Open the {Virtual} Front Door!

front door

Yesterday, I came across an article admonishing independent restaurants to get a web presence, and I thought the point was a good one and worthy of being re-posted.

As someone who often works with small businesses, and specifically in the areas of social media and networking, I have been known to say that if you have no web presence, you don’t exist. Sounds harsh, sure, but the article I’m referencing explains it well:

Imagine spending the whole day preparing food to serve in your restaurant that night, but never unlocking the door. Imagine your customers’ confusion as there is not a sign in the window or any communication from you; eventually they wander off to dine down the street. An absurd scenario, yes, but one that illustrates that having a physical front door that is inexplicably closed is akin to not having a website in today’s digital marketplace. You are, in fact, closing your virtual front door — the door to your online customers.

Yes. Yes! THIS is what a lack of web presence does to your business.

I’ve done it. You’ve done it (okay, well, maybe not you). Every smart phone user has done it: you are in a different area of the city, or visiting a new city, and you wonder what’s good where you are, or you see an attractive sign and wonder what kind of place goes with it.

The first resource for such a person? Google! But even Google can’t find a business without a web presence.

Take it from a person who has spent significant amounts of time looking for websites to link to from other tourism and commercial sites (with the purpose of benefiting local business and the area in general) that too many small businesses have no web presence.

What do I mean by web presence? I mean at the very least a page on the web where people can see a) your business name (and what type of business it is); b) your location; and c) at least two ways of contacting you (phone and email are preferred).

A Facebook page is great. I would go so far as to say it’s a must-have, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it replaces a website itself, because…:

…search engines such as Google and Bing have limited ability to display the content that your restaurant posts on Facebook. Without a website, the ability to attract consumers searching online for a venue is limited. Many online sites, such as menu aggregators, use websites to gather and pass along information they find. Restaurants without a Web presence can’t benefit from this online amplification.

Again with the closed door. I apologize if this post veers too closely to the point of ranting, but I sometimes feel like taking small business owners firmly by the hand, forcing them to look me solidly in the eyes, and repeating emphatically over and over: “Help me help you. Help me! Help you! Help me help YOU!”

It really is all about you, or your business, for me. As is a web presence.

And why the heck not?! My site costs me about $12/year. I kid you not. If your business cannot handle $12/year, I hate to break it to you, but your business is dead.

Sample Wix site

Sample Wix site

Where to start:

  • A domain name. I would go with GoDaddy or whatever your friends with websites recommend. Go to the site, search to see if the domain name you want is available, and if it is, buy a year or two of rights to it. Every year or two, you have to renew your rights. Easy enough, right?
  • A FREE website. Yes. FREE!! (Why haven’t you done this before, again?!) If you want to have an online shop, go with something like Shopify. Or, if you want to just have a page with your info on it, you can go with a free template from sites like Wix, Weebly, or Again, ask around and go with what someone you know has used before (so you can call them if you get stuck, of course). All of these sites are customizable and re-customizable, so you can start small and build your site as you gain knowledge.
  • Ask your friend (or hire me) to help you hook your domain name up with your new site.
  • Verify your site with search engines. This sounds complicated, and it’s perhaps a little more complicated than the other stuff you’ve already done, but trust me: it’s worth it! If your site is verified with, say, Google, then Google knows you’re not spam, and therefore will recommend you to people and bump you to the top of the virtual pile. Yay, right? Virtual door wide open!!
Sample Weebly site

Sample Weebly site

I really am available for hire to help you set up your website and your Facebook page, as well as other social media outlets, email marketing and newsletters, and more. Email me at sarahekoopmans (at) gmail (dot) com, message me, or tweet me.

Even establishing a one-page website is a great start to leveraging your restaurant’s online search presence. Open your virtual front door and capture customers who are looking to discover and learn about your restaurant, and ultimately lead them to your physical front door.

Now please. Please! Open your virtual front door!

(Oh, and sorry for the accidental publish last night… a technological oops!)


