Amber Stratton and her business partner Jen Dalgleish have built a health and wellness empire in Ottawa over the past seven years. With soon-to-be four yoga studios in the city (plus one in Toronto’s Liberty Village) and four vegetarian restaurants, the Pure brand has certainly become the embodiment of that healthy lifestyle we all crave. Owning a yoga studio and a restaurant might seem like an odd pairing, but Stratton’s vision was built upon her ideal day: having a really great yoga class and then going for a fresh, delicious, and healthy meal. From there, Stratton did what everyone dreams of doing, she turned her hobbies into a full-blown career. The Pure brand also includes an in-house apparel line, online classes, and recently, Stratton converted the bar on top of Pure Kitchen’s Elgin Street location into Charlotte, Ottawa’s chicest bar. Oh, and she also opened a boutique called Tallow, which brings Australian and California style to Canada’s capital city.
Keep reading to find out about Ottawa’s health and wellness guru and how she’s expanding beyond that scene:
Business Name: Pure Yoga and Pure Kitchen
Name & Title: Amber Stratton, Founder & Co-owner
Location: Ottawa, ON
Education: Grade 12
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Amber Stratton: I’m the founder and co-owner of Pure Kitchen and Pure Yoga. I manage the yoga side of things and my husband mostly takes care of the restaurant. I’d describe Pure Yoga as customer service oriented and community driven. We have a strong emphasis on making sure there is something for everyone and that everyone feels welcome. I like to say Pure Yoga is an East meets West vibe. We were the first studio in Ottawa to start doing yoga to Hip Hop music with a mic and offer a bunch of different classes that aren’t super traditional. But we still have the traditional component as well. We have a variety of classes and a variety of teachers. Some of them are still obviously teaching the important spiritual, traditional aspects of yoga but then we have more modern offshoots of a yoga class that tend to draw in a different demographic of people who maybe would have felt intimidated coming to a studio otherwise. Our goal is to try and offer something for everyone, from the first time 17-year-old to the retired person dealing with pain.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
AS: I love what I do for so many reasons. I love teaching, that’s always been a big creative expression for me. I love people. I love the challenge of creating a great team and helping my team members and teachers find out where they’re going on their path and reach their goals.
E7: What makes your business special?
AS: I think the reason we stand out in our industry is because we’re not only focusing on our customers and clientele, but we put equally as much into our staff. Our goal is to continuously evolve and continue to be the best place to work in our industry. I think it goes without saying that when you treat your staff really well they, in turn, give back to our customers, our students, and our clients. I think we’ve done a great job at creating a community around that, where everyone feels important and realizes that Pure wouldn’t be where it is without every single person that is putting in their time and energy every day.
E7: What has been the biggest challenge so far in creating the Pure brand?
AS: To be honest, when we first opened we didn’t really know what we were doing. We definitely had a lot of hard learning leading up to our first opening because we just weren’t prepared. It’s so great now to see these young entrepreneurs attending talks about these kinds of things and I wish I would have known about those back then.
E7: What would you have done differently if you were starting today?
AS: Maybe I would have reached out a little more in the beginning to get some help instead of trying to figure everything out myself.
E7: Why do you think Pure Yoga and Pure kitchen became an instant success in Ottawa?
AS: I think we’re offering something different. There are a lot of great vegetarian restaurants in the city and in the community that I still love to go to, but a lot of the restaurants here are cafeteria style and the idea around vegetarian food is that it’s rabbit food. We wanted to bring really great vegetarian food to the city. Somewhere you would actually get dressed up to go to with your friends, have a glass of wine, and get a bit more of a dining experience, because we didn’t have that here.
E7: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your own business?
AS: It seems obvious, but the ability to separate your professional life from your personal life is really important — especially when you’re in business with your husband and your best friend. We’ve been really lucky that it’s been nothing but amazing for all of us and brought us all closer. But it’s still important to understand what’s business and what’s not, and always put the business first.
E7: What is an online yoga class? How does is work?
AS: It’s called Pure Yoga Online and it’s an online platform where anyone to sign up for a virtual class. There’s over 150 classes between 10 minutes and 90 minutes and they’re filmed in the studio.
E7: What’s your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?
AS: I feel like every time we open a new studio, it’s a proud moment. It never gets old seeing the first people walk in, the first shoes at the door and jackets hanging up. I always go back to that feeling when we opened our first studio. I’m in disbelief that this is happening. Sometimes I stop at the end of my classes and just look around the room because when you’re so immersed in it, it can be hard to step back and see what you created.
E7: What was the process of expanding to Toronto like?
AS: Lisa Walker is our partner there. She a friend who was living in Ottawa for a long time and she taught for us. She moved to Toronto and she said she wanted to start a studio there. We happened to fall upon this great space in Liberty Village and it just kind of worked out.
E7 What do you love about the Ottawa and Toronto communities, and how do they differ?
AS: I love the Ottawa community because we have a really strong tight-knit community here, and that goes along with being a smaller city. When you go to a bigger city that becomes harder to create. What I love about Toronto is that people are a little bit more open to different experiences; maybe because they’ve been exposed to more. Toronto wants those super hard, intense power and sculpt classes. Here in Ottawa there’s still a huge demand for the laid-back classes. We’ve sculpted everything to match the energy of the city. For example, we would never put a “namaste bitches” sign up in Ottawa and get away with it.
E7: Do you have any other plans for expansion in Toronto?
AS: At the moment no, but we’ll see. Toronto’s doing really great but we want to make sure we’re in a strong position before we decide to add on.
E7: You recently added a bar to your roster of business ventures, what has it been like branching out from the health and wellness sphere?
AS: I’m definitely a health and wellness person but I’m also a wine drinker, anyone who knows me knows that. Charlotte was actually right above Pure Kitchen so it was part of our lease and ironically, I bartended there for 10 years when it was a bar called Maxwell’s. Charlotte was actually inspired by a place I used to go to a lot when I lived in Australia. It’s kind of the joke that we always say, “OK, we have somewhere to eat, somewhere to do yoga, now I want somewhere where I can have a glass of wine and feel like I’m sitting in my living room.” That became Charlotte.
E7: What’s the inspiration behind the boutique, Tallow?
AS: Tallow is a side thing, also inspired by Australia. My partner Jen is from Australia and Tallow is named after a beach in Byron Bay. A lot of the designers we bring in are from Australia and it’s the kind of stuff we love and were ordering online but no one was carrying in Ottawa, Toronto, or even in Canada. So we decided to bring them in ourselves.
E7: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
AS: I would tell everybody that I would have rather fallen on my face and failed miserably than spend the rest of my life wondering if I should have done it. You need to be willing to take risks and it will be scary, but it will be worth it. From my experience, nothing that hasn’t been a little bit scary has ever been worth it.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Jordana Colomby)