Steffanos, an Italian gelateria in the Eastern Townships, won first place in the Love Your Local Business Contest on Oct. 31, granting them an audition on Dragon’s Den in 2014.
Opened April 25 by Concordia student Karen Côté and Stéphane Boivin, Steffanos won the second edition of this contest by receiving the highest amount of votes.
The goal of the contest, launched by the Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation (CEDEC), and Small Business Support Network (SBSN) is to promote small business owners in Quebec and to highlight their economic impact on communities.
“I still can’t believe we won,” said Côté.
Earlier in October, when Côté and Boivin discovered they were in 13th place out of 102 businesses, they put more energy into gaining voters. Up until the end of the month, they contacted local businesses and visited their local elementary school, high school, hospital and prison in Dunham, Quebec—where Steffanos is located—to get support.
“The entire community got behind us,” said Côté.
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) also supported Steffanos by urging people to vote through posts on their Facebook page.
Besides voters in the small town of Dunham, Boivin explained that people voted from Belgium, France, Columbia and South Korea.
“It went global,” he said.
To celebrate, Boivin and Côté gave out free gelato and muffins the following Sunday and set up a donation box, where the community didn’t stop showing their support.
“One young couple even put in an envelope with $400,” said Côté.
On Nov. 5, the five finalists appeared before the Love Your Local Business jury that will decide the winner of an additional prize: a 30-second commercial to air on CBC Television for four weeks between December and January 2014. The winner will be announced at the awards gala on Nov. 21, while Steffanos will audition for Dragon’s Den in about four months.
Côté and Boivin will present a business plan to the Dragon’s Den judges. “We’re trying to develop a prototype [and] get a patent with no money and no time,” said Côté, who explained that Boivin and herself see Steffanos as a springboard to expand their business and do more in the future.
Steffanos is located in Boivin and Côté’s home.
“Every time [customers] open the door, it’s like we have friends coming in the house,” said Boivin.
They cater the music to customers’ preferences and often open their doors to customers before and after their business hours.
“It’s not your typical ice cream place,” said Côté.
Their personalized, welcoming attitude is what sets them apart from similar businesses.
“We treat every single person that walks in like we’re so happy they came, and we are. We’re just thrilled,” said Côté.
Boivin first thought of creating this business last March, while he and Côté were working at a factory in Knowlton, Quebec, during a heatwave. After deciding to pursue the plan, Côté received funding from a program with the Quebec government that helps start businesses.
While Côté didn’t know what gelato was when Boivin first suggested the idea, the two now make a wide assortment of eclectic flavours including chocolate, spinach and mint, avocado, and bacon and maple syrup.
Boivin and Côté have never started a business before and only have a few years of experience making gelato.
“It’s a first for everything,” said Boivin. Still, Steffanos has received praise on websites like TripAdvisor.com for their homemade products. They attended gelato training sessions in Toronto and after buying their house in Dunham, they spent about a year buying second hand equipment.
“I think it’s a great business model: doing something small and doing it with passion,” said Côté.
Since Boivin and Côté have studied as mature students in Concordia’s creative writing program, and are both published authors, a book about their current business is a possibility for the future.