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Friday, April 19, 2024
Success brewing for this pair of NOTL pub owners
Irish Harp owner Jovie Joki has struck a balance between work and her personal life. Richard Hutton
Robin Ridesic's love of beer launched her on a path to a career in the craft brewing industry and the opening of the Exchange Brewery on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Richard Hutton

Jovie Joki and Robin Ridesic are like two different branches of the same tree.

One runs a successful pub while the other owns a craft brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Old Town district.

Joki is the driving force behind the Irish Harp on King Street while Ridesic can be found on most days tending to business at the Exchange Brewery on Queen. They are both women rising to the top of a field that normally is dominated by men.

Joki, for one, has found a great deal of satisfaction at the Harp. But after 11 years of ownership, she says she has finally learned she needs to take some time for herself.

She was involved in the operation of a pair of establishments with then-partner Trevor Smith — Taste the Healthy Option on Queen Street and the Harp.

But when Smith died in 2013, she took over the King Street pub and closed down her eatery on Queen.

Since then, she has found being a bar owner has its benefits.

“The rewards are from the customers and the staff for what you’ve done — that appreciation for the work that you do,” Joki says. 

That being said, there are challenges, she acknowledges it’s lots of hard work.

“The hours that you’re away from family, I guess, would be the biggest thing for women getting into being owners.”

With the help of her current partner Jeremy Buckrand, she has learned that there is more to life than the business.

“(He) has made sure that I take certain time now for me where I never used to.” she says. “I’m spending more evenings at home and not being bogged down with the restaurant 24/7.”

Ridesic, meanwhile, has taken a different approach to work-life balance, running her own business and raising a family of four after moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake a decade ago.

“What’s nice is that with living in a small town, everything in my world is very close together,” she says.

“My house, the business, my kids’ school are all within two blocks of each other and taking out kind of the commute out of getting around to everything you’re doing actually does help.”

When she started the Exchange, she found few barriers holding her back in what is a male-dominated business.

“I had the benefit of having two business degrees and had been a management consultant for 10 years and I think that probably might have overwritten any sex-related biases,” Ridesic says. 

As a woman, she works to attract more women to the industry and give them a chance to experience the business as she has.

“I think we’ve done a good job at the Exchange attracting women to come work with us,” she says, adding that the diversity of perspectives has helped the business on both the production side and the creative side.

For both women, owning a business has had its rewards.

For Joki, it’s the people she meets that come to mind most often. She recalled an elderly couple who were visiting NOTL and stopped in at the Harp.

“They were probably in their late 90s and they told us a story when this was a grocery store way back in the day.”

As a seven-year-old, the man, who had been caught throwing eggs at the grocery store window, was told to stay and clean it up. That made him late for school, which resulted in him getting a detention.

On his way home he was going through Simcoe Park when he saw a girl about his age on the swings. They talked, they became friends and began dating when they got older. Finally they got married.

“And if it wasn’t for this place and the grocery clerk they wouldn’t have this really sweet story.” 

Ridesic, meanwhile, says her interest in craft beers peaked when she spent time in the United States. 

“I’ve always been a beer drinker, but like everybody who was drinking beer in the ’90s, in the 2000s, I drank bland lagers, because that’s what we have on offer here.”

But in the U.S., it was a different story, she says.

“I was down there and got introduced to really hoppy IPAs and sour beers and a much broader range of dark beers … and that’s when I decided that I needed to start a brewery in Ontario that focused on these more niche styles of beer and help introduce Ontarians to craft beer.”

Women were traditionally the ones who crafted beer and wine throughout history and now are rediscovering the craft, she says.

“Ale wives and brewsters, they were called,” she says. “Originally brewing was considered part of basically the cooking responsibility. And so it was for centuries, women were the primary brewers.

“It’s kind of getting back to our roots,” she says.


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