A central Alberta entrepreneur lures urban residents into the country by operating her business in the Little Red Barn
RED DEER— After some deliberation, Jamie Aitchison gave up her long-time secure office job in 2017.
“I always had a dream to mix my two favourite things, retail and food,” says the owner of the Little Red Barn, a cafe and gift store located on her acreage a few minutes drive from Red Deer.
“It’s so rewarding to me — to cook something and have people love it.”
Aitchison also has an artsy side. Before her leap to full-time entrepreneurship, she sold her own handmade crafts from her husband’s little red fishing shack.
“It kind of looks like a barn,” she says.
As sales increased, Aitchison expanded into a detached garage and later looked around for new spaces to expand into.
Eventually, her vision for the Little Red Barn became established.
Her son-in-law built the 1,008 sq. foot gambrel-roofed structure in July 2018 and the Little Red Barn opened for business in October that year.
“Our soup is fresh every day,” says Aitchison. “And our cookies, muffins, pies, squares and sandwiches are made from scratch. We bring in very little.”
On display throughout the Little Red Barn is a variety of giftware including artwork, clothing, foods, jewelry, pottery, and woodworking. Much of it is locally made.
The store also has seasonal items, such as handmade Christmas stockings and ornaments.
“I support a lot of local artists, whether I buy it outright or it’s on commission.”
Aitchison orders certain giftware she can’t find locally, but the COVID-19 pandemic has cased supply issues.
The vibe in the Little Red Barn is homey and relaxing.
“That’s the atmosphere I wanted to create,” she says. “I know my customers by name and talk to them every time they come in.”
Aitchison has a staff of four: two full time and two part time.
With a 960 sq. foot addition underway, she may hire another employee, depending on how things go with the pandemic.
“We definitely felt the impact back in March when everything shut down till June. We closed to the public, changed gears. I started making freezer meals.”
“People were able to order and pay online. We did curbside pickup,” she says. “That took off.”
“Even now,” she says. “We always have four of five options, plus our soups.”
Aitchison said food costs often can kill a restaurant, so she was pleased to find an alternative market. The Little Red Barn provides catering to group events such as paint and craft nights.
Aitchison says she sometimes struggles with time management.
“Work/life balance is a challenge,” she says. “But it’s getting better. I have better staff. I’m learning more to delegate.”
Despite the pandemic, the Little Red Barn has seen a continuous increase in business.
“It’s really our customers that have made us busier. If you serve good food, people will come and they’ll tell their friends,” she says. “The regulars bring their out of town visitors and make a destination of it.”