March 7, 2018 9:06 am
Updated: March 8, 2018 12:21 pm

Shattering Glass: Young female business owners’ biggest obstacle? They aren’t taken seriously

Ashley and Jenna Illchuk, owners of Jenna Rae Cakes

Brett Megarry / 680 CJOB
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For my contribution to our Shattering Glass: Winnipeg’s Women, I bounced around the city to visit four young women entrepreneurs.

Over the last year or so, Mackling & Megarry have met many wonderful entrepreneurs.

It occurred to me the majority of them are women, and some of my favourite ones, also sell pastries.

So that’s where I went. Tough assignment, I know.

680 CJOB is in the Polo Park area, so why don’t we start just over the St. James Bridge at a place found at 580 Academy Road: Jenna Rae Cakes.

Jenna Rae Cakes is co-owned by 29-year old-identical twin sisters Jenna and Ashley Illchuk. The shop’s been open since 2014, and unfortunately, there have been many times when the sisters have not been taken seriously.

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“I don’t know if this was because I was a woman, but going to the banks, trying to get money for something like this, it was impossible I couldn’t do it,” says Jenna. Her sister Ashley says, “I think it was more at the beginning, but we get people, contractors coming in and saying, ‘So where’s the owner?’ And then they’d look to my dad.”

Despite that, they are killing it on social media with over 172,000 followers on Instagram.

To give you some context, I have 376. Sigh.

READ FULL SERIES: Shattering Glass: Winnipeg’s Women

Also, if you check out their Instagram, you’ll find pictures that look a thousand times better than the ones I take. I can’t even get them all in focus.

If you Google “Best cake Instagram,” you’ll find Jenna Rae featured on lists from Town & Country, Bustle, and Martha Stewart Weddings — just to name a few.

Their signature item is the macaron, and it is delicious. On opening night at Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios” in June 2017, Jenna Rae supplied a macaron buffet.

I inhaled a dozen of them. So good. I would have eaten more, but I didn’t want to look like a total slob in front of my date. I failed.

Here is my extended chat with Jenna and Ashley:

(I should add a disclaimer: Waiting seven days to edit an audio interview with identical twins was a terrible idea. Jenna and Ashley, I hope I didn’t mix you up and misquote you! If I did, I’m sorry.)

Our next stop is at 1171 Kildare Avenue East, in my old stomping grounds of Transcona: Sweet C Bakery.

Sweet C, which has been in existence for seven years now but not as a storefront until 2016, is owned by 32-year-old Cori Poon. Her business partner is her husband Jeff.

Much like the sisters at Jenna Rae, people often do not look to her as the owner.

“If him and I were to go to a meeting, he often gets talked to first, his hand often gets shaken first, he’s just always assumed to be the main holder of the business, where it’s completely the opposite.”

Another challenge Cori faces as a business owner — being a mom: “I’ve literally been laying in bed in labour in the hospital responding to emails,” she told me.

Cori has three kids under the age of six, and it’s a challenge to balance it all. “I’ve been at farmers markets with a newborn on my hip, we have pictures of Nolan, he’s our youngest, and he was two weeks old and we’re selling cookies at The Forks outside on Canada Day.”

READ MORE: Canadian Business Chicks online community aims to connect women in business

Sweet C’s signature item is Candy Sushi, which ships around the world, but I quite liked the chocolate Millenium Falcon, which has an Oreo Cookie in it. Geeky and tasty.

Here’s our full chat:

As far as being a mom/business owner goes, Ashley of Jenna Rae, who has a 16-month-old, took one day off. “You can’t really take a lot of time off. I definitely cut down for a couple of months, but you’re just kind of working between naps, and working in the evenings, and sleeping a lot when you can but, I didn’t have a year mat leave.”

She adds, “It’s also really nice to own your own business because I am home with him two days a week, and then I just make up the rest of my hours whenever I can, so it’s nice to have that flexibility for sure.”

Here’s Part 2 of my feature:

The third place I visited is found downtown at 326 Broadway: Oh Doughnuts.

Oh Doughnuts is owned by 37-year-old Amanda Kinden, and just like Ashley and Cori, Amanda has a family.

She and her wife have a daughter, who was born in November.

The shop opened in 2016, but in the two years prior to that, she was making doughnuts on overnights six days a week to sell at places like coffee shops.

Listen to the full interview below:

When I asked Amanda how she went about getting funding for Oh Doughnuts, she said, “I didn’t get any funding from anybody.”

One option women have at their disposal to try to get help is the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba.

CEO Sandra Altner says the centre has been around for 25 years.

“We’re an organization that works to support women who are starting or expanding or purchasing a business, and we provide services such as advisory, mentoring, coaching, training, and loans up to $150,000,”Altner said.

That funding, by the way, comes from the federal government.

Amanda went to the Women’s Enterprise Centre to seek financial aid, and says she had to work with an advisor on a business plan to qualify. They worked together for a couple of months, and it was suggested to Amanda that a retail storefront was not the way to go, and she should instead stick to wholesale because she had already proven it worked. She was also told people are trending towards healthier food, so a doughnut shop probably won’t work.

“We work with people primarily on an advisory basis and a training basis to ensure that their business planning is sufficient to give them a reasonable chance for viability,” Altner explained, pointing out they have to weigh each case carefully.

Amanda never officially got to a loan application with the Enterprise Centre, but she believed in her idea, so she stuck to her guns, walked away, and did it herself by taking out a loan against her house.

And now, she makes amazing gourmet doughnuts, so we all win!

The bottom line is it’s tough to open a business, especially for women, but the tide appears to be turning.

A federal government study from 2014 shows 15.7 per cent of small businesses in Canada are majority-owned by women.

WATCH: Trudeau calls for hiring & promoting more women

But anecdotally, Altner says in the last five years, there are more small businesses being started by women than men, and that gives her a feeling of “jubilation.”

Quick note on the doughnuts — I brought some back to work. Opened the box to hand them out, first took a bite of a Ferrero Rocher doughnut, it had a chocolate filling. I meant to go back to my desk like a civilized human being but instead just stood there in the middle of the room sucking this thing back while pieces of chocolate were falling all over the floor. So good.

To wrap this up, I asked Ashley what she would say to anyone who still won’t take her seriously because she’s a woman: “Get with the times.”

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