We are once again in Granada, Nicaragua, where the idea of Cherry on a Bike first started. When you’re on a trip, especially a cycle tour, your mind often wanders. Although we tried to live in the moment as much as we could, thoughts about the future always came up. When we stopped in Granada where Gili’s aunt Peta and her husband Ben lived at that time, many of our conversations were on this topic. Since we both have a weakness for food, especially fruit, we first thought of a fruit drying business, with a baking component, my favourite hobby at the time.
In a brainstorming session the name Cherry on a Bike came up and it seemed like a prefect fit with our passion for cycling, our obsession with fruit, specifically cherries, and the fact that the idea started on a long cycling journey. We also connected it nicely to a story about cycling over Kootenay Pass (on a different trip) with plenty of cherries in our back pockets, which was the only way we could have made the 1,300 meters climb.
For the next few months of our cycling trip we gave Cherry on a Bike a life, a purpose, a website and a logo. We were very focused and knew what we wanted to do. Or at least so we thought. We spent the last few days of our trip in Caye Caulker, Belize, where we met the “Cake Lady“. She cycled around the small island in the afternoons and evenings with a bicycle with a large deck at the front, selling five different types of cakes she baked in the morning. She claimed to always sell out. I looked at her in admiration and thought: “wow, I want to be just like her when I grow up.”
When we got back to Vancouver in June 2013 after a long five months away, reality sunk in. It turned out that opening your own business is not so simple, especially when it involves food, and there were many obstacles and regulations we had to deal with. We also realized that we would eventually like to be financially independent (i.e. be able to live off our investments), and opening our own business would just tie us down more to one place and to the business.
But we didn’t want to let the dream fade away completely and we still had the whole summer ahead of us, not tied down to any job or real obligation, but how could we still make it work? We had already purchased two Excalibur dehydrators when we thought we were going to go ahead with the fruit drying business and I was desperate to bake, and bake lots. In a random conversation with our friend Oliver, who coordinates the Westside Community Food Market in Kits through SPEC, he suggested that we’d start selling there weekly. They were just starting the 2013 season and were looking for a baked goods vendor. We already had a name, logo, plenty of ideas of what to sell, and now we also had a place to sell at! Perfect.
The summer just flew by and Cherry on a Bike was a real hit at the market. Kits is one of the more upscale neighbourhoods in Vancouver and people didn’t mind paying a bit extra for high quality products. And our products were definitely meeting those criteria. I experimented, finally realizing what sold well. The biggest best seller was my 72% dark Belgian chocolate flourless cake. Last summer it seemed like everyone was into the gluten free craze and this cake was perfect for people who wanted to go gluten free, but still enjoy life, and of course for chocolate lovers, my favourite type of people.
The 72% Belgian triple chocolate brownies were also a huge success. There was one guy which we started nicknaming “the brownie guy” because he came back weekly to buy the brownies. The challas were also a best seller and again we played for two crowds – the Jewish people who were more than excited to find fresh baked homemade challas in their neighborhood market, and those who were not familiar with it at all and were curious to try something new.
I also baked different types of cake with local fruit, according to what was in season, such as strawberries, blueberries, plums, apples, pears, nectarines, peaches and more. Gili was in charge of dehydrating the fruit and eventually we decided to focus on bananas. He was also in charge of making the crunchy coconut granola, preserves from time to time, and getting all the goodies to the market on his bicycle with a trailer made by our friend Yuval, which always drew lots of attention.
By the end of the summer Gili found a “real” job and although Cherry on a Bike covered our rent for that summer it was good to have a steady income again. When the market came to its end for the season we concluded that Cherry on a Bike was a real success, the only question was what to do next?
We looked into the option of renting a commercial kitchen, which is mandatory for retail sales in Vancouver, and start selling in stores or other markets. Eventually we decided that growing the business would mean doing more business stuff and less of the baking and dehydrating, but that’s the part we love…
In the end I kept baking, during the year I made a few special orders for offices, baby showers, a wedding and holidays. I kept the Facebook page as active as I could, but I too started working again and got busy with a different project of mine called ‘Kids on Wheels‘.
I always knew that I wanted to go back and sell at the Westside Community Food Market in the summer. There was something really special about the market, the vendors, and the atmosphere there. Although we tried selling at another market we decided that we would only stick to this market for now. When the season of summer 2014 started I was ready to go again, but was a bit less enthusiastic than the previous year.
Again, business was booming, but after a few markets I decided to stop baking the challas even though they were a big success. I couldn’t understand how I was able to make 16 for each market last summer, considering we have a really small kitchen and only two challas fit in our oven at once (but also personal circumstances were a bit different this summer…). It wasn’t an easy decision and people kept on asking about them throughout the summer.
Some of our customers from the previous year came back, and we had new fans for sure and in particular people were raving about the flourless chocolate cake and often their friends sent them our way especially to get it. We even took a special trip to the Okanagan this year, in part so that Cherry on a Bike could finally offer some delicious treats featuring cherries. The market had many volunteers this year, and Oliver from SPEC and Sarah from Kits Neighbourhood house did an amazing job. Just like last year we always bartered our leftover baked goods with the veggie vendors and enjoyed extremely fresh organic zucchinis, tomatoes, grapes, baby leaves and other greens all throughout the summer.
When the season was coming to an end, I was somewhat relieved. I enjoyed it very much, but baking became a chore, and that was the very thing that worried us about making it into a business. I wanted to experiment more in my baking, like I did before the market, and not be limited to whatever sold or not, or was easy to make in big quantities. On the other hand I did enjoy the experience of the market very much and seeing the happy faces of the people eating my treats and the repeat customers, made it all worth it. I think it’s good to experiment in life, and Cherry on a Bike was definitely a good experience which I learned a lot from.
I still think that the Westside Community Food Market is the best option for us to continue baking and selling and still keeping Cherry on a Bike alive but on a small flame. We will see what next year brings, as the Cherry on a Bike family will be expanding soon. Hopefully you’ll see us there next summer, or for at least some of the markets, with a little one in tow.