Kate Ross LeBlanc + Jean-Pierre LeBlanc, CEO and Co-Founder + Chair and Co-Founder, Saje Natural Business Inc.
Adam Blasberg on location at Prohibition Bar in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia
For Jean-Pierre and Kate Ross LeBlanc, the old adage of keeping business and personal separate has never applied. In fact, it was an intensely personal experience that led the married couple to begin Saje Natural Business Inc.
After a car accident that left him with serious soft-tissue damage, Jean-Pierre began investigating essential oils in the early ’90s as an alternative to the prescription medications that left him with serious side effects and did little to ease his chronic pain and depression.
With a background in business and chemistry, Jean-Pierre had the expertise necessary to experiment with natural ingredients and came up with a line of products designed to alleviate everything from headaches to pain to insomnia. Kate, meanwhile, had a natural flare for customer service and retail, which she had developed as a child helping out in her mother’s fabric store in Mount Forest, Ontario. The pair pooled their talents and relocated from Toronto to Vancouver to open their first store in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay in 1992. At the time, the concept of aromatherapy was largely foreign to the mainstream. “My first few phone calls to landlords would be aroma-what?” recalls Kate.
Initial setbacks aside, getting into the natural wellness field early positioned Saje as a leader. Along with growing their retail empire over more than two decades, the pair has worked to build credibility for natural remedies and alternative treatments with Jean-Pierre, now chief wellness officer for the chain, holding public seminars on the benefits of alternative therapies and Kate, now CEO, working with Health Canada to establish guidelines and regulations for natural products. (Saje’s products were officially licensed by Health Canada in 2013.)
With 40 stores now open across Canada and their first U.S. location set to open later this year, Saje is regularly listed as one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies. And with their daughter, Kiara LeBlanc, 26, now the company’s creative director, the family isn’t planning to separate business and personal any time soon.
John Neate, CEO and Founder, JJ Bean Inc.
Coffee practically runs in John Neate’s blood. Born in North Vancouver, the third-generation coffee-seller joined his grandfather’s wholesale company, Neate’s Coffee, at age 22. But a dispute between the company’s partners resulted in its sale to Nestle in 1990, with the younger Neate joining the multinational corporation as part of the deal. After six years with Nestle, Neate knew he needed to rekindle the family business with a hyperlocal focus.
Since opening its first location on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive in 1996, JJ Bean has eschewed the cookie-cutter approach of larger coffee chains in favour of slow, conscious growth. Its 17 Vancouver stores are each individually designed to reflect the neighbourhood, and its daily roasted coffee and house-baked goods have endeared the chain to both casual drinkers and coffee nerds in Vancouver’s heavily saturated market. Neate hopes to replicate the success in Toronto, where two JJ Bean locations have so far opened this year. “We only want special places. We want to honour the communities we serve.”
Daniel Frankel, Founder and CEO, Tap & Barrel Brands Ltd.
Daniel Frankel is the first to admit he’s “always had a thing for big, ballsy, standout locations.” From his start running a rudimentary sandwich stand in Coal Harbour in 2001, Frankel quickly grew his empire to include the Mill Marine Bistro, on the edge of Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, and Delilah’s, a fine-dining institution in the city’s West End. But with a growing and disparate collection of properties, Frankel opted in 2012 to make another ballsy move: divesting from all his businesses to concentrate on building the Tap and Barrel brand. From its original location in the Olympic Village, Tap and Barrel now has five locations in the Vancouver area, including Western Canada’s largest restaurant—a 740-seat flagship location on the North Vancouver waterfront—and two smaller Tapshack locations situated on opposite ends of Vancouver’s seawall. The company is on track to open 25 restaurants by 2025.