We all know Fergie’s Cafe. Ahem, Dubliner Benny beside the river, anyone? But this is the story of the family behind Squamish’s favourite brunch spot. Meet the Freese’s…
We caught up with Jessamy Freese (aka Jess) to talk about life as a business owner and parent in Squamish, and how she succeeds at both. Prior to meeting, challenges of balancing work and babies were joked about, cheekily hinting of being a bit foggy and less than fashionable for these occasions. But with her hair en pointe and passionate conversation flowing of a clear vision for Sunwolf & Fergie’s Cafe, it became evident that this was as much a meeting of the minds as a meeting of the moms.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The property Fergie’s sits on boasts a rich history. There are old maps dating back to 1910 show a logging camp at the location, and images of Fergie’s Fishing Lodge circa 1950’s. It was owned by the local Ferguson family. Jess and her husband Jacob (aka Jake) took over the property in 2010, after deciding to leave their lives as Whistler raft guides and take a chance on this ideally located fixer upper. It included Sunwolf Rafting and quaint riverside cabins as well. From then on, life became about growing both their business and their family.
Realizing that the Fergie’s Cafe moniker, which dates back to the Ferguson Family name, meant something to Squamish, Jess and Jake were inspired to bring the cafe name back and reconnect with the community.
FAMILY INCLUDES EVERYONE
The Freese family is intertwined with the Sunwolf & Fergie’s Cafe business on every level. We’re talking about breastfeeding during interviews and a toddler on the hip while negotiating small emergencies.
For the Freese’s, the two are synonymous. “Our family and our business is one and the same,” notes Jess.“Our staff is an extension of our family, so they convey that feeling to our guests as well. Being a family is really important to our business.”
They are trying to accomplish something very special for their family, workers and patrons alike. “A new target and a real focus we’ve set for ourselves this year is that we want to offer THE BEST job you can get in Squamish…and then the world. But we’ll start with Squamish.”
BALANCING BUSINESS AND FAMILY
Being a family and running a business certainly has its challenges. Jess speaks of seeking balance and finding ways to separate business and family time, but also being lucky enough to have a life where she can work with toddler Flynn and baby Rufus in tow. With husband Jake focused on day-to-day operations while Jess tackles project work and planning, it’s clear that their collaborative dynamic is critical to the success of the business.
“One of the biggest challenges is being married to, co-parenting and being a business partner with the same person. As a real team player, I don’t like it when I feel like I’m letting my teammate down, and I always wish I could do more. He’s always the one picking up the reigns.
If I’m focused at work, he’s there with the kids. If I’m with the kids, he’s here at work…I’m lucky that we are a great team.”
REDEFINING ‘FAMILY RESTAURANT’
It is a truly refreshing notion that being “family friendly” is more than just booster seats and a packet of crayons. Fergie’s bustles with folks of all ages checking into cabins, loading buses for rafting adventures and enjoying meals as kids play tag and dogs nap in the sun. It’s busy, yet somehow still serene. “It’s hard to take a two-year-old out to eat,” says Jess.“The fact that you can come here with your dog and kids to have fun–but also eat an exceptional meal–is huge to us. We’ve also realized that you don’t have to be prescriptive with games and fun things for kids. It’s a natural playground. A place to come and feel like you are off the grid for a moment. Kids just running around and getting the opportunity to feel bored, create, and be imaginative.”
What do you love about being a parent in Squamish?
Jess: The wild. Just being outside and getting up and out every day. There were a group of local moms here with kids playing in a giant mud puddle after eating. A little kid sat in the middle of the puddle in his rain suit, with a rock in his mouth. His mom came up saying, “no, no, no, no, no,” and took the rock out. “This is too small,” she said, handing him a bigger rock to put in his mouth. That summarizes what I love about it here. My social engagements now occur on a mountain or by a lake.
What do you love about owning a business in Squamish?
Jess: Squamish is such an exciting town to be in right now. I feel that in the last few years, Squamish has earned bragging rights of being a destination in its own right. It’s amazing to watch it grow… The conversations I commonly have with other local families are around just how lucky we are to live here–and it’s a pretty special feeling.
Any advice for other families running businesses?
Jess: It comes back to having the right people working with you. I have the best partner in the world (and not in the sappy way everyone should say it on their wedding day). We are a really solid team, and we’ve built a very great group who just get that it’s a family operation. We are a family, and that’s how it works.
LOCATION AND DETAILS
Sunwolf & Fergie’s Cafe are located on Squamish Valley Road, where the Cheakamus and Cheekeye Rivers meet. It’s known for rustic cabins, river rafting, an outdoor cafe featuring a new trailer for indoor dining (opening soon), a lovely wedding venue, dinner events and so much more.
If you don’t know about Fergie’s, don’t admit that to anyone. Drive out there immediately and order a Dubliner Benny.