Small Business Story: Heirloom Food Company’s Success Shows Growing Interest in Healthy Eating

The CoverWallet Small Business Scholarship encourages entrepreneurship in students by asking them to take on the perspective of a local small business owner. Students share their perspective on the opportunities and challenges faced by a business in their community.

Student: Taylor Copeland, Quinebaug Valley Community College

Small Business: Heirloom Food Company

Heirloom Food Company

In the borough of Danielson in the small town of Killingly, tucked away in what’s known as the Quiet Corner of Connecticut, there is a little gem of a café called Heirloom Food Company. A locally owned establishment, it’s been in operation since 2012 and offers a variety of healthy options for both eat-in and take-out diners. Their menu of juices, smoothies, espresso drinks, breakfast items, sandwiches, veggie burgers, soups, and desserts is mostly vegetarian, with the option of making nearly every dish vegan, and they serve organic, locally-sourced food whenever possible. Bread is purchased from a bakery in Hartford, and during the growing season, local farmers deliver fresh produce weekly. Most of their menu is made in-house, from scratch, with a focus on creating healthy, delicious, and sustainable options and a willingness to accommodate food allergies, severe and otherwise. Located on Route 12, Heirloom Food Company is set up in a remodeled home, and this—along with the mismatched furniture in the dining area (some of it handmade) and the abstract art on the walls—gives it a uniquely hip yet cozy, small-town vibe.

I worked at Heirloom for several months last spring and summer, and though I left my job there before returning to college as a full-time student, my time on their staff gave me a lasting respect for the restaurant. Heirloom is a small business with big ideals, many of which align with my own values, and working there among such wonderful people was an extremely positive experience for me that only served to increase my opinion of the quality of the establishment. It’s a marvelous example of a small, successful local business, but as with any small enterprise, there are still risks involved.

The most apparent of these is the market; to be honest, it’s a bit surprising that an organic restaurant touting a large vegetarian menu has enjoyed such steady business in a fairly rural area, which only serves to show how attitudes about food and healthy living are changing in all corners of society. However, the fact remains that organic, whole-foods ingredients cost more, and as a result the price of the menu items must be assigned accordingly. During my time working at Heirloom, I often ran the register, and I had several customers comment to me about “how expensive!” the menu was. For those who maybe care less about healthy eating, the price tag might be enough to send them elsewhere, and I think under the right circumstances this could prove a very real threat to the customer base of small, ideals-based businesses like Heirloom Food Company.

There is also the question of supply and demand, which is especially concentrated when a business is located in a small community. If the local demand for organic, vegetarian meals were to lessen—if, say, a new and opposing food trend took over the market—then Heirloom would be in trouble. The risk of running such a specialized dining establishment is that it requires both quality food production, as well as a sustained interest in (and thus demand for) the type of menu offered. While it’s up to the business to ensure the first, the second may be rather unpredictable, and this poses a very real concern.

In the case of Heirloom Food Company, location is also something to be considered. Although the café is located on Route 12, close to where it connects to U.S. Route 6 in one direction and crosses Route 101 on the other, it’s still not an extraordinarily busy roadway. The café is based in Danielson, and the surrounding towns of Putnam, Pomfret, Brooklyn, Foster, and others like them are similarly small. While comparable businesses like juice bars and vegan eateries are becoming increasingly common in larger and more densely populated urban locales, in an area with a somewhat sprawling layout, like northeastern Connecticut, Heirloom is the kind of place that generally has to be sought out rather than stumbled upon. This creates the challenge of successfully marketing a restaurant that is a bit unprecedented for its area, especially when compared with the other, more mainstream local dining establishments (like the Chinese restaurant just down the street).

Despite these risks to the business, however, Heirloom Food Company has been open for about five years and is still going strong. They’ve cultivated a core group of loyal customers who return for the quality food and service they’ve found, and through participation as a vendor in local functions like the annual Summer Solstice event at nearby Logee’s Greenhouse, they’ve also created ties to the surrounding community. Heirloom has found its niche by providing for this area’s need for natural and wholesome dining options, and it is my hope that they will continue to thrive. Small businesses improve the communities in which they are located, both small towns and big cities alike, and this is something that should be encouraged. In doing so, however, it’s important to acknowledge the difficulties that face such small local enterprises, if only so that we may be better able to create solutions that allow them to increase their success—and just as importantly, to make it sustainable.