{Locality} is a Lifestyle

Today’s (last-minute pulled-together) post is kind of a continuation of what I talked about last week in my “Changing {Locality}” post: the values of “Local,” or in my case, {Locality} doesn’t necessarily have to do with the area that I’m living in. Rather, it’s about a mindset that values what is around you, wherever you are.

I realize this is a growing trend in some hip, cool communities, but I think that not enough people are aware that it’s the small businesses that make our society great. Sure, the big stores and big names are easy to find and easy to shop at, but wouldn’t you rather know you’re putting food on a local business owner’s table instead of lining the pockets of some corporate bajillionaire?

No, I’m not soap-boxing, but there is a LOT to be said for small businesses. Get ON that!

This also coincides with my recent rise to official status at the Ruralist. I have yet to publish my first post, but many of the posts have been edited by yours truly, and I am behind the scenes in other ways, too. In fact, I am proud to announce my new title: “Editor and Social Media Consultant.” Sounds spiffy, doesn’t it?

The official status was made possible by an internship, thanks to the MIT (no not that MIT) internship coordinator at Western, the “fairy jobmother” herself, Susan Weekes. But reality is, we kinda just needed a reason, a way, for me to jump on board in an official capacity. And here we are.

That being said, if you still haven’t checked out the Ruralist, again, I urge you to ask yourself what you are waiting for!

These are my favourite {Locality}-related posts to date:

Inside the Arva Flour Mill

Hive fashion

Shop Local Infographic

Ontario honey

What’s your favourite {Locality} candidate?

{Locality} Dishes and Deliciousness: Clay and Gourmet of Bayfield, Ontario

clay and Gourmet cover photo

Penny Reihl has been in retail for the majority of her career, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before she found herself the owner of a fantastic shop on Main Street in Bayfield.

Penny purchased Clay and Gourmet in July 2011 from the previous owner and longtime Bayfield business owner, Karen McNairn Dallas. She spent last season getting acquainted with her products and her clientele, and realized that, in order to best serve her customers, she would need more space.

Front Porch

This past March, Penny rented a mysteriously open spot on the eastern corner of a quaint courtyard that opens onto the South side of Main Street, and moved from the back of the courtyard to the front (Hive moved into the spot left by Clay and Gourmet).

Now, Penny has been working on filling the extra space she has to display all the pottery, sauces, jams, and other tasty goodness that she sells.


Last week, weeks after taking possession of the new space, she had to order even more display furniture! The move allowed her to bring on two more potters, so that she now shows the work of eight potters. She has also added a few more food lines, including Huron County’s own Robinson’s Maple Syrup, which is sold in delightful glass jars:

Robinson's Maple Syrup

The 2012 season promises to be one of Clay and Gourmet’s best, what with the prime location and extended product list, not to mention Penny’s plan to feature food demonstrations on the gorgeous (soon-to-be-renovated) front porch!

I asked Penny if she had a favourite piece of pottery in her store, but she couldn’t decide:

“I love it all.  I took a pottery class this past winter and it gave me a new respect for the work that goes into each individual piece.  All pottery is a work of art.”

She does have a favourite food line product, however: Gramma’s Summer Kitchen  Dutch Apple Pie jam. That does sound fantastic, doesn’t it?Gramma's Summer Kitchen Jam

When I breezed through her store to take some snaps recently, I noticed this delicious Cardamom Mate Chai, which I happen to have in my cupboard (actually, I drank a cup last night!). Penny told me she drinks only Yerba Mate tea… and I took a moment to reminisce about my visit to Argentina, where I was introduced to the cultural custom of sharing cup after cup of sweet hot bitter yerba mate.

Cardamom Mate Chai

I was curious about what a shop owner in one of North America’s favourite getaway towns does to get away. Penny does what many of us would like to do but perhaps don’t get around to often enough:

“I enjoy going for long drives and discovering unique shops in out-of-the-way places: there are many talented artists in quaint towns and villages in Ontario.”

