By Laura Aiken
Revital “Revi” Zephrani was studying interior design when she realized life in an office wasn’t going to cut it.
Revital “Revi” Zephrani was studying interior design when she realized life in an office wasn’t going to cut it. She needed something to do with her hands that was also going to give her creative freedom. Her brother attended cooking school, which seemed like an option except she wasn’t too keen on butchering meat. So she tried out some night classes in baking at George Brown College in Toronto instead. The phase in her life where she wasn’t sure what to do with her career came to an abrupt halt. Zephrani jumped right into baking, graduated in 2006 and in 2009 opened The Lemon Tree Bakery in Barrie, Ont.
|Revi Zephrani proudly showcases her lemon squares in The Lemon Tree Bakery. |
The Lemon Tree is a scratch baking, slick operation that gives the impression of many specialists at work behind the scenes. But Zephrani is cookie maker, chocolatier, cake designer and all-around craftsman to an impressive array of goods. While we seem to be in a niche era with cupcake boutiques and cookie shops opening all around us, The Lemon Tree offers a wide array of goods. The menu runs the gamut from savoury meals and soups to truffles, celebration cakes, cookies, all sorts of pastries and more. The bakery was honoured with the City of Barrie Strategy and Economic Development Office’s Best New Business Award and she’s working on getting her next location open.
The venture is a partnership with her mother, Jocelyn Zephrani, who handles many of the behind-the-scenes details of running a business. Her father, Motti Zephrani, a tradesman, built the interior of the bakery and the kitchen. He is still the go-to maintenance man for The Lemon Tree. Zephrani says she had a very clear vision for the bakery right from the start, pretty much down to the colours, and the development of the business plan involved visiting 200 to 300 bakeries. Well prepared and well supported by family, Zephrani had the right foot in front of the left as she faced 18- to 20-hour days in the beginning days of business. She credits her mum’s creativity and ability to open her mind to new things in helping Zephrani keep spreading outside her comfort zone in the bakery.
“At first, when you’re starting out, it’s scary to try to new things,” she says. “You don’t want a recipe not to come out but it’s a part of growing with the business… embracing what can work.”
Zephrani has figured how to make a lot of things work by picking up various skill sets here and there. She took bits and pieces from the bakeries she worked at between school and the start of her own. She had a talented part-time cake designer for a while and picked up many tips and tricks from her. She spent three days at the Barry Callebaut Academy in Chicago, sharpening her skills with chocolate.
“I took a little piece from every place I worked, but with the cakes, it was a lot of trial and error. I didn’t really have any experience,” she says. However, like all products on display inside The Lemon Tree, the celebration cakes look nothing short of absolutely delightful.
The interest in interior design may be the drive behind why presentation is executed so well at The Lemon Tree, from the cleanliness to the pure eye candy presented in various ways – shelves, display fridges, tables, windows, glass jars. There is just so much to see.
“Every day, everybody here steps outside of the store and looks at everything as if they were a customer – is it clean, organized – what do they see? For me, cleanliness is the biggest thing. Not a speck of dust, not a crumb – presentation is everything. I like when my store is sparkling clean and smells like baking.”
But the product’s exterior isn’t what makes this bakery unique, Zephrani says. She says it’s the high-quality ingredients, the scratch baking and real wholesome ingredients that make the difference. She tries to buy the best ingredients she can and uses local ingredients where it makes sense. She’s positioned herself upmarket, while knowing she still needs to give her customers the correct value for their money.
“We sell our brownies for $2.95 and it’s not a lot [portion-wise]. I think people have forgotten what a portion is. But it’s extremely rich. It satisfies the craving. You don’t need a huge slice.”
When she first opened up, she spent “a lot of money” trying different kinds of advertising to see what worked for the bakery, but in the end word of mouth has been the big driver. She likes to switch up the various methods of advertising and plans to get more involved in social media. There are five people working in the bakery on a daily basis, including Zephrani. She has a sous chef in Krystal Vandervelden. Now that the bakery has been up and running for a while, and everyone, including Zephrani, knows their job, she is back to working regular hours and even taking vacations.
“I wear a lot of hats but I rely a lot on my team. I have a great team.”
For the first year and a half the bakery was open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Zephrani could get a feel for when the weakest sales periods were. Now she closes Sundays and has reduced the hours – the bakery is open to 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Initially, her concept for a bakery included customers being able to sit down and have coffee in it. Her roots are in Israel, where there is a strong late-night coffee and dessert culture. Her family moved from Israel nine years ago, first to Toronto for three years and then to Barrie, where they settled. However, she wasn’t allowed to serve coffee and dessert where she chose to locate because there was a Tim Hortons in the same plaza. Her next location, which she hopes to open in the fall, will fulfil her café desires. This busy entrepreneur has stuck to her guns in her marketplace, and it looks like it’s going to pay off in growth.
“Most small business can’t compete with [grocery stores], so you have to compete on quality and quality alone because you can’t compete on price. You have to just put yourself in a position where you’re unique and stick to what you want to do and what’s your passion. Other people are going to see that, and it’s contagious, like when someone smiles at you it’s hard to not smile back.”