top of page

Aja Lapointe (Restaurateur)

Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

After this last year of being home almost exclusively with my immediate family while on maternity leave during a pandemic, I’m inclined to say introvert as basic socialization seems relatively foreign to me at this point.

Truthfully though, I’m an extrovert through and through. There are few introverts who can pull off spending their careers working the front of the house as a hospitality professional. You absolutely need to thrive in the presence of others, work well with a team and have a genuine gift of gab.

What has life taught you recently?  

To expect the unexpected and to count my blessings twice.

If you could instill one piece of advice in a newborn baby’s mind, what advice would you give?

Let it be known that as a mother with two children under three, trying to choose one pivotal piece is an enormous challenge.

Top of my (long) list would be not to fear failure. I want to help my boys understand that when they make mistakes – and they will 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 will be a value I work hard at in instilling in my children.

In our current reality, what do we most need in this world?

This is a particularly difficult question given the current state of our reality – we need so much as a society right now: trust, forgiveness, hope, courage, optimism – to name a few. When forced to offer only one, I surrender to patience.

This is the first, and hopefully the last, pandemic we have seen in our lifetime. We don’t know how to do this. Nobody does. Yet we so easily throw stones at anyone and everyone who says or does the “wrong thing” during these agreed upon unprecedented times. This attitude is incredibly polarizing and menacing. If everyone, and I mean every single dang person, exercised more patience and grace while we collectively navigate our way through this, I think we’d get to the other side more quickly, and less scathed.

Note: patience is not a virtue I come by naturally. I fear I would be considered a critical case if there existed a patience disorder scale. Reflecting on my extreme need for patience for everything and everyone from conspiracy theories and delivery delays to needy toddlers and political leaders helps me put things into perspective.

The old adage “this too shall pass” sometimes helps me to bridge the gap from today until tomorrow. So too does my unbridled hope for some precedented times.

As a restaurateur and co-owner of Ten Foot Henry, how did the pandemic impact your business and how did you cope with the restrictions?

With recent publications announcing the permanent closure of over 10,000 Canadian restaurants in 2020, not a moment goes by that I don’t count my lucky stars that our business remains open.

Our industry has been particularly hard hit and its future is exceedingly uncertain. We were completely closed for the first three months of the pandemic, reopening with less than 50% seating capacity. Like most restaurants around the world, we introduced our entire menu for take away as well. With reduced seating and take out, we were able to rehire our entire team after the initial lockdown which was such an incredible blessing.

I boast about our team regularly, that is no secret, but it should be said that their combined resilience this year is nothing short of astounding.

Their adherence to all rigorous health and safety protocols, their acceptance of our ‘new normal’ dining experience and their help in pivoting our business model has been remarkable.

Sadly, with the most recent closure of dine-in service, we have had to temporarily layoff roughly half of our team which is undoubtedly the hardest part of these dreaded closures. We owe our faithful guests the world for their unwavering support. It’s because of each and every one of them that we have made it this far and have the opportunity to keep going.

Can you please elaborate on this mantra "We bridge 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 fueling 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.

What is the greatest struggle you’ve overcome?

My childhood wasn’t perfect. Far from it. That said, I’m not sure I’d rewrite history if given the chance as I’m certain my upbringing contributed greatly to my strong will and resilience. While my hard headedness can surely be challenging for others to cope with, it too fuels the fire within me to succeed. Personal struggles aside, the biggest challenge I have faced that gives me the most pride to reflect upon is the opening of Ten Foot Henry.

My boyfriend and I walked away from our secure and well-paid jobs, married 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. But remember that strong will I described? Thank goodness for it and for the struggles that preceded this one. We persevered, we saw it through and are exceedingly proud of and humbled by the success of our little brainchild.

What are some of your own personal goals in the next 5 years?

After a year like we’ve had, bring on all the goals! Frankly, I’m as pragmatic as they come: I don’t always shoot for the stars with respect to goal setting. I understand very well the power of the compound effect and focusing on 1% change to get where you want to be – but I would be lying if I said I found even the smallest positive changes were easy to come by as the mother of young children. It’s exceedingly hard to carve out time for self-improvement and altogether easier to make excuses. See? I just used motherhood as an excuse not to goal set. Yikes.

It should come as no surprise that my number one goal is for our business to survive this unimaginable storm, employ our entire team again and host our loyal guests with a dining experience circa 2019. That’s the dream.

For me personally: I want to learn to play tennis and golf, tackle a huge reading list and balance how to be a kickass mama of two and savvy entrepreneur.

Restaurant: Ten Foot Henry (Calgary, Alberta)


- Ask your follow-up questions below, subject for editor approval. 
bottom of page