Don’t miss Clay and Gourmet on your next trip to Bayfield: you’re sure to be captivated by something to eat or to eat from!

Changing {Locality}

changing locality

My geographical locality has changed since my last {Locality} post. I’m no longer an official resident of Huron County. My new county has the word “sex” in it: Middlesex. A respectable enough county name, though one rarely thinks of the county when one is in a city.

The transition has been odd. Not only did I move from the country to a city, but I also moved in with my boyfriend, a big enough life transition in and of itself. The “me to we” transition, as my “mother-in-law” Deb put it, hasn’t been that big of a deal (though perhaps I should add a “yet” to that). After more than two and a half years as a serious couple, we were already used to living life together, even from two different geographic locations.

What keeps causing me to bug out is the staying in London. I think if it were any other city that I wasn’t so familiar with, it would be different, but because I have known London for so many years–gone there for shopping and movies, attended university, gone for medical appointments and to visit family members at the hospital, etc.–as a place you go to and leave again, it is very odd to just stay, to not get in the car and make that very familiar trek north up Richmond or Highbury or Hyde Park, aiming for Ontario’s West Coast.

Regardless of my physical location, however, {Locality} continues to be important to me. No longer does it refer specifically to Huron County–it now has everything to do with what is local wherever I am, wherever you are. From now on, {Locality} posts will extend across Ontario, perhaps even across Canada, North America, or the world!

{Locality} is a mindset that avoids box stores, large corporations, and that aspect of democracy that tends to put money before people. It champions the owner/proprietor, the entrepreneur, the organic farmer, the rural shop, the one-off boutique, the people with personality and heart that you love to see again and again.

It can exist wherever you are, country or city, big or small.

I will continue to champion the rural, the small-town, the “back home,” but I undoubtedly will find places in my new locale that can pass the muster side-by-side with the Bayfields and Goderiches of rural Ontario.

In fact, stay tuned for an announcement tomorrow that underscores my dedication to all things rural Ontario!

From 8 Reasons to Shop Local (an Infographic)

You already know that I get excited about local and rural shops, but here is a beautiful graphic worthy of printing and hanging on your fridge or desk or wherever you might look at it, to remind you that while box stores might be convenient, the local store is where it’s at:

shop local infographicLet’s start a revolution: pass it on!

{Locality} The Ruralist


No, I’m not done writing my papers, but I love the Locality series too much to let it drop during finals season. Besides, The Ruralist doesn’t need much introduction or explanation.

The Ruralist was envisioned by my friends Erin Roy and Erin Samuell (no, not every cool person in my area is my friend, but I’m proud to say many of them are). These two with-it and savvy local businesswomen are trend-spotters and with this website, they have become trend-setters.

They realized that there was a need for a curated collection of the best items from the best little stores across rural Ontario (and maybe someday the rest of Canada?), a sort of Etsy for unique finds and experiences you can’t get in the city. This site is for those urbanites who imagine the country as one big pile of cow dung and need the gems pointed out to them by someone in the know, someone who can view those gems through the lens of the personal touch and great design.

That Perfect Piece

It’s for those “ruralistas” like myself and my friends, family, and readers who are from rural areas but refuse to associate with the image of cow-tipping, straw-chewing, “ain’t”-saying hicks. Sure, there are hicks, and we love them for the flavour they bring to our community, but we believe we have culture, too. We have style. We love quality. We are unique and proud of it.

The Ruralist website was soft-launched a week ago, as was their Facebook page, so you can be one of the lucky readers who knew about this project when…! Subscribe to the blog and “Like” the Facebook page to see the eye candy they are posting, and start to get proud of rural Ontario. If you’re not already on the bandwagon, that is.

Ruralist promise

In a few months, the Ruralist site will have a shop aspect to it so that you can click through and see all of the shops across Ontario that have been Ruralist approved, and connect directly to their websites. Meanwhile, there is a steady stream of great photography (Erin Samuell IS one of Canada’s best, after all), lovely design, and an inspiring collection of things to do, see, taste, and so much more.

