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Jamaican opens cafe Leny in Japan for new coffee and chocolate experience

ON September 24, 2021 Jamaican Radcliffe Lennox and wife Shiho Lennox, a Japanese, who have partnered to create Pacific Jamaica Coffee Traders (PJCT) LLC, will do a soft launch of their 100 per cent Blue Mountain Coffee and chocolate shop.

PJCT, which trades as Leny, is in the middle of adding new business lines with Jamaican fine cocoa. They told the Jamaica Observer, “With the completion of our first and Japan’s first-ever, all-Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and Jamaican cocoa beans cafe and chocolatier — Leny — we are going to offer a new experience.” Leny is located in Yaizu City, a 5-minute walk from Yaizu City Hall.

Pacific Jamaica Coffee Traders, LLC has been trading exclusively in 100 per cent Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee out of its Shizuoka City office since 2009. The cafe is a new venture.

Leny will offer Japan’s first-ever all Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and Jamaica cocoa beans cafe and chocolatier. The store will provide coffee roast (beans) via wholesale, retail and cup services.

An artiste’s rendering of Leny Beans Cafe (Photo: Facebook @JamaicaBlueMountainCoffee)

The Lennoxes stated, “As a first-ever in Japan, Leny will be providing 75 per cent and 95 per cent beans-to-bar dark chocolate bars made from 100 per cent Jamaica fine and flavour Trinitario cocoa beans. In addition to these, the cafe will provide light cafe meal services “in a very warm and inviting atmosphere”.

Radcliffe and Shiho’s background is in IT and marketing. Shiho Lennox, a law major, offers services from her company including IT server programming, web coding, web engineering, cost-benefit analysis for government and faculty software, statistical design, analysis & modelling. The company is over 20 years old.

Radcliffe Lennox, a former chartered marketer, has been providing business and marketing consultancy, business and communication coaching, proofreading and translation services through his own start-up to some of Japan’s largest corporate giants since 2009, he said.

In 2011 he was commissioned to evaluate and advise the Shizuoka Prefectural Government on how to make the airport profitable. He also taught an undergraduate marketing course at Shizuoka University. Between 2010 and 2012 he was commissioned to rebrand and reposition the travel and tourism product of Shizuoka Prefecture and to train industry members on how to be more accommodating towards international guests.

Now, however, the couple are focused on making Leny a success. PJCT, formed in 2009, is wholly owned and operated by Radcliffe and Shiho Owada. This and the new cafe are a joint venture.

The venture was capitalised, back in 2009, out of pocket, with $5 million. Recalling early challenges, Radcliffe Lennox told the Jamaica Observer, “I soon ran out of my supply of Blue Mountain Coffee shortly after I came to Japan.” With his personal stock completely depleted, none available locally, and friends asking for more, he developed the idea of trading in coffee.

“Needless to say, it was a very challenging experience,” he recalled. “Through steely grit, determination, lots of rejection and a very strong belief in our product, we persevered. We tried varying marketing strategies such as direct mails, prospecting, trade shows, local festivals and events, sponsorship, and social media to support our home page messaging.”

Another challenge was just-in-time (jit) value delivery and how to manage the supply chain in Jamaica, which the Lennoxes observed, “is to this very day rife with bureaucratic hurdles and self-inflicting bottlenecks”.

They note that, given the oligarchic nature of the green coffee beans market in Japan, the barriers to entry were and still are very high. Thankfully though, they outlined, from the outset “we had opted to carve out our own unique niche which was never ever on the main coffee beans importers’ and traders’ radars”.

The same was true for cocoa. The couple said, “We discovered at one of our FoodEx Japan exhibitions that we needed to carve out our own unique value proposition if we wanted to achieve a semblance of breakthrough.”

They said, “Additionally, we had to finance everything out of pocket as it was and it is still very difficult for non-Japanese to attract financing or obtain bank loans for their start-ups.”

This year, 2021, an investment in 100 per cent Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and chocolate available for Leny was financed to the tune of almost $40 million through a combination of personal savings and a bank loan.

To acquire part-financing for Leny, the couple said they had to submit in excess of 20 different kinds of documents.

On top of that, they were appointed a loan guarantee company to whom they had to pay 15 per cent of the total loan being sought. A close family friend applied for a similar sum and was granted his loan in under a week and needed to provide only 5 sets of documents. It took the Lennoxes 10 weeks to get their loan.

Added to this challenge, they wanted to try to limit exposure to debt, a desire informed by the astronomically high ratio of businesses going under in Shizuoka City — a place known as the test market of Japan. They said, “If any business is able to survive Shizuoka, it is believed that they will excel anywhere.”

Leny is a culmination of bringing all these pieces of the puzzle together. The coffee trader and cafe will be staffed by a team of six, including Owada and Radcliffe, initially.

Describing their target market, they outlined, “With the big marketing drive in the past 15 to 20 years around the branding and promoting of ‘specialty coffee’, and with the rise in the big coffee chains and the freshly brewed single-cup coffee from convenience stores, the slightest upward trajectory in the price per kilogramme of the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Beans has resulted in a marked shift towards specialty coffee as substitutes. And oftentimes, those who have shifted, never return.”

PJCT through Leny is aiming to attract connoisseurs who really care about the quality, not those who are predominntely price-driven. The couple said, “Our market analysis has informed us that there are individuals who are yearning for a coffee and a chocolate experience which is very refined, delicate and pleasantly distinct. In recent years there has been a growing trend in connoisseurs wanting traceability. There has also been a fair amount of distrust surrounding the authenticity of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee. It is with these factors in mind why we have also been very deliberate in our focus exclusively on Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee and Jamaica Trinitario cocoa beans.”

They note that there has also been a growing demand for healthier dietary intakes. They said, “With the various bodies of research touting the health benefits of cocoa, dark chocolate has become very appealing. With this, the craft chocolate market has become more mainstream than it once used to be. Many of the large global chocolate brands have increasingly been adding and expanding their dark chocolate line.”

Radcliffe Lennox said, “We believe that the unique, fine-flavoured Jamaican cocoa beans will help our chocolate bars standout very well.”

In the short term of the first six to twelve months of operation, Leny will focus on building its local clientele while building its web marketing presence. Its owners add, “We further anticipate that by the end of our second year Leny will have achieved a local, national and international presence with a sales ratio of 1.3:1.7.”