About Marty Curtis

Everyone has a passion in life whether they know it or not. From the age of 14, Marty was aware that one day he would own his own restaurant. The events and adventures of his formative years led him to a dream fulfilled, when he opened Marty’s Café in June of 1996. His story is inspiring and somehow reassuring in that many friends, circumstances and 'chance' meetings along the way would unknowingly support his heart felt desire to feed others with care, humility and passion. Here is his story in his own words -- it will inspire you to go after your dreams, and maybe even realize on some level that you are already on your way to fulfilling them.

Living the Dream

(A complete version of Marty’s story can be found in the introduction of Marty’s World Famous Cookbook).

martys pics collageBy the age of 14, I knew that one day I wanted to live on the water and own my own business. My parents and family members were all self-employed, so you could say that an entrepreneurial approach to life was in my blood. At that time, I was working as a young apprentice at Baffo’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, in Bolton, Ontario. Pizza-making was fun and creative, and the atmosphere between the owners, Aldo and Charlie, and their staff felt friendly and secure. It was like working with family. I knew immediately that one day I would follow in Aldo and Charlie’s footsteps and be an owner in the restaurant industry.

After high school, when it came time to take my place at the University of Guelph’s Business and Commerce Program, I had only one problem. I hated school. I was tortured by the dilemma of whether to tough out four years of university or to let my family down. I was the first family member to attend university and I wasn’t sure I also wanted to be the first to drop out! One afternoon, I was having lunch with Chris Haney, co-inventor of Trivial Pursuit, and he mentioned that travelling was the key to his success. He was so convinced that travelling could help broaden my thinking, he offered me an opportunity to travel through Europe and Africa for a year. I spent a restless night wondering how I was going to tell my family that I was quitting university to backpack around Europe. But one week later, I was somewhere over the Atlantic, headed first for Paris and then Berlin. France, Germany, Austria, and Spain are just a few places where food, family, and friends made a lasting impression. I enjoyed the trip of a lifetime and gained a life education that no school could offer. Perhaps the most important result of that year was that I learned a great deal about myself, and I started to understand who I was and what I valued.

I returned home to Canada, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, and decided to follow in my parents’ footsteps into the real world of real estate. Aged 19 and green, I set out to knock the world on fire with my new-found wisdom and knowledge. And so I did. But after five years of successfully selling homes, it occurred to me that I was forever chasing money. Had I lost my true passion, the love of food? Where had my love of making people feel good gone? After a long debate with my inner voice, I left real estate and went to work for my grandfather in Orangeville, Ontario, selling orthopaedic footwear. I soon realized that orthopaedic footwear truly made a difference in people’s lives, and customers were genuinely grateful for our help. This fulfilled my need to help others and gave me a certain inner peace that I had been missing.

One day, a good friend suggested I head for Bracebridge, Ontario, after a weekend visit to North Bay. I immediately saw an opportunity there to open my own orthopaedic footwear outlet. The Country Cobbler Shoe Store had closed its doors and the building was for sale. Only one problem . . . money. I had been successful in my real estate career but I had little left to show for it. I considered renting out half the location to help supplement the mortgage payment. But who would I rent it to? What other business would do well in this location? I knew that Bracebridge is filled in the summer with tourists, cottagers, and people looking for fun with their families, and so the idea of ice cream came to mind. Driven by my irrepressible passion for food, I wrote an offer to purchase the vacant building with my remaining commission as the down payment and suggested a vendor take-back mortgage. To my surprise, the owner agreed to hold the mortgage and only wanted $10,000 more than my initial offer. For the first time in my 25 years, I had an opportunity to own real estate and my own business. With no money left for renovations, I turned to friends and family for help. After six weeks of preparation, I held the keys to the building and my new life.

That first summer at Marty’s World Famous Café was a success, but winter was fast approaching and I couldn’t pay the mortgage with ice cream sales alone. I decided the time had come to take a chance and invested in a cappuccino machine, a pastry cooler, and an oven. Lunch, baked goods, and specialty coffees fused well with funky music and jam nights, and soon took Marty’s to a whole new level. We became known for our use of premium ingredients, which helped establish our reputation as a quality place to eat. Soon enough, one by one, celebrity after celebrity started to visit and the Marty’s Wall of Fame started to fill up. I can honestly say that we’ve had customers from all over the world who’ve come in on the strength of our reputation. I hope that one day you’ll be one of those customers.

– Marty Curtis

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