Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Aja Lapointe, owner, and operator of Ten Foot Henry, located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ten Foot Henry is an all-day restaurant that offers a fresh vegetable-anchored menu and fun, family-style dining. Located in the heart of Victoria Park, Ten Foot Henry is open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm every day. Ten Foot Henry bridges the gap between what you should be eating and what you really want to eat. Before we opened Ten Foot Henry, my husband and I felt there was a significant shortage of restaurants that were offering “feel good food” in Calgary, and truthfully, North America at large. It is ever so common to equate dining out with a major caloric splurge and choosing from an array of unhealthy options. In 2014, Calgary lacked a contemporary restaurant where the vegetables were the star of the show, while the meat played the supporting role. Where healthful eating didn’t have to mean the sacrifice of flavour. Where a dining experience could exceed expectations while fuelling your body. That’s how we ate at home, and that was the kind of place where we wanted to dine. We genuinely craved the opportunity to dine out regularly and to feel good doing it. That’s exactly what we set out to create, and in 2016 with the opening of Ten Foot Henry, we accomplished just that. We are thrilled that this style of dining experience is now trending in our city and beyond.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Aja Lapointe, and I'm co-owner and operator of Ten Foot Henry. I know you're probably stuck on how the heck to pronounce my name. I'll leave you with a quick google search of Steely Dan's worst hits to determine. I had the distinct privilege of growing up in arguably one of the most beautiful places in Canada: the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. It's one of those places easily taken for granted by angsty youth and deeply yearned for by homesick Bluenosers.
I attended one of MacLeans' favourite Canadian undergraduate schools, Mount Allison University. I furiously devoured my Psychology course load and maintained my dean's list status for all four years of study. This was, of course, necessary for my graduate school and private practice trajectory. Best laid plans, right? The year I took off after Mount A was fuelled by a new love and an undeniable knack I had for the hospitality industry. I dug my heels into my boyfriend's restaurant business and haphazardly found my true calling. As with many relationships in our early 20s, this one simmered down to a standstill, but my passion for restaurants was just starting to heat up. Like most of my high school and university cohort had before me; I trekked off to Calgary, where I hoped a clear life plan would emerge.
Fast forward nearly 14 years, and you'll find me counting each of my blessings twice. I married one of my best friends, started a remarkably successful business, and have been gifted two beautiful sons. It's been six years since I embraced my entrepreneurial spirit when my husband and I dreamed big and worked fastidiously to open Ten Foot Henry. I never dreamed that for each year that we have been open, we'd have been named one of the Best Restaurants in both Calgary and Canada at large. We couldn't be prouder of the team we've cultivated or more humbled by the support of our loyal guests. Every day, my drive and motivation comes come one specific goal: to exceed our guests' expectations. With every accolade we receive, the higher the guest's expectations. Success can be a double-edged sword! This intrinsic goal of mine demands excellence on every level.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
In 2014, my boyfriend and I walked away from our secure and well-paid jobs, eloped, and began writing a business plan together. Building a business whilst unemployed during your first year of marriage is definitely not a path I would endorse for newlyweds. It was extremely difficult; the risk was immeasurably high, and the outcome was incredibly uncertain. We had to beg, borrow and steal (okay not the last one, but the first two just don’t have the same ring on their own). We spilled blood, sweat, and tears and had only a hope and a prayer that our doors would eventually open and stay that way. The first two years of this project – the conception, the development, the build, and the opening – were profoundly challenging. If I’m being candid, we almost didn’t make it. Thank goodness for our strong wills and for all the struggles that preceded this one. We persevered, we saw it through, and are exceedingly proud of and equally humbled by the success of our little brainchild. Being named #30 on the Canada’s 100 Best lists of Restaurants in our first year of operation was one of the most gratifying moments in my entrepreneurial career. That was probably the first deep breath I had taken since we had signed our lease.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Choosing only one hard thing seems to be the hardest thing! For me, I would say the adjustment from employee to employer was challenging because you forgo the comfort of being guided, praised, or corrected by someone above. Having to make complex decisions on the fly that stand to affect 50 employees and your entire consumer base without any direction is a daunting task. Performance reviews and pats on the back are suddenly replaced by the positive team culture and guest gratification. You need to quickly shift gears, restructure your motivation centres and learn to trust your gut above all else.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Your business plan is the most important part of your entrepreneurial journey - it’s your business bible. I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest the time and energy into your plan to ensure your business succeeds.
- Outsource your weaknesses. Don’t try and be EVERYTHING for your company. Know your strengths and do those to the best of your ability. Outsource the rest.
- It’s imperative that you gain the experience you need to run your business BEFORE you start your own business. Work for other companies first. If you or your business partner have never been the General Manager of a restaurant, do not, and I repeat do not, open your own restaurant.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Don’t wait for the “perfect time” to explore your entrepreneurial spirit. You heard it here first: no such timing exists. Remember when my newlywed husband and I took an enormous financial risk and opened a restaurant in the middle of an economic downturn? See what I mean? As challenging as it is, you cannot fear failure. Understand that when you make mistakes – and you’ll make many, I’m sure - the important thing is to learn from them, not dwell on them. Confident people don’t let fear of failure get in their way, not because they’re sure they won’t ever fail, but because they know how to take their setbacks in stride. Learning and growing from all of life’s hard lessons is part of the process. Don’t let your fears hold you back, let them fuel you.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.