Oh, and if you search the Ruralist for “Sarah”, you’ll see my face! 🙂 You might even see more of me as time goes by.

What are you waiting for? Rural Ontario is waiting.


PS: If you (or someone you know) are a rural Ontario business-person and you think you’ve got something the Ruralist editors would love, or you’re interested in purchasing a micro-site in the upcoming Ruralist shopping section, send me a message telling me about your business and what you think the Ruralist editors would love about it. If I agree with you (;)), I’ll pass your message on to Erin and Erin.

{Locality} Bayfield’s newest boutique store: Hive


Nestled in the back of an old European-style courtyard, between my favourite café and one of my favourite shops in Bayfield, you will find the village’s newest store, Hive.

Owned by quiet but vibrant artist and educator Jenny Wallace, Hive is one of those place where you can guarantee that everything on display is “hand-picked” (Jenn’s word), or curated, by someone with a first-rate eye for style. It’s a place where you might find some earrings, or a scarf, or a hand-painted bike bell, or a unique throw cushion, or eye-catching wall art.

Jenny in the mirror

Jenny in the mirror

Says Jenny,

What I am trying to create is a store that is vintage inspired; where things are collected, reworked, and re-imagined. I love mixing and matching and revamping. Pairing art and craft with real life. Using creativity, being resourceful and taking chances and colliding unlikely time periods or styles together to create a really individual outfit or decor.

Hive is the kind of place Jenny herself would like to find: “For me, the shops that have always got me going were the ones that were off the beaten path, filled with a little bit of everything and I wasn’t just sure what I was looking for but left with something really special.”

"Let's party!"

Many somethings special are on display right now at Hive. Jenny tells us about a few:

Hand painted bicycle bells from Montreal called dringdring, vintage inspired dresses from Shabby Apple whose sales support the Unitus charity, hand made silver and gold jewelry from Vancouver called Sugarlime, hand made jewelry using cork and rhodium from Brazil from Toca Jewelry, fair trade sterling silver rings and earrings that are hand stamped from the Karen hill tribe people of Burma.


But that’s not all!

I also have pillows, scarves, recycled glass bowls, bamboo bowls, vintage jewelry, clothing from Pink Martini, summer tunics, nautical inspired hooked rugs, handbags, wall art, shopping baskets, picnic baskets, vintage garden accessories, vintage inspired metal parlour tables and chairs.

Pillows and bowls and blankets and lanterns, oh my!

Pillows and bowls and blankets and lanterns, oh my!

Jenny displays her wares on one-of-a-kind furniture, each piece with its own story, such as the examining table from her grandfather’s doctor’s office, or the workbench that originally lived in a piano factory. Everything about this store screams, “I was brought here intentionally because Jenny thinks I’m awesome and she has great taste!”

This is Jenny’s second store in Bayfield. She previously owned Bare Bum Studio, a shop on the other side of Main Street where she sold jewellery, scarves, handbags, and art. It also served as her studio. After owning the store for five years, Jenny sold it in  August 2010 to attend teacher’s college. Almost two years later, the vision that began with Bare Bum Studio has evolved and grown into a more mature retail store.

another collection...

Why Hive? I couldn’t say it better than Jenny herself:

I was looking for one word that was memorable and simple, descriptive but not limiting. I settled on Hive because it evoked a sense of home, a busy and ever-changing space, place of gathering, and a place where things are collected from elsewhere and brought back to.

Inevitably, I had to ask Jenny what it’s like to own a shop on the Main Street of Bayfield, one of Southwestern Ontario’s favourite boutique shopping destinations. Shoppers are looking for an adventure, she says, for a “different shopping experience,” one that they might not be able to get elsewhere, one that includes one-of-a-kind items they can’t get at the mall. They also look forward to meeting the owner and getting to know them over time.


