It took several leaps of faith to get Chi Houron to where she is today. The 2019 opening of The Thirsty Maiden, her popular Stittsville coffee shop, was just one of the gutsy moves on her road to success. But for Chi, her driving force isn’t necessarily making money; it’s about building a sense of community among a strong, loyal customer base.
Prior to opening your shop, what professional experience did you have? I worked in food and beverage while in university. When I graduated, I decided to move to Ottawa rather than returning home to Toronto. I was a young African-American female with a lot of drive and ambition. I took a fast-track law clerk program at Algonquin and worked in a legal office where I found that I had lots of skills and a true hunger to connect with people that was not being fulfilled. I ended up managing a few restaurants before being hired as the food and beverage manager at Brookstreet Hotel.
What important lessons helped shape your vision for The Thirsty Maiden? One of my mandates at Brookstreet was to revitalize the onsite coffee shop. Leveraging my creativity, the innovations I implemented led to solid revenue growth and transformed B Café into a place that was fun and exciting. The majority of our clients were coming from nearby high-tech offices, eagerly visiting the café each day to see what was new. I realized that building relationships with customers and creating a buzz about an establishment was what I really loved to do.
What were your key principles as you developed your business plan? I was certain the model I developed at Brookstreet would be perfect for bringing something special to my community. I love the small-town feel in Stittsville, so I wanted to make a cozy place where people could gather and enjoy the surprise of a comfortable oasis in the middle of a business park.
What is the significance of The Thirsty Maiden name? I hope it’s something that stays on people’s minds and makes them curious. Thirsty represents the idea that your thirst is never quite quenched in life, which for me means always challenging myself and moving forward. And Maiden comes from the fact I am often described as a force to be reckoned with, plus I love the Norse mythology of fierce warrior maidens.
Is the café’s funky décor reflective of you? This space definitely evokes who I am—I have eclectic tastes and I had fun finding all the pieces. I wanted the café to appeal to a broad range of people, so I intentionally designed it to be warm, with lots of plants and furnishings that offer a sense of luxury and comfort.
What do you love most about running your business? My favourite part is forging connections with customers and my team members. I currently have an all-female team and I love seeing young talent that’s just as hungry as I am; it’s fun to fuel their enthusiasm and offer mentorship. Having a strong, well-trained team now means I can spend more time reaching my community, giving back, looking at growing the business and finding new projects.
What does community feel like to you as a businessperson? It feels like family—without whom we would not have survived this year. When the pandemic drove everyone home the community still kept purchasing online gift cards and placing generous food and drink orders for pickup and delivery. They had almost a year of tasting what it was like to have a community coffee shop and they didn’t want to lose it. Being able to still enjoy our offerings gave people a sense of normalcy at a time of so much uncertainty. I showed up for them and they showed up for me.
What plans do you have for the future? I know I must keep evolving to stay relevant. This means refreshing the décor, adding new vendors and making customers hungry to come back to see what’s new. We might expand to add a co-working space. I’d also like to look at doing more events like weddings and offering live music, both of which could work well as this is a licensed venue. I am always thinking about ways to grow and transform my business, and I will always be ready to adapt to keep my community happy and engaged.