Small Business Lessons: The do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship, according to Bicycle Pizza

For our Small Business issue, we asked 14 B.C. businesses how they're surviving in this economy. Here's one of them

If you’re a small, underfunded business like Saanich’s Bicycle Pizza, you might find some inspiration in co-founder Andrew Johnson’s suggestions for embracing entrepreneurship in hard times.


Merge your passion and experience

  • Andrew Johnson has worked in the food and beverage industry his entire career. But when he unexpectedly lost a new job as a result of the pandemic, he had to weigh his options. He could continue doing odd jobs here and there, or he could pitch an idea to the owner of a café he frequented in Brentwood Bay, Saanich.
  • “I got to know him and then one day I said, Hey, how do you feel about me opening a takeout pizza restaurant out of your café? And he was totally supportive,” says Johnson. “I worked with pizza for the last 10 years, so it was a natural decision for me to do my own style.”
  • In 2021, Johnson launched Bicycle Pizza with his wife and business partner, Vanessa.

Rent a space for operations—at first

  • “We would have never been able to get to where we are now without having the benefit of starting off in that really small way that we did,” says Johnson. A year after kicking off their business-in-a-business, Johnson and Vanessa bought the 2,000-square-foot café and scaled it up into a full-service restaurant offering salads, sandwiches and a complete pizza menu.
  • They also started renting space to other small businesses—a decision that not only increased Bicycle Pizza’s revenues by 200 percent, but also offered the couple a chance to return the favour that the original owner of the café had given them. “It’s an opportunity to get their feet wet in small business without having to take on all the challenges and risks [associated with long-term leases and buying a ton of equipment],” he says.

Be transparent with your team

  • In business, Johnson treats decisions like an experiment that everyone can grow from—and he communicates that with his team of 10 as transparently as possible.
  • “It’s about walking the fine line between consistency and innovation,” he explains. “If something’s working, you don’t want to change it—but you’ve got to try new stuff. And if something isn’t working, you have to be ready to kill the project before it brings the whole thing down… we’re well-insulated because we have several different revenue streams with wholesale, catering, rental income from our tenants and retail sales from the café. But I think the most important thing is understanding that the ebbs and flows are all part of this journey, and sharing that feeling and that state of mind with my team.”


Do it by yourself

  • If Vanessa didn’t have a separate full-time career in digital marketing, Johnson thinks their mortgage might not get paid. Still, that other work means she doesn’t have the time to participate in the day-to-day operations of the business.
  • “Doing this all by myself, being more or less the only captain of this ship, is something that I would not do again. I would want to have an operational partner, someone I can rely on, not only to share the burden, but to share successes, to make sure that there’s another person checking my decisions,” he maintains. “Two heads are better than one, and it can be pretty lonely.”

Compromise on quality

  • Bicycle Pizza was inspired by various classic pizza places. In fact, Johnson’s “bible” is a book (Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish, the now-retired owner of Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Portland)—and Johnson is not willing to budge on his standards.
  • “We can cut corners inefficiency, we can schedule better, but quality is non-negotiable,” he says. “We’re using Vancouver Island-raised meat products, we’re using great locally roasted coffee, we’re making our bread and our dough ourselves, we’re making our soups from scratch—we’re doing everything right.”