It’s our 25th anniversary! To celebrate, we’re highlighting some of our past and present clients to showcase how their businesses have evolved over the years. We’re honored and grateful to have been a part of so many of our clients’ journeys these past 25 years and look forward to continuing to build business success in Alberta.
Last month, we had the opportunity to chat with Yvan Chartrand, the owner of Boulangerie Bonjour in Edmonton, to discuss his entrepreneurial journey. Explore this client feature to hear Yvan’s story of starting a business in a country where he didn’t speak the language, his motivation behind entrepreneurship, and advice he has to share after 30-years of running his own business.
1. Tell us about yourself. What is your background?
After graduating from McGill University where I studied agriculture, I moved to Japan in 1992. In 1993, I opened my first business which was a small restaurant showcasing my Canadian heritage.
2. Tell us about your business and what it does.
While we originally started as a restaurant, a big selling point was the homemade bread that we were making. My wife and I realized that people were more interested in my homemade bread than my cooking. I started to make more bread and travelled the world studying different baking techniques. We decided to take the plunge and open our first bakery in Japan in 1995, from then on, we expanded our selection of baked goods. One item that was very popular was our bagels since many people in Japan were not familiar with them, customers would often come in and call them “hard donuts.” Since they were not common in Japan, we had to import all of our equipment from Canada to make them. We were one of the first bakeries offering bagels in Japan, so we had a great niche market and gained a lot of media attention from them.
3. What motivated you to start your own business?
Our motivation for starting our own business was to be able to do what we do anywhere in the world, without having to rely on anyone.
4. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
I am most proud to have been able to start and run a successful business in a foreign country with my wife. A lot of people tell you not to go into business with your spouse, but I truly believe there is no way I would’ve been able to accomplish what I have been able to accomplish without her. Now that we have a family, our business has turned into a family business. My oldest son has become a part of the company, we’ve slowly been transitioning him to take over the business so that I can retire soon. My biggest success is being in business for 30 years, which is quite an achievement as an entrepreneur.
5. What challenges has your business had to overcome?
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face as a business owner is starting a business in a foreign country where I didn’t speak much of the language. Starting a business is hard on its own, but not knowing the language made every aspect of starting a business even more challenging.
6. When did you first come to Business Link? Why?
We first came to Business Link in 2008, our family came back to Edmonton from Japan in 2007. This time I was starting a business with 15 years of experience so I understood different areas that I would need help with, rather than doing it the hard way, I wanted to do it the smart way. I discovered Business Link and went to see Jean-Jacques. Right away he was able to answer my questions, no matter what it was, and point me in the right direction.
7. How has Business Link helped you over the years? What kind of support did you receive?
During the first few years, I got all the support I needed from the Business Link and partners of Business Link. Rather than trying to learn it on my own as I had with my first business, I was able to make a much more informed decision as an entrepreneur based on the support from Business Link.
8. What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own business?
One piece of advice I would share with other entrepreneurs is don’t over-extend yourself. Having your own business is a never-ending consumption of your time, you must be willing to put in at least 12 hour days very regularly, so make sure it’s some that you enjoy and are passionate about. When I was first starting out, I opened a new location too quickly before the business was ready for another location and really over-extended myself. Whether it impacts your business or your mental and physical health, over-extending yourself will catch up to you eventually.
9. What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your business?
Being in Japan, I didn’t know the language, but I also didn’t know that places like Business Link were out there. During my entrepreneurial journey, I had to learn everything myself along the way, I wish I could have had the help of an advisor, or mentor, the first time around.
10. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Finding the right people is so important.
Where you can find Boulangerie Bonjour:
Bonjour Bakery on Facebook
Bonjour Bakery on Twitter