In Conversation with Susannah // Ruth & Dean

Names: Susannah Bryan & Daniela Lucchitti
Shop: Ruth & Dean
Address: 2509 Estevan Ave, Victoria, BC
Instagram: @ruthanddean

Susannah & Daniela in the shop with one of their custom cakes.

What is Ruth & Dean? 

Ruth & Dean is a luncheonette & bakery with two locations. One in downtown Victoria which is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, and one in Estevan Village in Victoria, which is operating 7 days a week. We are well known for our comfort food and bespoke cakes. 

Tell us a little about your restaurant name. Any significance? 

The name of the restaurant is a mash-up of my middle name and my husband’s middle name. He was a really large part of the building of the business; the cookery side of the restaurant was largely inspired by his experience and passion as a chef. 

Delicious baked goods.

Can you tell us about your background? Did you have any restaurant experience before opening Ruth & Dean? 

Before opening Ruth & Dean, I had worked Front of House, but none in the back. My husband, being a chef, taught me technique and appreciation of what a kitchen requires to succeed. Simultaneously, I worked in Joinery, which outfitted me well with the skills I would require to become a proficient cake maker. 

Have you always wanted to run your own business? How did Ruth & Dean come about? 

Yes! I’m not great with authority, have a chip on my shoulder, am a control-freak, and I love to work. I thrive in the face of adversity and am generally miserable without a next-to-impossible challenge. I am also really passionate about providing fulfilling, safe, and satisfying work for people. I decided to pursue my own business when it became apparent to me that a future in cabinet-making and waitressing wasn’t going to fill my cup. I’m very goal-driven and creating a near-impossible goal gave me a drive and ambition that created a satisfaction like none I had ever had before; in short, building a successful business has given me a very real and tangible pride in my accomplishments. This is something that, until this venture, I had never experienced. 

Coffee and tea made to order.

If you had to describe your business to someone who hasn’t seen it, how would you describe it? 

A darling lunch-spot with a serious penchant for cakes and sweets. 

We love your style and space —all the little touches make your space so beautiful. Can you tell us a bit about your personal style and aesthetic? 

I tend towards the masculine, dramatic, and stark. Basically, my entire wardrobe and home are just basics piled on basics. There are very few “finishing” pieces or “statement” pieces. I love how simple things, in composition with one another, can create a cohesive aesthetic that is truly reflective of my personality and intentions. 

The cafe decked out for the holidays.

What or who inspires you? 

Women inspire me. Especially women who have raised empowered children in the face of adversity and crises and women who in turn support their communities. 

Your cakes are absolutely gorgeous and so yummy! Can you tell us about your design process when designing cakes? 

The process is best informed after a conversation with the person the cake is for. I hate to pigeonhole people, but knowing their gender, generation, and general outlook, really helps to create a cake I hope they will love. After that we look at some fun things we have available to us, such as flowers, dried herbs and petals, or really any number of things that will bring intrigue and whimsy to the cake. 

Fresh homemade preserves and sauces.

We love your IG account. Do you have a social media strategy? 

Haha, no. I wish I did, but really can’t add another commitment. I just try to have fun with it, say something cute, and post a pretty, or yummy picture. I try to stay away from commenting on the state of the world. I feel social media is so saturated with cynical observations, that it’s nice to have a “space” that is safe from all that and holds no consequence for the viewer. 

What are some of the hardest lessons you’ve had starting your business? How have you overcome them? 

I’m not sure I’ve overcome my hardest lessons, instead I live with them. My hardest lessons have been lessons of character; become more intimate with traits I am ashamed of, or weaknesses. I live with these things as I think true changes of character take lifetimes, if they even happen at all. Instead when I find myself in a challenging situation I work really hard to remain self-aware, and work through the situation in consideration of how my bad qualities might affect outcomes, or people. 

Yes to all the cupcakes.

We are in a pandemic and small retail businesses have been affected significantly. How are you coping? What’s been working for you?

As ever, in business, being flexible, adaptable, and remaining calm have served Ruth & Dean best. We restrategize frequently to adjust to the shifting landscape and expectations of our customers. We throw out goals all the time these days and start fresh with a new plan of attack. I also consistently adjust my idea of what success looks like. In this climate and for today, success is surviving and preserving as many jobs as possible. 

As we navigate our new reality, what advice would you give to your fellow business owners on what keeps you moving forward? Any helpful tips? 

I’m almost excited and curious to see my industry and what it will look like when all this madness is over. I think this experience has opened up new opportunities for business owners as we’ve had to diversify our approach to making a sale. I think ultimately it will strengthen us and will set us up to succeed more than ever once this is done. And it’s likely that it will bring with it a great relief and a feeling of ease; and of course, I look forward to that most of all. 

Custom-made “terrazzo” cake.

Have you made any hard decisions to get you through this difficult time? Where are you finding strength these days to make decisions? 

Yes, in the first wave of COVID I laid off almost our entire staff. We were able to hire back almost all of them, but it’s looking bleak again. I don’t consider these my decisions to be made, instead they are a part of this pandemic. That’s not to say I don’t take it home with me, only that it is part of this experience. And it’s truly terrible. 

Anything else you would like to share? 

I’m really lucky to have my family and their support. Honestly, that human connection, support, love, and time to enjoy other people is what fills me up and keeps me heading back into the ring. I have been lucky in this way, as without them, I don’t know where I would be. Them and wine.

Some goodies in the fridge.

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