prepared for starting a business. However, they were missing the necessary know-how in the food industry. They only knew food from a customer’s point of view. They needed an expert who could craft a menu and run a restaurant. In search of the right candidate, they posted an ad on Craigslist and found Kyle Webster, a chef with more than a decade of experience. The three clicked right away, sharing the same vision for the restaurant, so it didn’t take long for Greg and Joy to welcome Kyle to the team. Talented in their respective domains, the trio was ready to begin. 

“We’re in a really interesting neighbourhood…what we’re really trying to be is affordable and accessible to as many people as possible,”

The team’s first challenge was finding a prime location. Since restaurants rely heavily on foot traffic, location is particularly crucial. The Farm’r team saw many places but were often rejected because restaurants have a notoriously low survival rate. Landlords worry that a restaurant won’t be able to make the rent, especially a new one without an established reputation. Finally, after a two and a half year search, Greg, Joy and Kyle found the perfect home for Farm’r at 140A The Esplanade. It was close enough to downtown but less expensive than a spoint on King or Queen Street. Sitting next to St. Lawrence Market, Farm’r is a short walk from the Distillery District, Union Station, Harbourfront, and the financial core. “We’re in a really interesting neighbourhood where we’ve got …community housing with all these new condos right around it…what we’re really trying to be is affordable and accessible to as many people as possible,” says Greg. Farm’r fits its eclectic neighbourhood. 

Photo by Alex Banman

Being the new kid on the block, Farm’r piqued the interest of its neighbours. While the team was renovating, curious customers stopped in for a chat and shared what kind of food they’d like to see at this new place. They gave many opinions, suggesting everything from chicken pot pies to rotis. Although the team appreciated the enthusiasm, they had already decided on a menu of fresh farm-to-table. 

“We keep changing our menu often… just cuz we like to try new things and are really trying to figure out what people really like and what really works”

While searching for their identity, the Farm’r team played around with menu items and hours of operation. After realizing that breakfast was not a popular meal with their customers, Farm’r established itself as a lunch place to dine in casually or grab food to go. They explored many menu options until they found the best ones for their customer base. Today the menu offers a variety of meat, seasonal vegetables and grains. Customers build their own plate by choosing a protein and two sides. When they first opened they had sandwiches on the menu but noticed people preferred to order the plates. They also tried salads, but again the plates were the favourite choice. “We keep changing our menu often… just cuz we like to try new things and are really trying to figure out what people really like and what really works,” Greg shares. All the menu choices make Farm’r a hit among meat eaters and vegetarians.

The staff at Farm’r has a keen ability to intuitively understand what customers want and provide it. While the owners value feedback, they soon discovered that when people are asked for suggestions, they all give a different (and often contradictory) answer. “People don’t necessarily know what they want, but when you give it to them or when they see it, they’re like ‘Oh yeah, yeah, that’s amazing, I want it!’ ” Greg states. Farm’r figures out how to give people what they never knew they wanted.

“Start as incredibly simple as possible. …If you can get one little thing right, …that’s all you need.”

Employees and customers who get involved with a new business early on can help shape its identity. Greg and the management team are very open to hearing suggestions from their experienced staff or eager customers. “Hey, if you’ve got an idea…totally, let’s do it!” says Greg. Allowing employees to grow in their roles leads to better ideas and more efficient systems, contributing to the overall expansion of the business.

Off to a great start, Greg, Joy, and Kyle are already developing new revenue streams and contributing to the community. Farm’r runs a successful catering service, thanks to the many offices nearby. The team is discussing selling their products in grocers and offering workshops as well. They source their meat and produce from Ontario farmers and suppliers and they want to educate the public about varieties of food and share the interesting stories behind them. They have also worked with a charity called The Stop, which provides food for those in need and helps deliver groceries to those who are less mobile. “We definitely want to do more…for us it’s an education too!” Although Farm’r is less than two years old, it’s growing fast. 

Photo by Alex Banman

After trying so many things, Greg’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is, “Start as incredibly simple as possible. …If you can get one little thing right, …that’s all you need. …We made the mistake of …trying to do all these different things, …and it’s really hard to get them all right at the same time. …Make it twice as simple, and go with that! And then grow later.”

Building a brand includes much trial and error. In search of their identity, the team at Farm’r tested out ideas, embraced their mistakes,learned from feedback, and tried some more. They are constantly adapting to find ways to improve. 

In life and in business your identity is fluid when you choose to grow. Heraclitus’ most famous quote tells us, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” As you move forward reflecting on the roots of your accomplishments and your failures, you put your learning into practice and grow into a better version of yourself.

Read more about Farm’r here

Photo by Alex Banman

Published May 12, 2019

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