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High school sweethearts are establishing family roots on fertile new ground

This What’s Up Wednesday features Ryan and Hong Hughes, the owners of Grassroots Market and Studio on Gordon Street

Family businesses are a big part of the local and global economy and Hong and Ryan Hughes are taking the concept to another level by making family dynamics a central part of their business formula. The couple owns Grassroots Market and Studio on Gordon Street.

“We host a lot at home and we love having friends and family over cooking and enjoying each other’s company,” said Hong. “We wanted to create a space where we could host the community and make everybody feel good.”

Even their products and services are inspired by family.

“We are a health food café paired with fitness studio,” said Hong. “Our main concept came from me being at home and trying to give my kids and Ryan the most nutritious food.”

Family has always been a priority for Hong who was born in Hong Kong in 1979.

“I am the youngest of six siblings,” she said. “There are about 20 grandchildren and four great grandchildren on my side of the family.”

Ryan was born in Toronto in 1978, the youngest of three. He and Hong first met while attending Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton.

“We were high school sweethearts,” said Hong. “I was in a group of girls in Grade 8 and he was in a group of guys in Grade 9.”

The romance quickly blossomed and it wasn’t long before they were building a family of their own.

“We have four kids,” said Ryan. “Our youngest, our only son, was born a year ago. So, we have three girls and a boy.”

They were in many ways a traditional family with Ryan working full time and Hong splitting her time between homemaker and working part time as a fitness trainer.

“I came from the car business,” said Ryan. “I ran car dealerships in Brampton, Orangeville and Maple.”

They owned a home and had all the creature comforts for a happy family but three years ago they decided to make a change.

“Ryan worked in the automotive industry and was never home and we thought let’s step out of the box,” said Hong.

They decided to sell their home and move to Mexico.

“My brothers live down there and they persuaded us to get out of the rat race and live by the ocean and relax,” said Hong. “We thought let’s try it.”

It seemed an ideal way to take a break and focus on the things that mattered.

“Like Hong said, I was always working and we wanted to spend some time together,” said Ryan. “Our oldest went off to college and we thought it was a great time because the young ones were able to go with us and we loved every moment of it.”

After a year in Mexico they got news that forced them to change their family plans again.

“I found out at the end of the first year that I was pregnant so, we had to come home,” said Hong. “We enjoyed spending the whole year together but when we came home neither of us had a job.”

They wanted to find work they could do together that combined their expertise and passions.

“When we were in Mexico I helped my sister in law start a catering business,” said Hong. “I thought if I can help someone else do that why can’t I make our dreams come true. That’s when we took this leap of faith and came up with Grassroots Market and Studio.”

The name of the business reflects their journey and life philosophy.

“It’s a play on words,” said Ryan. “It’s a start up for us. It’s ground level and we are establishing roots. There’s the organic part of it in our food. We know the combination of food and fitness go hand in hand. It helps people feel great and have that enthusiasm for life. This is a place where people can do that together.”