It’s been eight years since Daisy Orser and her husband Adam first opened the Root Cellar in February 2008, and a lot has changed since then. On opening day, their youngest son was three months old. They had eight employees. Connecting with customers online was not nearly as important. Today, their oldest son is preparing for university; and they have more than 90 employees.
Growing up in the Kootenays, Orser was exposed to local food young. Both her and Adam’s mothers canned, dried and preserved local food before it ever began trending in urban areas. As Orser remembers it: “That was how you got the good food: by growing it yourself.”
The couple both worked for years at a similar store in the Okanagan, but they wanted a store to call their own, so they began searching for a city that would support their vision for a locally focused grocery store – Victoria fit the bill. They were prepared for a more modest grocery business, but according to Orser, “Victoria was very into it.”
They had anticipated a much smaller business, so the early days were very hectic. “I literally strapped my baby on my back and came to work for 12-16 hours plus a day and then went home and worked some more while he was sleeping.”
Orser acknowledges it was fortuitous that they opened just before the local food trend exploded, but that was certainly not the only source of their success. “I don’t love it when people say ‘Oh you’re so lucky to be so successful,’ because I feel like we’ve worked so hard,” said Orser.
Both Orsers still work over 40 hours a week, and they each have their own domain in the business, which largely came from what they were naturally good at. Daisy handles the marketing and social media accounts, the nursery, floral department and potting shed. Adam oversees produce buying, the chop shop and general business development. They joke about whether customers come in because of Daisy’s marketing skills or Adam’s competitive produce pricing.“The only reason we can work together is because we find separate areas where we excel.”
Since they own their own business they have flexible hours so they don’t have to miss important events and school plays. The family also finds creative ways to spend time together. Their two younger children are eager to help out at the store; the youngest sometimes puts stickers on produce.
The Orsers have made a point of reducing food waste in a sector notorious for throwing out edible food. The Root Cellar recently won an award from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce for Sustainable Business Practices, which Orser says stands out from other business awards they’ve won that largely focus on economic growth.
“It’s not something we do for marketing, to look good or whatever,” says Orser. “It’s something we’re passionate about as people aside from the business, so to get that award was a very personal one for us.”
While the business has grown, the local connection is still there thanks to social media and old-fashioned relationship building. If berries are overripe and must be sold, Orser puts a call out on Facebook and home canners can’t wait to buy them up. They can call bakeries that make banana bread and make a deal on cases of ripe bananas if they can pick it up the same day.
Orser acknowledges that keeping pace with growing awareness around food sourcing is tough, but she says that “it doesn’t feel like a challenge because we love it. That’s why we do it.”