This week in our Love Local interview series, we're talking delicious and bite size business wisdom with The Loose Grape. You may want to read while eating, this one’s bound to make you hungry!

It’s Tappy Hour when I arrive at The Loose Grape. I walk into the restaurant to a sleek, modern design: and while I’m waiting for the server to finish with her table, I scan the menu to find things like “jalapeno infused bacon wrapped scallops” and wonder: why the heck have I never been here before?

Summer Beginnings

“We just opened in June,” Owner Robert Johnson told me as he showed me to a high top table.  Robert and his partner (in life and in business!) Martha just moved to the city a little over a year ago to open their wine and tapas bar, after living in different parts of Southwestern Ontario such as Robert's hometown Brampton, as well as Barrie and Dundas, too. He told me they have found Cambridge, and more specifically Preston, to be such a friendly and welcoming community. “The Preston business community have been so supportive [and] we owe a lot of our early success to their support. They all talk well of each other, say hello on the street. It’s really nice after coming from bedroom communities to have that.”

Off the Menu

And did you own restaurants in one of those cities before you moved? I asked. “No,” he laughed, telling me about a career history as an industrial engineer handling manufacturing and fabrication. But while in University, he gained experience working both front and back of house in restaurants, and through annual wine and tapas events, Martha and Robert found a love for cooking and hosting. So how did it evolve from an interest to a business idea? “We started looking around Cambridge and asked: ‘what do people do here for date night?’ And we kept hearing big name restaurants, or references to local businesses in downtown Waterloo. So we saw an opportunity in the market here for something like this.”

Loose Grape2

Fifty Shades of Grape

Though it’s pretty obvious as I peruse their menu (and, admittedly drool a little), I ask what The Loose Grape is serving up that people can’t find elsewhere. He passed me a menu with a great selection of wines and told me about their wine flights. “They’re an easy way for people to learn about wine, and a good way for them to find something they like. We believe that they shouldn’t have to buy an expensive bottle or a cheap glass to have a great experience with wine.” Robert told me they proudly serve a menu 1/3 full of Canadian wines. He pointed out that their house wine was created in partnership with a Niagara VQA, and that (take note, friends) that a great time to come check out the many local flavours is on Wine Wednesdays: from Canada to California, you can get your favourite bottle for a discounted price!

Diversity on Tapas

The commitment to offer local products doesn’t just apply to wine, but to their beer selection as well. While I’m sitting with Robert, their Waterloo Brewing rep comes in to ask about the next order of their Loose Lager: a brew The Loose Grape makes in partnership with the local brewery. Robert explained that keeping their food and drink menu local as much as possible is important on a number of levels. “First and foremost, it’s definitely taste. Craft brews, for example, just taste better. But there’s also a great diversity of choices in this region for food and drink, and we want to showcase that.” He also highlighted the pork and cured meats they source from Waterloo, and the flour from P&H Milling right down the street! “Employees from P&H can come in and help themselves by buying from us. It’s a cycle where we can help each other’s business to thrive… and [it also] helps us be integrated into the community."

The 100 Step Diet

It didn’t take Robert long once he moved to town to find his own local favourites. “There are so many Cambridge based restaurants with great food,” he said: Q BBQLittle Louie’s, and The Mill among them. Robert also talked about Wuddup Dog on King Street as a frequent lunch spot as well as most meals at the restaurant. Getting home to cook in the midst of 14 hour days is typically off the menu, he explained. Luckily, there are lots of local businesses on King Street for everything you need- from a haircut to print to TV repair. 

Recipe for Success

When I asked Robert what he considered the greatest success of the business, he once again referenced the Preston business community and how rewarding it’s been to be a part of it. “The Grand Opening was very good, and we’ve been full for a lot of our live music events.” So how do you ensure a sense of consistency and vision in the midst of responding to this growth? I asked. He talked about the importance of growing the business slowly, and within a scope that feels responsible. “Focusing on the little details day to day that make or break an experience are an important place to come back to,” he explained; and that having weekly events to target for like Wine Wednesdays, Date Night Thursdays, and live music nights allow for that reliable focus. He did, however, mention some plans for the Fall for wine education that you’ll want to stay tuned for! Robert also talked about changing vendors early on, and the importance of choosing vendors that help them realize the vision they have for the business. Local partnerships have proven to be the most fruitful on a number of levels.

Spreading the Word

I tell Robert the way I found out about them was not only by recommendation from Eric Bolton from E-Bolt Music, but through The Loose Grape’s Facebook page. He mentioned that local champions have been a great support in helping spread the word, such as fitness superstar, all around badass and generous human and owner of Revkor, Erin Moraghan. Has social been a useful tool for you? I asked. “Absolutely,” Robert said, mentioning that having the reviews and feedback from customers directly through social has been a great showcase of The Loose Grape experience. “We’re in the process of building a website, but that word of mouth has been a big part of people finding us. Our staff has been really helpful in getting us on Instagram which I confess,” he said with a laugh, “I’m still learning.”

What a refreshing way to end an interview! Now, it must be wine o’clock somewhere….

Go forth, folks: get social with these foodie all-stars: and if you know what’s good for you, go try them out for lunch today!


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