In The Spotlight: Samuel Mensah, Director of Uncle Johns Bakery

Published in
5 min readJun 1, 2020


For the second episode of our new season of ‘In the Spotlight’, we sat down with Samuel Mensah, Director of Uncle Johns Bakery, a family owned London based Ghanaian specialist bakery.

Lendoe: So Sam, tell us a bit about yourself…

Samuel: I’m Samuel Mensah, the Director of Uncle Johns Bakery based in Tottenham. I studied Media technology at the University of West London. Though my background was mainly in the creative industry, I got involved in the family business and took on the role as the director of the business in 2014 as I wanted to continue the family legacy. I wanted to solidify a west African brand that can be seen and recognized worldwide.

Lendoe: You mentioned that your background was in the creative industry. Tell us a bit about the journey of the business and how you got involved?

Samuel:Uncle Johns Bakery is a family owned business which was founded by my parents 25 years ago in 1995 in the UK. During the early days my parents would import sweet bread from Ghana, however they realized that the quality wasn’t great, so haven acquired a family owned recipe, they decided to use this to make something unique. So, during this stage, the baking of the sweet bread was primarily done from another bakery.

As the business began to grow, my parents decided to take a leap of faith and open their own shop in Tottenham. it was here that they were able to introduce a wider range of products such as Ghanaian doughnuts popularly known as Bofrots, Pies, Chin chin and more. My parents ran the business themselves whilst my grandmother supported them with the baking. During this time my mother did a lot of product development to ensure the business continuously improved.

Though I helped at the shop when I was younger, I didn’t take any interest in the business. I had my own career plans, music opportunities in the creative industry and educational opportunities. It wasn’t until much later, after I understood and valued the importance of ownership, that I decided to utilize my knowledge and skills to help the business to get to a new level. My initial focus was to put a system in place, professionalise things to get a wider scope in the market. I must say that my mother had a massive influence on me making this decision as she always wanted me to be part of the family business.

Uncle John’s Bakery now has dedicated production factories, we now supply businesses across the country, distribute wholesale and are in various supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons. Now, the business has a whole team of employees, bakers and managers.

Lendoe: What a journey. So tell us, what key challenges did you face taking Uncle Johns Bakery to the next level?

Samuel: One of the hardest challenges was changing the company culture especially when you are coming into something that has already been built. For example, prior to me coming into the business, the company culture wasn’t based on employees wearing uniform, there were no specific HR practices, no employee handbooks and no documentations. When the business was set up as just a retail store everything was done from one place.

However, in order to get accredited and build relationships with supermarkets like Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys it was vital that the accurate processes were put in place. Getting to this level meant we had to build a lot of systems and effective infrastructure. For all these to happen, we needed to change and adopt the right company culture. In doing so, we found resistance from employees who were used to the old practices of course. But that happens in business. Unfortuantely, many of these people had to leave as change wasn’t for them; nevertheless, in all this, focusing on the overall goal which was to do all we could to improve and give our customers the very best product and service was the biggest driving force behind initiating this change.

The second challenge was conducting a full rebrand across our whole product range and location. The third challenge had to be the pressure from the community and society in general. As a black business owner, you are always fighting with pre-existing stereotypical views. So it’s important you keep your head down and remain consistent in what you are doing to ensure you remain offering the best service as possible.

Lastly, scaling up was also challenging, there were times that my parents and I wanted to stop. However, having a good support network and looking after your mental health throughout the process as it can be a very lonely journey has been vital. You need the support to help you go through it. No matter what industry you go into, you are going to discover challenges but there is always a way to overcome them. All this made me understand the impact of the business. And, there are good perks, such as being mentioned for an award, being recognized globally etc. So, it’s important to stay resilient and consistent in what you do.

Lendoe: You recently signed an international distribution deal (with an Italian distributor to supply the whole of Italy). Tell us what other small businesses with internal expansion aspirations would have to do to get the same results?

Samuel: 1.Understand your market. — Once you understand your market and the markets that are out there internationally which relate to yours it all comes down to tapping in and doing the research. Sometimes it can be trial and error and you sometimes have to push your product physically into the market yourself for a distributor to see that it works with what they do — especially because distributors are always going to be supplying other customers that are not even from their culture.

2. Once you get the chance to sit with a distributor, tell the distributor why they are missing out on an extra 5- 10 percent sales without your product (this should potentially raise their awareness and interest to try out your product).

3. Take steps bit by bit and understand the market, be patient, don’t rush into it. It’s important to understand where else your distributor can go and what exactly what you can handle.

4. You can sell anything; you just have to make sure you understand your product and your reach.

Lendoe: One of the main points of focus at the moment is Covid-19 and the affects it’s having on small businesses nationally. Could you give 3 tips for entrepreneurs in this time who may be wondering how to deal with the crisis?

Samuel: I’d say:

  1. Protect staff and customers
  2. Retaining as much cash flow
  3. Provide adaption methods of getting your products to the market

Lendoe: Thanks Samuel, pleasure speaking to you as always.

Quick Nudge: Samuel and the Uncle Johns Bakery family have been supporting NHS staff with free products from their product range and have given out over 1000 loaves of bread to date. Samuel has advised the Uncle Johns Bakery family will remain committed to serving frontline workers and are also dedicating free supplies for local councils to facilitate those in care homes who do not have easy access to food. To get in touch with Sam please contact him directly on

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