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ICYMI: Squamish food beat: From beekeeper to dance instructor to local Freshii franchise owner

Gerald Cote reflects on his ‘go with the flow’ path and hopes for his newly opened downtown location.

The journey from Northern Albertan beekeeper to world champion dancer and dance instructor to Squamish Freshii franchise owner is not a conventional life path, but Gerald Cote chalks it up to kismet.

Cote's dad was a beekeeper, and he owned part of the family farm. 

"I didn't really think that I was going to do much else," Cote recalled on Tuesday morning at his new Second Avenue Freshii location.

"And then I met a girl; I went to the city and decided to explore the world, in a sense. That was short-lived; she dumped me," Cote added, with a laugh. 

Since he was already in Edmonton, the then 20-something Cote decided to take business management courses at college.

And then, though he didn't have any dance training at the time, he saw a job for a dance instructor that included training. 

"I went at it and fell in love with it. … They hired me, and I slowly started my career," he said humbly. 

In fact, he went on to win world championships in dance. He also went on to co-own a dance studio in Edmonton and later one in Calgary, which became one of the biggest dance studios in Canada at the time with over 600 students.

"It was weird. I just kind of followed my passion," he said of his life's trajectory.

He said the studio became almost too big, especially after he and his wife Robin started having kids. 

It was all-consuming, he added.

As luck—or synchronicity—would have it, just as the couple decided it might be time to move on from the studio, a business broker came forward and asked if they were thinking of selling.

"Oh, this is really strange," Cote recalled thinking. "We just had that thought yesterday."

The couple wanted a more small mountain town lifestyle for their young family, so they decided to move to Squamish, where Robin's family was based. 

They made the move in 2017. 

Before they left, Cote had called the Freshii powers that be and asked about franchises. His family ate at Freshii often, so it seemed like a natural fit, Cote told The Squamish Chief.

(For the uninitiated, Freshii offers healthier quick meal options such as bowls, burritos, salads, wraps, soups, smoothies and juices.)

The official with Freshii cut Cote short on the phone, saying that there was a long waitlist for franchises in Calgary.

Cote corrected the man that it was Squamish he was asking about having a franchise, not Calgary.  

"He kind of got excited," Cote recalled. 

It turned out there was a location here being developed, but things had fallen through with the potential owner.

After being offered the location on Glenalder Place, Cote took five minutes to talk with Robin—and then they were in.

"My wife and I, in essence, we’re spiritual. We're big on synchronicities and coincidences. We said, ‘Let's just roll with it; see what happens,’ and we just went with the flow. And it all worked out,” he said.

Then last year, the parent company offered some incentives to some of the successful operators, like Cote, to open a second location. Again, they went for it, opening the 38116 Second Avenue location in late December. 

Cote acknowledges things have been slower than he forecasted at the new location, likely due to the impact of inflation on local pocketbooks, but he is hopeful the coming, warmer months will be better. 

"It's moving forward. It's trending upward," he said.

Both locations are also going back to offering breakfast options, which were paused during the pandemic and teas and coffee from the local Sea to Sky Coffee Company.

Continuing the dance

While Cote wasn't sure he would continue teaching in Squamish, about six months after moving here, he noted that the type of ballroom dance classes he offered were not available. 

Locals encouraged him to go back to teaching.

Robin is also a professional dancer and instructor, so soon, their shared local GNR Dance school was born. (Watch the Cotes dance here.)

"I kind of made a pact with myself that OK, we're going to do an open house free beginner day, at The 55 Activity Centre," he recalled. If there wasn't much interest, he would not offer classes. 

Over 180 people showed up. 

In another example of kismet, Cote ended up helping a student with her bees. 

"I kind of turned out to be a little bit of a consultant," he said with a laugh. "It has been really fun."

These days, Cote balances about 28 hours of dance instruction per week with overseeing the franchises.

"The nice thing about it is it is really balanced," Cote said.  

"The Freshiis are really busy from May to September, and the dancing is really busy from September to May. It's a perfect fit. And because I have a great staff—we create an environment where we take care of them—so that's kind of a win-win for everyone."

The Food Beat is a new series from The Squamish Chief newsroom focusing on restaurants, cafés and eateries in Squamish that are newly opened or have something newsworthy about them. If you think your business fits that bill and would like to be considered for this series, reach out to news@squamishchief.com.

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