The Bright Side of Business is presented by Star Motors.
Brian Montgomery always knew he wanted to run his own café one day — what he didn’t know was that oatmeal would be his ticket to success and his contribution to the community.
In 2018, Montgomery opened Oat Couture Café in Old Ottawa South, with a vision to elevate the humble oatmeal breakfast to a fashionable, chef-curated meal.
“Anybody can sell oatmeal,” Montgomery says. “People do oatmeal at home, but nobody does oatmeal the way we do, (with) panache and creativity.”
At night, the café morphs into the Montgomery Scotch Lounge, which Montgomery says is Canada’s only single malt lounge.
When the business launched, it was all hands on deck: Montgomery’s wife, Jennifer Guerrero, came on board as manager, splitting her time between those duties and her career as a palliative care nurse.
Montgomery himself works with Royal Bank as a portfolio manager and investment advisor. With an eye on the market, Montgomery noticed that oatmeal was filling shelves in supermarkets and was on menus in restaurants.
“The big guys are doing it, like Starbucks,” he says.
Through a mix of self-financing and loans, Montgomery fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a restaurateur. Oat Couture Café grew quickly, even expanding to two new locations during COVID-19.
Hospitality is in Montgomery’s DNA: his sister and cousin are both chefs and his other cousin owns a surf camp in Central America. “There's something in our blood that makes us want to serve people,” he says.
However, it wasn’t a smooth pandemic journey — at one point, the business dropped from 17 employees to just three. But, throughout it all, Montgomery kept the doors open. He expanded his alcohol license to daytime sales and took over a nearby plaza during the summer to allow outdoor dining during lockdown.
Before long, the business was back up to 44 employees. “(There was) a competitive spirit that wouldn't allow us to give up,” Montgomery says.
Far from giving up, Oat Couture Café expanded to Centretown in November 2020, doubling its original space by taking over from Pressed, a popular restaurant and live music venue that was closing its doors. Montgomery kick-started renovations, but kept the music equipment. Now, the Montgomery Scotch Lounge offers live music entertainment throughout the week.
In April 2020, Montgomery’s team launched the Oat Couture Breakfast Club, supporting the community during COVID-19 by offering free bags of prepared oatmeal for anyone in need. These are left on a cart for anyone to take — no questions asked.
To date, the business has given away more than 16,000 bags and plans to keep the program going beyond the pandemic. “We get incredible feedback from those,” Montgomery says. “We get letters, cards, people that have stopped in and said, ‘This really helped me during a time when I needed it.’”
Looking ahead, Montgomery wants to grow the Oat Couture chain. The first franchise location has opened in Almonte and there will be an official franchising package ready by May. Montgomery has also launched an Oat Couture lifestyle brand. The team recently attended a show in the U.S., hosting a booth to show off their products in hopes of landing a contract.
“I've got an incredibly strong team that works incredibly hard to make these things come to fruition,” Montgomery says. “There's never a dull moment.”
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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