Starting a new business is difficult, challenging and quite stressful at the best of times. Starting a new business during a pandemic is beyond imagination, yet for Elizabeth Werner, it was simply another phase in her life.
Her latest venture is a new store on Queen Street in Port Perry called, ‘That Place on Queen’. Formerly Queen Beans and Eco Port, Elizabeth bought the business, as the previous owners wanted to retire.
“I’ve always wanted to own and operate a retail business,” Elizabeth said. Her current venture, the Asphalt Cookie Company, is doing well, but operates from her home. It was time to expand.
Elizabeth Werner was born in Vancouver, and at the age of 11 months, moved with her family to Scarborough. “It was a long trek,” she recalled. “I spent most of it asleep on the back dash of my parent’s car.” She paused, “It was before seatbelts were mandatory, or possibly even installed.”
Her father, a minister, was transferred to Hamilton after a five year stint in Toronto. Then they moved the family to Winnipeg, where Elizabeth lived until she was 23.
High school years included a part-time job at Wendy’s and participation in the school musicals. She also filled in an application, and was accepted, to the general science program at the University of Manitoba.
After a year, Elizabeth decided she wanted to pursue engineering, something she had always been interested in. She switched schools to Red River Community College and the engineering course. With her Wendy’s experience behind her, it was easy to land a part-time job as a waitress at the chicken and rib place near the arena, in Winnipeg.
Successful graduation landed her a position at an engineering firm, but Elizabeth was missing the life of Toronto and a big city. She applied for a position at a Mississauga firm and was accepted. It was while working there, she met her future husband, Roy, who was also an engineer for a different firm. A few years later, the couple were married.
The early nineties were difficult times in the engineering and construction business, due to the recession, which had cost many people their houses. The company Elizabeth worked for had gone into receivership, but Elizabeth quickly found a position with the City of Mississauga and continued to work a few years after her first son was born. She decided to become a stay at home mom, and two years later the happy couple had a baby girl.
Elizabeth and Roy wanted to raise their kids outside of the GTA, preferably on some acreage. They landed in Blackstock on ten acres, which was a great place to raise a family. Things were going well, and after her daughter started kindergarten, Elizabeth decided to go back to work, starting at an engineering firm in Newcastle.
“It was tougher than I thought,” she said. “Every time I needed to pick up the kids at school, because of illness, or school closings, I would have to take time off.”
She decided to get out of the professional world and started at the YMCA in Port Perry, helping with administering programs. In 2013 the business became a daycare centre, which was fun, but not for her.
It was time to venture out on her own, hence the Asphalt Cookie Company. Baking was something Elizabeth enjoyed doing since the age of 18. I had to ask where the name came from?
“One of the cookies I bake, which is also my favourite, always ended up dark in colour and delicious to taste. One day, my son came home from school and said a friend told him my cookie looked like tar.” She laughed and continued, “Of course he meant asphalt and the name stuck. From there on, my signature cookie was the Asphalt Cookie.
In 2011, Elizabeth, her husband and family moved into town and decided to get very involved with the Farmer’s market in Port Perry. She ended up managing it, and very much enjoyed the enthusiasm from the participants and local residents.
When rumours started about Queen Beans closing down, it ignited a spark in Elizabeth. What a great concept, she thought and after negotiations, a fresh coat of paint and a few renovations, she was up and running.
“I wasn’t sure what to call it, but it had undergone several name changes in the past number of years. My friends referred to it as, that place on Queen. What a great name, I thought,” Elizabeth said, and the rest is history.
For those of you who have not been in, Elizabeth has opened up the entire front as a coffee shop and the rest is full of interesting items, similar in style to what was there before, but also crafts made by local artists and environmentally friendly clothing.
There are some very tasty baked goods, amazing coffees and yes, you can get plenty of asphalt cookies.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show,’ on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.