What happens when a cafe owner needs a coffee break? Ottawa businesswomen of the year nominee Amber Hall

Equator Coffee Roasters co-owner nominated in the established entrepreneur category
Amber Hall
Amber Hall is co-owner of Equator Coffee Roasters (Photo by Miv Fournier)

On April 20, the Women’s Business Network will honour 12 of Ottawa’s leading women entrepreneurs at its Businesswoman of the Year gala. The nominees are divided into four categories: Emerging entrepreneur; established entrepreneur; organization; and professional. OBJ will profile each nominee leading up to the event.

I have fulfilled almost every role at Equator Coffee at some point in my life, but my current position involves primarily business and project management. I’m no longer needed in the day to day operations except when covering for vacationing staff, but instead provide oversight of departments, analyzing financials, working on business improvement and carrying out projects as needed, such as writing procedure manuals, renewing our website or evaluating new opportunities. I am also the current chair of the board of SchoolBOX, a charity that we have been supporting since 2010 with our coffee sales. Equator supports several other charities financially and we have also traveled to Guatemala to install wood stoves and solar bottle lights for deserving families with an organization called Love Made Real.

What is your proudest business accomplishment?

My proudest business accomplishment is receiving the 2016 Best Ottawa Business Award for Performance in Philanthropy. This was a reflection of our ongoing work with SchoolBOX to whom we donate 10 cents of every pound of coffee sold. Through SchoolBOX, we have now provided annual school supplies to thousands of deserving kids and have built two classrooms for coffee farming communities in northern Nicaragua. We also support hundreds of local initiatives every year and donate to On The Ground Global in Africa, Love Made Real in Guatemala and are sponsoring LoveOttawa’s egg drop this Easter celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary.

I’m also extremely proud of the team of staff that make up Equator. They are all incredibly gifted and giving individuals, and I am so grateful to come to work with them every day.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspirations were my brother-in-law and his family. They chose to leave behind a comfortable life and live their bucket list in their mid-thirties with three young children. They travelled the world en route to a life of service in Africa, changing an entire community with agricultural initiatives. This pilgrimage ended in tragedy when Rob was killed in a construction accident, but despite this immense loss, his family continues to move on and thrive, walking daily in gratitude and joy. Any of the small obstacles or challenges I have to face seem trivial in light of this, and it gives me motivation and courage to keep on going and not take for granted the daily gifts that I am given.

What is the biggest professional obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Professionally, the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome is dealing with intense market competition. In particular, we have made it a goal of our company to invest fully in our staff, training them and downloading all of our knowledge. On occasion, this has backfired when those staff move on and start competing companies or work for our existing competition. We have considered at times becoming more tight-fisted with our knowledge and investment, but that would not reflect our values, and so we strive instead to use that competition to make Equator a better company that is constantly learning and improving and serving our customers to the absolute highest standards so that our company stands above the rest.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Honestly, the best business advice I’ve ever received is not to let my business be my everything. With a husband and four beautiful kids at home, it’s been incredibly important to find a balance between home life and work. Because my husband and I run the business together, we call a “coffee break” at home when we don’t talk about coffee. Our business is incredibly important because it supports our life, but if we work on the business to the point of having no time for family or community, then we’ve defeated the purpose.