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How a hobby in junior high became a business with 6 locations





When Nicholas Merry was taking a Grade 11 entrepreneurship class at his Cole Harbour, N.S., high school, part of the curriculum included writing a business plan.

For Merry, the obvious choice was to do it on a landscaping business as he’d always mowed lawns and shovelled snow, but a friend suggested he focus his efforts on that other business he had.

Since his junior high years, Merry had been fixing the screens on friends’ phones when they broke. He learned through trial and trial error and wasn’t exactly well compensated for it.

“My method of payment would usually be buying me something from Tim Hortons or Subway, or a convenience store,” said Merry, now 24. “I never thought of it as a moneymaker, it was just something cool to do for friends.”

That early venture has since morphed into Geebo Device Repair, which does general electronics repairs, as well as sales of electronics and accessories. The business has five locations in the Halifax area and one in Cape Breton.

Born entrepreneur

A born entrepreneur, Merry used to scour the Bargain Hunter to find phones that he could repair and resell, as well as any other items he thought he could turn into profit, namely gaming consoles.

After putting together his business plan, Merry spent his $5,000 in life savings to buy parts so that he’d have the necessary supplies to fix the most common phones, primarily BlackBerrys and iPhones.

Mike Lalonde (left) is a regular customer at Geebo Device Repair. (Robert Short/CBC)

In 2010, while still in high school, Merry set up shop inside his parents’ Eastern Passage home, using a folding table in the living room to carry out repairs.

After enrolling at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Merry continued tinkering in his own apartment — and even at an on-campus Tim Hortons — while he studied science. He hoped to become a cardiologist one day.

In his second semester, Merry switched to business. But that wasn’t for him either.

Geebo Device Repair has shifted from Nic Merry’s roots of fixing phones. The business also does general electronics repairs and sells electronics and accessories. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I felt everything I was learning, I already knew and it was frustrating because I’m paying for it,” said Merry.

He dropped out of school in his second year and set up his first official storefront in late 2013 — in a basement suite at his grandmother’s home in Dartmouth.

Merry, then 19, offered 24/7 support and placed ads on Kijiji to get the word out. Bar-hoppers who had broken their screens would take a cab to Merry’s for late-night repairs.

‘A lot of ups and downs’

After building up the business for about two years, Merry opened a traditional storefront in Dartmouth and expanded from there, although there is no longer a location at his grandmother’s place.

The rapid ascent of the company hasn’t been completely smooth.

“We’ve actually had a lot of ups and downs,” said Merry. “It seems like everything’s going smoothly because we’re opening up a lot of locations.”

A tough 2018

Last March, the company’s Queen Street location suffered smoke and water damage after a fire in the unit above. Three weeks later, a flood hit the company’s Clayton Park location when a sprinkler head broke during renovations at a neighbouring store. 

On a sour note to end the year, two people broke into the company’s Lady Hammond Road location and stole about 25 devices, mostly phones and iPads. About half of the devices were recovered.

These setbacks make Merry question whether it’s worth it to run his business.

“I think I just realize there’s not a lot I can do, other than just grind it out,” said Merry, who typically puts in 14-hour days.

Nic Merry’s first official storefront was in the basement suite at his grandmother’s home in Dartmouth, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

Mike Lalonde has used Geebo’s services a few times and did so based on the recommendations of some friends.

“He’s an impressive young man that has a good head on his shoulders and isn’t afraid of hard work,” said Lalonde.

Merry said the company’s plans are to open more locations in Nova Scotia. He’s finishing up a franchise package with the hopes to have franchised locations in the other Atlantic provinces.


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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries





This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne





This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business





OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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