Café Bliss & Be Love – Pure Nourishment in Victoria
When we sat down with Heather and Joe Cunliffe, co-owners of Café Bliss and Be Love, we were surprised to hear that neither sibling had any experience in the food industry before opening their wildly popular restaurants in Victoria.
Heather had always been passionate about food, but was never involved with it work-wise. It was a 2008 trip to a holistic healing retreat in Arizona that changed all that. Spending a winter with the raw food community at The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Centre opened Heather’s eyes to the powerful effect that food can have on someone’s health and overall well-being.
I asked Heather if she’d predicted this inspiration would manifest itself in a restaurant.
“I left The Tree of Life feeling like a different person. I had a new understanding of the way that what I eat has an effect on my physical being, my psyche, my emotions, and I really felt empowered and inspired to share that with other people.”
“I had known, for some time I think, that when I settled down to create something that it would involve food, because that was my biggest passion. I didn’t know that it was going to necessarily be a café; I was initially looking into a home-based raw food business, but the idea grew very quickly.”
There were no established raw food restaurants in Victoria, so Heather took that as a sign. And while Café Bliss is also gluten-free, it didn’t occur to Heather to promote the place based on this now very much in-vogue point. The idea was to create a delicious menu of raw food; being gluten-free was merely a by-product.
Bliss Café was immediately successful, tapping into an enthusiastic market that was hungry for healthy, holistic food. The staff was passionate about the product and the customers were positively joyful with the entire experience. It was this environment of positivity that drew in Heather’s brother Joe when he offered to cover a shift at the café while visiting from out of town.
“I was living down in Boston,” Joe explains, “and I came home for Christmas. I just thought working the counter would be a fun thing to do, a good way to connect with Heather. But I was just really inspired by what I saw that day. The excitement and gratefulness of the customers about what Heather was providing…there was just this really positive energy.”
But it was more than just the philosophy of the place that engaged Joe to the point where he had to become involved.
“Eating the food in the café, I just left feeling so energized and happy. Over that Christmas holiday I worked a few more shifts, and every time I felt that same way. I felt that really positive, passionate energy and it really got a hold of me.”
It took about a year, but Joe left a successful career on the other side of the continent to join up with Heather at the café. It was his previous work that allowed Joe to develop a number of proficiencies which he would use to benefit the café immediately.
“I was learning a lot of operational skills, HR skills, marketing skills, and that was really setting me up to be a small business owner. Because being a small business owner means you have to wear a bunch of different hats.”
While Café Bliss was already successful, the business reached new heights with Joe’s involvement. Within two years, sales had doubled and the original 900 square-foot location was bursting at the seams on delivery days. The pair decided that expansion was necessary .
“The response to Cafe Bliss was so positive it was just a logical next step to do something else, ” Joe explains. “We’re very creative people and the desire to create is strong. It feels good to be doing something new and different.”
Working with their father, an artist and architect, Joe and Heather created Be Love, a more upscale, fine-dining restaurant in Victoria’s emerging health and fitness neighbourhood of Harris Green. Nearly triple the size of Cafe Bliss, Be Love brings with it a new set of challenges. Opening a full-scale restaurant presents a steep learning curve for the Cunliffes, but thanks to the passion that drove Cafe Bliss to success in the first place, along with an unswerving dedication to producing excellent food, Be Love is thriving.
When Joe first joined Heather in the partnership, one of the goals was to widen the appeal. And with little to no marketing, Be Love is now turning people away at most lunch and dinner seatings.
“Every lunch rush, we’ve got a few lawyers in here, a few finance guys, a few older crunchy hippies, a few younger crunchy hippies…a lot of artistic people are really attracted to this place. And even though our menu is organic, wheat-free, dairy-free, processed sugar-free, and gluten-free, the vast majority of our customers don’t have to eat that way, they just really love the food. The food that we serve is really, really awesome, and it makes you feel really good.”
I ask Joe about plans for the future. He explains that the overall mission statement for both Cafe Bliss and Be Love is pure nourishment and that it isn’t necessarily tied to food, so there’s no saying what might happen down the road. But that’s the future.
“Right now, this place has taken off like crazy. We just kind of opened our doors and thought ‘let’s just get our legs underneath us’. But the world had a different plan for us.”
Cafe Bliss is a juice bar and organic raw food cafe. They offer fresh juices and smoothies to order, as well as over-the-counter foods in a cafe setting. For menus and more information, visit the website. 556 Pandora Ave., Victoria BC
Be Love restaurant offers a full menu of organic and sustainable foods sourced locally where possible, including a full drinks menu. For menus, visit the website. 1019 Blanshard St., Victoria BC