The journey from employee to café owner (ASSETS at 30: Part 2)

Jessie Tuno's Butter and Bean Café has two Lancaster locations. | Photo by Mike Strathdee

Help from ASSETS program gives entrepreneur the confidence to open a second location

Her children were too young to know it, but Jessie Tuno’s career in the hospitality sector got its start because of them. Tuno, a 23-year veteran of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s restaurant industry, says that journey was “borne more out of necessity than desire.” She and her husband had two small children and found daycare extremely expensive. She worked at a Panera bread restaurant from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and her husband worked three to 11 so one could always be at home with their children.

At that job, she met a former chef who sparked her interest in the food industry “and the passion he had for food.” That was a major change for someone who confessed that she “could not cook to save my life” when she got married 26 years ago. After working at Panera for three years, she took a part-time job as a food coordinator at her church, Worship Centre, a non-denominational mega-church in Leola (a small community in rural Lancaster County).

That job taught her many important lessons. Doing a breakfast for 200 men, she learned that when eggs are put in an aluminum foil pan, they turn green. “That was really a disaster, but it pushed me to learn more about what I am doing and why I am doing it.” Tuno went to culinary school and graduated at the top of her class. At age 30, she was the second-oldest student in her class. “That was one of the best decisions that I ever made, going to culinary school and getting an education behind what I was doing.”

She worked at several independent restaurants in Lancaster, everything from fast food to fine dining, banquets, and catering. In 2018, she returned to the school she had graduated from, as a teacher. She became the culinary and pastry arts program director two years later, right before the pandemic hit. The pandemic experience changed the programs in good and not-so-good ways. It also helped her understand her interests and different parts of the industry. “I love teaching, I love bringing people up.” She has often told students that they will either really love or hate their work. “If you’re in the industry just because it’s a job, you won’t last very long. This restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart. You really have to love what you’re doing.”

In 2021, Lancaster’s Southern Market announced they were looking for vendors for its food hall. “I knew I wanted to be part of it.” Tuno viewed setting up a business in the market as a safe space to step out into something she wanted to do “with some (protective) bumpers.” One of the bumpers is that the landlord, Willow Valley Communities, provides all of the equipment for her shop. She pays for that equipment through a percentage of sales. “It gives you that freedom to be able to put a menu together, really prove that concept.” Tuno has helped to mentor other vendors in the hall. Her teaching experience has given her the knowledge to answer new entrepreneurs’ questions.

Her business, Butter and Bean, is a coffee shop that also offers fresh pastries. Tuno has been working as the pastry chef since a former employee found another job. Butter and Bean just opened a second location, a café in the Tanger Outlets mall, five miles from the Southern Market. Creating that 24-seat space has been a “whole other journey” without bumpers, as she worked with contractors and electricians. Her husband, who recently lost his job, has been working with her in the new café. “That’s another one of the God moments… He knew what we would need.”

ASSETS has been tremendously helpful in her business journey, she said. “I genuinely feel like they want us to succeed.” When she had business issues that she wasn’t sure about, she was able to bounce questions off ASSETS staff. Tuno took a 10-week financial boot camp offered by ASSETS for market vendors in early 2022, soon after the food hall opened. She already had some sense of what she needed to do in terms of profit and loss statements and cost of goods. The program gave her lots of ideas about labor and “really digging deeper into (the) cost of goods.”

With food costs post-COVID going sky-high, she said deeply exploring the question of “how can we make money?” is key.
“With this being your money coming in and going out, it makes it that much more real.” Tuno has changed her prices three or four times over the past 15 months, keeping things as stable as possible. “I keep things seasonal.” Without ASSETS’ help, “I don’t think I would have made it. Especially in that financial aspect of things. I don’t think that I would be as confident opening our second location as I am without (training).”

At the Southern Market, Tuno has two staff, sometimes three on weekends. Her new location will have eight to 10 staff. Finding the right people has not been easy. “We’ve had a lot of people put in applications, we get through a phone interview, and then they just disappear.”

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