Tourists who visit the Lost & Found Café in Elora’s Mews are in for a treat beyond the delicious food available in the cozy space. Like the local regulars, they will find real people behind the counter willing to take a moment to slow down and talk to them.
“For years I’ve wanted to own a café, primarily for the hospitality we can provide,” said owner Emma Smith in a recent interview. “I wanted to provide a local living room, a community hub where we create an experience for people.”
Praising her amazing staff, Smith says her first priority for her team is to take the time to listen to people, get to know the regulars and even provide treats to customers’ pets so “even their doggies feel at home.”
While customers come in a sit a spell, they enjoy the homemade menu items in an atmosphere filled with the smells of baking and in-house syrups and jams. While we spoke, Smith was simmering down her tomato jam and admitted the savoury aroma was filling the space.
“It’s such a beautiful thing for people to visit with their friends here,” said Smith, who noted a group of friends meets for morning coffee every day. “Those who work from home will come in to socialize and tourists seem to appreciate the small-town environment.”
Originally from Elora, Smith went off to school for English and Business Administration in Newfoundland. There she started her hospitality career serving as a bartender. Since then she has worked in restaurants, kitchens and in management. She even travelled to New Zealand, where she got her barista training as she supported herself along the way.
Upon returning to her hometown, she learned that the owners of the Lost & Found Café were selling. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Smith knew the opportunity was too good to pass up. Already a popular downtown spot in the historic Elora Mews, she kept the name, yet immediately set to rebrand the space, change up the menu and renovate the interior.
“It’s still a familiar place to our regulars,” she said, adding that navigating the pandemic lockdowns was a roller coaster ride. The support of family and friends and her staff got her through it. “I’ve got such a solid team behind me.”
Indeed, Smith advises those who hope to start their own business to do their research and to reach out for help with anything they aren’t sure about. Her foundational background in hospitality helped her understand health codes, menu development and source suppliers for required products, but when it came to bookkeeping and online marketing, she didn’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.
“You have to take pride in not knowing how to do everything,” she explained. Smith participated in the Starter Company Plus program through the Business Centre Guelph-Wellington. While there she heard about the Digital Main Street program. A DMS grant helped update her website, get professional photos and videos produced and up her game in social media marketing. “You have to try not to be a hero and do everything. The Digital Main Street program helped me take things to the next level.”
Smith’s can-do attitude got her through a hard first year where lockdowns put a strain on her and staff. At times they could only do take out, so the whole team had to access things a month at a time to see whether they could open or not. But she did manage to get some special events planned, with a macrame night and a live show in the café for the first-year anniversary party.
“It’s been a fun journey and I am learning so much along the way. I would love to get into more events and try new things,” she said, optimistic about hosting a mini-concert series in the café this winter. “Elora could use a little singer-songwriter space.”
It seems the Lost and Found Café living room atmosphere has room for more local hospitality and Smith is ready to serve it up.
"You have to try not to be a hero and do everything. The Digital Main Street program helped me take things to the next level." — Emma Smith