Let's Talk Business: Second Shop Successes & Struggles with Lenore Johnson

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Welcome to Let’s Talk Business, where Square business owners share their stories, the lessons they’ve learned, and their plans for the future. 


Today we’re talking to Lenore Johnson (@lenjobakes), who opened LenJo Bakes in Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, in 2020. LenJo Bakes is a bespoke cake studio with a small retail front, making custom wedding cakes, sweet treats, coffee, and savory offerings. A few years later, Lenore opened a second location, which became a sit-down cafe called The Shed, 15 miles away in St. Jacobs. She shares how opening the second shop was different from the first, what she learned in the process, and whether or not she’d open a third one. Follow LenJo Bakes on Instagram.


Watch the 40-minute video interview and read some highlights from our conversation.



What led you to start your business and open your first location? 

"I went to pastry school and worked for a few years in the industry before I struck out on my own. I was living in New Zealand and started this pop-up boutique cake studio, taking orders online, and had quite a following and a healthy little business. I treated it like a business, but I also knew there were so few stakes because I wasn’t going to be there forever. Everything was a learning experience. It was with that knowledge that I decided to open a brick-and-mortar store back in Canada, which was way different than having an online business. Finding a location took about seven months. Then dealing with the bureaucracy to try to open and all this stuff that I literally couldn’t care less about — but you have to start caring and learning. There’s a lot of research that goes into opening, and I wish I knew more of that before I started. The learning curve for opening a business, especially brick and mortar, is about 90 degrees."


What was the decision-making process that led you to open a second location?

"We opened our first location in February 2020, right before the pandemic, and we were operating out of a window. My landlord purchased another building in the village of St. Jacobs, with a wood shed that was 150 square feet, with no running water, and asked if I was interested. And I said sure. It was a very cute little pop-up through a window, just like we were doing during the pandemic. And that’s where The Shed started for two summers. Then he purchased a building on Main Street and offered us to move there. I had a staff member who wanted to run a cafe, and I didn’t want to lose them, so we opened a cafe. That’s kind of been my mantra: Let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, we can say that we tried it rather than wondering what would have happened."


The Shed, a cafe by LenJo BakesThe Shed, a cafe by LenJo Bakes


Did having the first location make it easier to open and run the second?

"You would think it would be very cut and paste. But although these locations were only 15 minutes away, they were under different jurisdictions, so every rule that I learned no longer applied. I knew how to set up the product and equipment and how to serve customers. But now it’s a sit-down cafe, and the learning curve is still incredibly steep. This time I was also running another location and producing, so that pressure was just that much more. The juggling and the plates spinning was wild. I have been able to set up processes for everything we need between locations, which has made things a bit easier. But I am also the cover person for both locations, so if too many staff call out sick, I can’t clone myself. It’s my problem. I’m the boss. I have to fix it."


What do you love about having a second location? Has it been worth it?

"I think entrepreneurs are motivated by different things, and I am motivated by community. Seeing tangible joy on people’s faces and having the opportunity to reach more people. For them to come in and feel like they’re at my home. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that I served three separate groups of people, and now there’s the whole entire room having a conversation together. You never find that anymore. Those spaces don’t exist. That to me is the most rewarding and really the only reason that I keep going, because it’s not for me. I’m working harder than ever before. There’s so much more responsibility. I’m still in that hectic phase."


Sweet treats and savory offerings from LenJo BakesSweet treats and savory offerings from LenJo Bakes


What does the future look like? Are you thinking about a third location?

"I used to think I would never want to sell my baby. Now I’m thinking about it. I never got to have the original concept of being just a bespoke cake studio, because I had to pivot my business so hard during COVID. I think I’d like to just see what that is like, where it’s just me making cakes. I’ve just opened the cafe and put all this work in, but the more I think about it, somebody else might derive more pleasure out of this particular concept than me. Can I do it? Yeah. Do I want to? Not really. And the whole point that I’m an entrepreneur is to do exactly what I want. The third iteration of my business is to just return to my original business idea. We know how to do it this time, so the learning curve is going to be nothing."


Watch: Let’s Talk Business with Lenore Johnson


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Aylon Pesso is the Square Small Business Evangelist, helping sellers run their businesses better. Based in the U.S., he is a former small-business owner, consultant, and Square seller.


This article is only for informational purposes. The information provided in this article solely reflects the speakers’ views and are not endorsed by Square. This article is limited in scope and is only intended as a high-level overview of the topics mentioned.