Jackie Kai Ellis is a foodie, fashionista and travel guru. She has forged her own unique career path with brave business ventures which have paid off beautifully. From the outside you may wonder how the heck she became so achingly fabulous (and badass to boot) and how you can do the same. Well, wonder no more, beans have been spilled.
Victoria Welsby: Jackie, you’ve had an incredible and varied career, can you give me an overview of your journey to where you are today?
Jackie Kai Ellis: I studied fine arts and photography at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto and graphic design and illustration in Vancouver. I worked in design for 10 years, 5 of which I owned a design firm focused on branding. During this time, I reconnected food and baking as a way to explore my passions and eventually started a hobby business, named YUMMY Baked Goods, selling sweets at the farmers market.
I was utterly obsessed and learned everything I could about baking until I exhausted all my resources in Vancouver so decided to close my design firm, and move to Paris in order to learn more and develop my palate. Upon returning, I opened Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver specializing in French-style pastries and started The Paris Tours, leading tours of the best pastries in Paris. Since, I have also started to write about food, travel and style as a columnist for The Vancouver Sun and Montecristo Magazine and as a contributor for Vitamin Daily and Food Network online.
VW: A lot of people in the creative field can sometimes feel at a loss as how they can apply these skills into a meaningful and well paid career. Did you ever feel like this, or have you ever been lost in regards to where your passion would take you?
JKE: I’m a funny mix of passion and practicality. I know I have many passions and skills, it has always been fun for me to see where my passions overlap with practicalities of life. I choose my directions carefully. The things I spend my time on have to be something that I feel strongly about, I have to feel like I am challenging myself to become a better version of myself, it has to leave some kind of positive impact, and it needs to be rooted in some kind of reality for potential success. Then I work hard, stay true to my convictions and the rest is out of my control!
VW: In your opinion, what is more important – education or experience?
JKE: I think it is different for different industries but in the food industry, education is great for laying down principles and standards. But in my experience, the real education comes in doing something over and over again and failing over and over again.
VW: What would you say is your single greatest achievement?
JKE: One of my greatest achievements, personally and professionally, is not to allow my fears to inform the decisions I make in my life. I try my best to live well, bravely.
VW: You are a serial entrepreneur. What was it like starting your first company and what advice would you give someone looking to do the same?
JKE: It’s always unnerving starting a new venture, with anything unknown it is a little scary. What helped me most was to keep my eyes wide open, being realistic to the good and the bad parts of each business, and all the time being honest about my capacity to flourish within it. It’s helpful to know the worst case scenarios, deciding if you would still think it’s worth trying for, and if you can then you can put your head down, work very hard and focus on solutions.
VW: What would be your top do’s and don’ts for a new business owner?
JKE: Like with most things, you just tackle it step by step.
- Research your industry, location, and business, basically everything you can…endlessly before you begin.
- Use your gut: sometimes it’s inexplicable but when you don’t feel it, you don’t need to justify it.
- Be your own best ambassador: if you are passionate about it, others will be too.
- Overestimate your own abilities: be realistic about your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Underestimate your budget: when in doubt, double your budget. Many businesses go bankrupt before the doors even open.
- Expect a cash cow: very rarely does money come fast or easy. Starting a business is usually extremely hard work with long hours and a lot of sacrifice. Most new business owners start not for the money, but for the passion of the work.
VW: What would you tell young women looking to be entrepreneurs themselves in a sometimes male dominated workforce?
JKE: I grew up with very strong women in my life. My grandmothers and mother were all breadwinners, incredibly intelligent and strong. The thought that they were not equal to men would have been preposterous! I think this ignorance and true view of equality, protected me in many ways. I would just never notice it around me, and focus on doing the best job I could. It seemed to work!
VW: What has been your biggest failure? What have you learnt from that situation?
JKE: Recently, through external situations, I recognized that there were areas of my bakery that I had neglected because, deep down inside, I didn’t think I was capable of being a true leader. Through facing my fears, I realized I was more than capable, and that life was teaching me that I had everything it takes to be the kind of leader that I’ve always admired in others.
VW: What has been the most incredible thing you have experienced in your career?
JKE: The realization that I am resilient, capable and that the potential is limitless.
About Jackie Kai Ellis
Jackie Kai Ellis studied photography and fine arts at the Ontario College of Art & Design. After owning a successful design firm for several years, she set off to study French pastries at Paris’ École Gastronomique Bellouet Conseil and went on to open Beaucoup Bakery & Café in 2012 and the The Paris Tours in 2014.
Sharing her passion for food, travel and fashion, Jackie Kai Ellis writes for several renowned print and online publications such as The Vancouver Sun, Food Network Canada, Vitamin Daily, Montecristo magazine, is a regular guest on CTV’s Morning Live and Canada AM and has contributed to articles in the Globe & Mail and travelchannel.com. She has been named one of Western Living magazine’s Top Foodies Under 40, the Emerging Culinary Artist of the Year at the Mayor's Arts Awards, is a culinary council member for Whole Foods Market, and a style ambassador for Nordstrom Vancouver.
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Thumbnail image credit: Flytographer