Hive will be open as much as possible throughout the year, but Jenny does have a winter occupation as well as a “Bayfield” one (which, as everyone knows, exists primarily between May and November). She is a supply teacher, which allows her to open the shop on weekends while school is in, and go to her “winter occupation” during the week. Besides, the off-season downtime means that Jenny can do studio work, and travel, one of her very favourite things.

But enough about the off-season. We’re heading full speed ahead for the on season! Don’t miss Hive on your next trip to Bayfield!


To connect with Jenny, “like” Hive on Facebook, email HiveOfBayfield at gmail dot com, or call 519-565-HIVE (best number ever!).

{Belatedly} Wordless Wednesday, aka Thursday

I have to apologize for the plethora of posts lately, and especially that so many of them are about what I’m eating or not eating. When my boyfriend mentions it, I know other people have to be thinking it, too. 🙂 Sorry, guys. I’ve just been so excited about this diet and I’ve had so much to say! You haven’t seen the end of it, but this blog is about so much more than food, so it’s time to dial it back a bit.

Are you still with me?

Life for me lately has mostly been about schoolwork and health, and that’s only exciting to a select handful.

So, to shake it up, a glimpse of what I’m “reading” these days (via audio book), and a sneak peek at my walk-through of Bayfield’s newest store, Hive. Look for a Locality post about Hive this Friday.



Locality: Huron Good Food Box

I picked up my first Good Food Box yesterday! Okay, my friend Hayley picked it up for me on Thursday, but I picked it up from her.

I’m excited to a) get more involved in my community, b) pay less than supermarket prices for produce, c) get better than supermarket value for produce, and d) eat locally-grown produce!

My box this month includes: red potatoes, apples, a cucumber, carrots, a coleslaw mix of chopped cabbage and carrots, a large turnip, a bag of mixed onions,  and some Weth mushrooms.

Good Food Box

A booklet with information and recipes was included, too.

I’m really impressed and I can’t wait to start eating this food!

Recipes, etc.

Do a Good Deed

And, as a bonus, I learned that you can purchase a Good Food Box for people that can’t necessarily afford one. Hayley told me that there was a month when she wasn’t able to pick up her box on the distribution day, and found out later that it had been donated to a family who had not eaten for a few days. Chances are, that family would have been forced to survive on Kraft Dinner and pork & beans before Hayley’s unwitting gift.

Do a good deed: buy a Good Food Box for your family, and one for another family if you can!

Distribution Sites and Payment Information

You can currently order and pick up your Good Food Box in Bayfield, Blyth, Clinton, Exeter, Ethel, Goderich, Grand Bend, Hensall, Seaforth, Vanastra, Wingham, and Zurich.

One box costs $15 cash (no cheques).

For April, order and pay for your box by Friday, April 6th, and pick it up on Tuesday, April 17th.

In May, order and pay by Friday, May 4th, and pick it up on May 17th.

For more information, visit the Huron Good Food Box website, “Like” them on Facebook, email them at, or call the Infoline at 519-482-3416, extension 2244.


In light of my post about Gingerich’s organic eggs a few weeks ago, this post is fantastic. Thanks to Rachel of for this enlightened post!

Rachel's Table

Yeah, I went there. (Thanks to my darling husband for suggesting such a mind-blowingly smart title.)

Weekends are for two things: sleeping and big breakfasts. Well, maybe only for big breakfasts if you have kids. I don’t, so I sleep in and then eat a big breakfast.

This past weekend I decided to try a little experiment. Yes, with eggs. One egg was free range, pasture fed, hormone and antibiotic free. The other was the grocery store brand. Here are the eggs in question:

I took these eggs and fried them:

Notice the first egg. It looks like a nice enough egg and is frying up splendidly. But notice the second egg. Look at that yolk! It is such a lovely shade of gold-ish orange!

Guess what I discovered after my very serious eggsperiment? The grocery store egg didn’t taste like much, but the free range egg tasted like the…

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