Don’t Say there’s Nothing To Do In Brantford
How “Mr. Brantford” fell in love with his city.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, January 23, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario "Mr. Brantford", Jamie Stephens talks to BTOWN about his connection with Brantford. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
For long-time locals, the name “Jamie Stephens” is synonymous with Brantford – for the past 14 years, he has had a hand in bringing a variety of entertaining experiences here and radiates pride for his city. That’s why it’s surprising to learn that the community-builder, whose Facebook URL is “Mr. Brantford,” didn’t always love his hometown.
“Truthfully, when it came time to go to college, I purposely picked the furthest place away from Brantford, because I just did not like being here,” he says, which landed him in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I went up there, and I realized really quickly that I loved Sault Ste. Marie, but the friends I made that were from Sault Ste. Marie hated it,” he says, “Then I went to Peterborough, fell in love with Peterborough. And the same thing: all my local friends were like ‘Peterborough sucks, I can't wait to get out.’”
The experience changed the way he viewed his hometown, “I came back to Brantford and kind of fell in love with Brantford,” he says. With his refreshed outlook, Jamie decided to address one of the most common complaints he heard about his city: that there’s nothing to do here. So he thought, “Well, let's do stuff.”
Jamie Stephens posing for the camera. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
In addition to organizing a variety of events – including Grandelicious Food & Wine show, Brantford Barks, the Brantford Comedy Festival, and WTFest (now known as CrewFest – watch for their 2023 lineup announcement on January 27, their biggest yet!) – part of Jamie’s deal is amplifying other local businesses.
Folks may remember his online events calendar and community blog from the aughts, brantNOW, with its community savings card, or when he would wrap his car, “the deal mobile,” to advertise offers from local businesses. “It all trickles down,” he says, “So you shopping locally keeps the money in the community, and then those businesses can reinvest in making our community better. Whether it's event sponsorship, or charities, like raising the money to build a new hospital that we need to build here to accommodate the growing population of Brantford.”
In his early days as an event planner, Jamie says his process was, “I'm gonna bring in this [performer], so I need to sell X amount of tickets to cover my costs, and then I need to sell this many tickets to make a little bit of money,” which put limitations on the scope. “You can't bring in top tier entertainment – no matter what genre you're in – and survive on just ticket sales alone, it just doesn't happen,” he says.
He realized that bringing on local businesses as sponsors provided him with more options, gave visibility to the businesses, and afforded them all the opportunity to make more of an impact on the community. “It's a win-win,” he says, “Then I can keep my ticket price low, so the barrier to entry is low, so everybody can be included, because that's important to me.” It’s also allowed for his events to have a charity component. “We've raised a ton of money for the hospital foundation through the comedy festival,” Jamie says.
Because Jamie’s entire business model was built around people gathering, the pandemic hit hard. “I’m not gonna lie, I looked at what else I could do,” Jamie says. He briefly contemplated becoming a realtor, like his fiancée, “But that's not my passion. It's not what I want to do.”
A look inside The Rope Factory, located at 111 Sherwood Dr., Brantford, Ontario. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
After what he describes as “the pity party,” Jamie got brainstorming. In 2019, he purchased The Rope Factory business, a 5000 square-foot venue in the Cordage District – one he had previously rented in 2017 to host a show featuring The Trews.
With the kitchen space sitting unused due to lockdowns, he saw an opportunity. He could fill a gap in the local market by offering gourmet take-out poutine options, while simultaneously supporting – you guessed it – other local businesses, like Strodes, Little Brown Cow, Wingmaster and The Olive Oil Company, who supply key ingredients. “So every time you buy my food, you're also supporting five or six other businesses with every single dish that you buy,” he says.
Spool was only intended to be a pop-up, “We hired a chef who was laid off because of COVID and he came in and said ‘I can give you 12 weeks,’” Jamie says, but it has grown into a full-time business with a staff of five, in a dedicated space across the alley from The Rope Factory.
As restrictions gradually lifted, Jamie also found unexpected uses for his venue, such as a Monday night poker league, football screenings (Jamie is a huge Bengals fan), and as a space for the Brant County Cornhole League and Brant Disc Golf Club to practice through the winter.
His app I AM Brantford, also born out of the pandemic, is set to relaunch soon. With exclusive local offers, tips from local experts on a variety of subjects like ‘how to change your oil in your car’ and ‘how to get proper insurance,’ as well as local event listings, it’ll be a culmination of sorts, of everything he’s done to date.
“The plan is to have everyone in Brantford have this app,” he says, part of his mission to help locals fall in love with their city too.
For information on CrewFest 2023 – and for details on the Lineup Announcement Party – click HERE.
To learn about more of Jamie’s events, follow The Rope Factory on Facebook HERE.
For gourmet poutine and mac ‘n cheese, visit the Spool website HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Geoff Fitzgerald is an award winning freelance photographer, second season beekeeper, passionate pet dad to an Olde English Bulldogge, two cats and two rats. With an incredible drive and desire for compelling stories and intimate portraits he focuses his skills mainly on the editorial and advertising/commercial world of photography.