By Sonia Mendes
Pennie Chen is living proof that moms really can do it all.
Wearing heels and a funky blazer, the stylish 31-year-old offers a tour of Baby enRoute, the trendy, high-end Westboro baby boutique she co-owns with business partners Nathan Xu and Kevin Liu.
The Richmond Road store, which opened in July 2013, has made the past year extremely hectic for Chen.
“For the first six months I didn’t have a single day off,” she recalls. “There’s a lot of things to do, but I’ve learned so much from my partners.”
It’s not easy to balance an intense work schedule with family life, Chen admits — especially with a busy two-year-old at home. Chen is quick to credit her husband and her parents as the secret to her success.
“I couldn’t imagine doing it all without my parents,” says Chen, who shares her family home with her mother, Lan Zhang, and her father, Xueyi Chen. “I really have such great support from them both.”
Chen recounts how her mother — who moved to Canada from Tianjin, China in 2010 — encouraged her to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams soon after her son Jacob was born.
“My mom said, ‘you should go out and work; you’re too young to just stay at home all the time with a baby,’” says Chen.
She says her father makes her coffee each morning, and both of her parents provide full-time childcare for Jacob while she’s busy with the store.
Her husband, Andy Huang, juggles his own hectic work schedule — he owns Buffet YangMing on Merivale Road and OpenRice Asian Fusion on St. Laurent Boulevard
Still, he makes time to support Chen’s work with Baby enRoute.
“When I come home, my son will come and give me a hug and when I ask him if he missed me, he says ‘Mommy, I love you and I miss you.’”
She mentions what a huge help he was with the Baby Show — held at the Ottawa Convention Centre in May — where the store had the biggest booth on the entire floor.
Many of the items at Baby enRoute (www.babyenroute.ca) are exclusive lines that, until now, customers could only find in big cities like Toronto and New York.
“We intend to carry high-quality products that are different from what’s already available in Ottawa,” says Chen.
A beautifully hand-stitched pram, for example, comes from Inglesina, a company based in Italy. The line is popular in the U.S., says Chen, who brought Inglesina products back to Ottawa after attending a baby show in Los Angeles last year.
Having a toddler of her own has its advantages. Chen says she puts many of the store’s products to the test in real-life situations.
“Pretty much everything he uses is from the store,” laughs Chen, adding it’s essential to take responsibility for her products.
“When you tell customers about a product that is based on your own experience, they trust you.”
Chen is clearly passionate about offering top-quality customer service at Baby enRoute. At the end of a long workday, however, she says the best thing in the world is coming home to little Jacob.
While simultaneously being a mother and entrepreneur isn’t easy, Chen says it will pay off in the long run.
“For the business, I have sacrificed a lot of time to be together with him,” she says. “But I hope I am building a business and one day — when he grows up — it will make him feel proud of his mom.”