‘The town needed this’: Owners of new Stirling coffee shop overcome multiple hurdles to create unique space

Rachelle Cuculuzzi and Megan Belanger say partnership keeps them going on the tough days of running their own business. Photo by Emma Persaud

STIRLING – If there’s one thing the owners of Farm Girl Cafe have learned, it’s that the spirit of family keeps the coffee brewing.

Megan Belanger, 31, and Rachelle Cuculuzzi, 34, cooked up the idea of a running cafe when they met as servers seven years ago. They found support through their parents, particularly Belanger’s, who closed down their furniture store to make room for the cafe on Mill Street in the village of Stirling.

“We decided to get started on the idea in March of 2022 when my parents offered us the building,” said Belanger. “We started renovations last summer to get things going.”

Immediately, the pair faced challenges. The building needed electrical work and renovations. Belanger’s dad, a professional contractor, stepped in, doing the work for free through evenings and weekends. New permits were needed for the bakery, and they had to close for a week after opening to revamp the permits once again. Finally, in May, the doors opened to a street closed for road repairs – which are not expected to end until mid-November. They have worked to keep their spirits up through it all.

“It was stressful and overwhelming. There were times where one of us would either shut down or hyperfocus but we kept plugging along until it got done,” said Cuculuzzi. “I don’t know how other business owners do it alone…We’re learning to say ‘I need help’ and to get each other through.”

Customers heading to Farm Girl Cafe in Stirling, Ont., have to navigate construction to get to the coffee shop and bakery. Photo by Emma Persaud

Belanger’s mother, Mary-Louise Belanger, has run her own businesses in Stirling her whole career and said the construction has been a blessing, giving what she called a “soft launch” into the business.

“The town needed this,” said the senior Belanger. “They’ve always said they wanted to do this, they just needed a push. I’m getting closer to retiring so I think this is great.”

Belanger and Cuculuzzi have also welcomed Belanger’s brother, Owen Thompson, as a third contributor to the cafe. After suffering brain trauma at the age of 16 from a severe car accident, Thompson is now 25 and Farm Girl Cafe is helping him enter the working world in a way that meets his needs.

“He does a bit of our running around and the pickups for us when he can,” said Belanger. “Hopefully it will turn into something for him too. This is a family endeavour.”

Even with a Tim Horton’s opening up less than five minutes from the cafe, the friends’ can-do attitudes and strong support systems are keeping the doors open. Belanger says they pull in a different crowd than the fast-food restaurant, and she uses her creativity to offer a unique coffee shop experience.

“We knew this was a different kind of coffee consumer,” said Belanger, pointing out the layout of the cafe as her inspiration; she says Cuculuzzi is the business-minded partner. “As long as Rachelle does her part and I do my part, everything keeps going.”

Both Belanger and Cuculuzzi expect to see the business grow as the cold weather sets in. Last winter they opened a pop-up cafe as part of Stirling’s winter market and said it was “crazy busy.” They have now received a grant to build a website, where Cuculuzzi said she hopes to start receiving bulk orders.

“I feel like it will change how people do their orders. We want people to think of us as someone to order from when they are going to a friend’s house and want to bring muffins or something, they can do that through us.”

Farm Girl Cafe is open Wednesday to Saturday 10-3 on Mill St. in Stirling.

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