Creating for the love of it: One Batch at a Time

Something sweet has brought two people together. This sweetness is packaged in a small jar and is loaded with full-flavoured ingredients: I'm talking about jams. The wife and husband behind Kitten and the Bear, Sophie Kaftal and Bobby Zielinski created an artisan jams, marmalade, and preserves shop in Parkdale. It has gotten all the buzz for their unique flavours paired well with their homemade buttery scones or a cup of tea from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants.

Kitten and the Bear began when Sophie, a recent graduate of the Bachelors of Science program and Psychology at McGill University, realized that pursuing something creative was more of a worthwhile endeavour.  

“I've always been a creative spirit. When I graduated I went back to Manhattan, and I worked at a boutique branding agency for a while. I realized very quickly that the corporate life was not for me.” Sophie said, “So I went to culinary school. I went to George Brown and I ended up working in fine dining establishments around the city (Toronto) and New York.”

Sophie and Bobby had met in New Jersey. Bobby then was a freelance photographer.

“When Sophie and I met, we were working 50 plus hours a week at two separate jobs and at two separate shifts. We never spent anytime together,” Bobby said. “When we started this project (Kitten and the Bear) we wanted to do something together and create something that was much bigger than both of us.”

What started as a hobby for Sophie became something both her and Bobby now dedicate their time and effort towards. Sophie admits that they wanted to achieve a 'good quality of life' where they can wake up and do something that they are excited about. Both their creative backgrounds: culinary school for Sophie and photography for Bobby paired well to achieve their goals for Kitten and the Bear.

As for the flavours when they started, they can even remember only having three varieties. They originally had Strawberry, Honey & Rose, Roasted Peach Bourbon & Vanilla, and lastly Blueberry Chai. Surely a big difference to where they are now. The craziest flavour that they have ever done was a mix of steeped dried tobacco leaves that they got from an organic farmer in upstate New York, some rye combined with suckle pears. It wasn't a popular choice as the couple admits. 

“It's not like the smell of cigarettes it actually has an interesting flavour; almost spicy,” said Bobby. “Not everything goes into the shelf. But that is part of our whole business model. It is the ability to kind ofplay around and mess around with stuff until we figure out something great.”

Everything in the quaint store was created with intention and fits the vision that both Sophie and Bobby had. The vintage serviettes that are used for what they call,  “Jam Tasting” for example—wherecustomers get to choose their own teas, served with a scone and a jam sampler plate with jams that are available during that time—are laundered and ironed by Sophie or Bobby themselves.  

“We were aiming for something that wasn't necessarily the most expensive jam or the fanciest one. But we wanted to produce the highest quality product at the most boutique scale,” Bobby said. “That's how we felt we could distinguish ourselves in the preserves market,” added Sophie.   

That would explain the simple white walls, vintage tea cups and saucers lined up along the wall, and selected flowers that adorn and complement the entire space. The name in itself was well thought out.

 “We did a lot of research and we found out that this is a very typical naming convention,” Bobby admits. “It's the way fairy tales are named like Tortoise and the Hare. It's the way establishments were named before people could read. They would literally put a picture of a cat and bear outside of their store. Or like the fox and the fiddle and that's how people knew what the place was called.”

Sophie and Bobby know that it's a lot of hard work to create the products that they do, and to uphold and share their vision to the customer. But as they both admit, they are willing to put that 'sweat equity' to see the rewards that they will gain. Whether it's a satisfied customer or a supportive gesture from their family and friends, they realized that no matter what happens they have created a lifestyle where they both can be creative individuals, passionately work together as a team and produce something that people will enjoy.

“We've kind of made a deal with the customer, though not formerly that if you keep showing up and supporting us, we'll give everything we have back in and we'll keep growing,” Bobby said. “Whether it's love between us or love between our customers, it's about everyone together.”