Art should not be a fair-weather friend. It should be around each corner—a part of every little thing we do. And so, a love letter to a loo—a paean to a powder room, I am in the bathroom at Leonhard's Cafe. There is soft music wafting from a speaker, wallpaper that looks like a meadow, faucets that turn as gracefully as a ballerina. For more than the obvious reasons, I feel much better coming out than I did going in. And I figure that anyone who can make such beauty out of something so mundane is going to fix me a wonderful lunch.

Ann Thurlow, The Buzz

Leonhards in the News

Our Story
Alex and Axel

Alexandra and Axel Leonhard at the café
Photo by Mary MacKay

Found in Translation

An English immersion working vacation to PEI lands Alexandra and Axel Leonhard of Germany smack dab in the middle of a new life and business in Charlottetown

BY MARY MACKAY, The Guardian, 26th March 2009

What started as a study of the English language turned out to be a whole new life-learning experience for Alexandra and Axel Leonhard.

The German couple has been caught in an amazing whirlwind of change since Alex, as most people call her now, came to Prince Edward Island in 2007 for a short visit to improve her English speaking skills. Since then, the two have moved from their home country to Charlottetown and in less than one year have become a fixture at the local farmers market and have even opened a café and bakery in the downtown core.

The quirky part to this successful immigration story is that neither had any intention of their joint journey to PEI in April of [2008] to be anything more than a fun-full immersion way to expand upon their English abilities.

"What happened was after three weeks we missed our bread. The story starts with the bread," Alex laughs of their homemade German bread-baking endeavours that catapulted them into the Charlottetown Farmers' Market scene in summer [2008] and launched Leonhard's Café and Bakery [a few months later].

"It was a dream of ours for a very, very long time to own our own business, but we were not coming to the Island to say, 'OK, we open our own business here,' " Axel says. "We thought for a year we'd be doing nothing special because we were going to work here for one year on the Island to improve our English."

The Leonhards' life-changing journey started when Alex travelled to PEI. in the fall of 2007 to take language classes at Study Abroad Canada in Charlottetown to improve her career prospects at home. The PEI destination offered an additional bonus.

"(It was the home of) Anne of Green Gables. I think I was six years old when I saw (the) movie... and it was a big dream for me to one day see Prince Edward Island," she says, smiling. "And I fell in love from the first day with the Island." Axel arrived six weeks later and they enjoyed two weeks of jaunting around the province with which Alex was already smitten.

"I was so sad when we had to go back to Germany. I told Axel I have to go back," she says. After much discussion, they applied for work permits, quit their jobs — Axel was manager of a Starbucks store; she was an employee recruiter for companies – and moved to PEI in April 2008.

"We both had really good jobs. Everybody said, 'You're crazy to quit your job,' but we thought we'll go for one year and improve our English and then go back to Germany and work again," Alex says. "No classes. No stress. Just relaxing and learning the language," Axel adds.

They found jobs at local restaurants in Charlottetown and an apartment in which to live and settled into a regular PEI routine. But homesickness soon began in the form of cravings for the heavy breads from home. "So I decided to bake bread. Normally I don't have any experience with bread-baking so I went to the Internet for bread recipes similar to what I liked in Germany and it tasted very good," Axel says of that first 100 per cent organic rye variety. "We invited friends for dinner and breakfast and they said, 'Oh wow, you should sell this bread at the Farmer's Market,' " Alex remembers.

So they started off small with a summer slate of Wednesdays at the market with a few of loaves of different varieties and a spread of German cakes and pastries that Alex whipped up with techniques learned from her mother and grandmother. They sold out each time and added more.

After three weeks they'd earned themselves a spot in the lucrative and extremely popular Saturday farmers' market which is open year-round. Of course, this full-fledged dive into local life and the characters into the farmer's market provided an immersion experience into English that was exactly what they were looking for.

"It's the best way. It helps a lot to talk to people and to communicate," Alex says. "That's the best way to learn English. That's what I think. If I was to go to school it's not really a practise. Also I need to talk the whole day and then I learn the language. I can't sit down at home and look in a book."

The idea for a café came in the midst of their summer baking rush for the market. "People were asking 'Do you have a store' or 'Where can we buy your bread?' It wasn't only one or two people; it was practically everyone. "And that's when we starting thinking maybe we can open a café in Charlottetown," Alex says.

They found a vacant spot on University Avenue. "When we came in we knew right away what the kitchen, what everything should look like in the end. It was just a feeling," Alex says.

They opened on November 24th [2008] and have been working like mad ever since. "Right now it's even more stress than even in Germany but it's more positive stress because you do it for your own (self)," smiles Axel.

The Leonhards have filed for permanent residency and hope to make PEI their home for good. "If we were to fly to Germany today, I would get homesick for PEI.," Alex says. "We'd be looking forward to seeing friends and family but I couldn't imagine staying longer than a few weeks."