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Flexibility key to small-town success

From meat pies to catering to holistic nutrition, Annina’s Bake Shop & Café does it all

Written by Michael McKay   
If you blink, you’ll miss it. However, if you have your windows rolled down and you’re moving slow enough, you’re sure to pick up the wonderful aroma coming from a small bakery in Goodwood, Ont.

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Annina’s owner Marco Cassano, left, and pastry chef Dave Wilcox.

 
Nestled behind a row of trees at 300 Highway 47, Annina’s Bake Shop and Café sits in a location where its owners have adapted their business by providing excellent products and service and not by utilizing gimmicks and incentives.
Annina’s is owned and operated by Marco Cassano. Educated at George Brown College in food and beverage management, he recently completed a course in Holistic Nutrition. He is a fully qualified and licensed chef, with a family background in restaurants and bakeries.

Cassano is well versed in all aspects of the hospitality business, including event planning, baking, off-site event coordinating, weddings, food preparation, costing and budgeting. His qualifications served him well while teaching a course in culinary arts at Fleming College. His goal is to turn Annina’s into a local bistro.

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 A typical selection of Annina’s fine desserts and pastries.
 
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 The sunny upstairs seating area at Annina’s.

 
“My family had a bakery in the Stouffeville area and we sold it last year,” Cassano says. “It was established in 1982 so we’ve been in the business for over 30 years. I initially learned the business by working in family establishments, including the Amaretto Restaurant.”

The 3,000-square-foot property was once called Wideman’s Bakery, and Cassano and his family bought it five years ago as an investment. When Wideman walked away from the property, they began to run the business themselves.

“We decided to keep the business going because of our loyalty to our pastry chef, Dave Wilcox, whom we’ve known for 15 years,” says Cassano. “I just recently bought out my cousin’s interest in the property and came up here to help grow the business with Dave. Prior to that, I was working as a sous chef at Angus Glen Golf Course.”

Cassano says his key to success thus far has been diversification of products and services offered. He is looking forward to using the bakery as a base for a catering business to utilize his event-coordination skills.

“About five per cent of our business is catering,” Cassano says. “We do it for people in the area. We’re hoping to increase this number and look forward to providing our expertise to larger functions. The rest of our business comes from the neighbourhood. People come in for coffee and dessert throughout the day. We also have a café menu of wraps, sandwiches and soups for lunch. The community has really supported us.”

Customer service is the cornerstone of maintaining a small bakery. Cassano has been quick to react to the trends in the market and with his knowledge of holistic nutrition the bakery is capable of handling any number of customer concerns.

“We are capable of putting together gluten-free products, products for diabetics and organic products,” Cassano says. “Completing the holistic nutrition course allows me to give advice to customers and guide them toward certain types of food.”

Annina’s is also moving toward using organic food, and has already incorporated fresh produce into its menu.

“Before we took over they were using a lot of frozen products,” Cassano says.

“We now incorporate fresh produce in our soups, meat pies, in our entire menu.”

Annina’s is also capable of doing custom work for its clients. Whereas grocery store bakeries offer only certain cake packages, Annina’s will work with clients to create the exact cake they are looking for.

“We don’t see the grocery store bakeries as our competition,” Cassano says. “We offer a unique service that’s dedicated to fulfilling our customers’ wishes right down to the shape, size and flavour of the cake.”

A good portion of Annina’s business comes in summertime when cottagers, heading to the Kawarthas, stop in for meat pies, desserts, coffee and snacks.
“We stay open until eight o’clock in the summer time, and have to add extra staff to look after all the cottage traffic we get,” Cassano says. “We’ve become a ‘stop along the way’ to the cottage for a lot of families.”

Annina’s carries about 20 different types of meat pies and a wide variety of frozen soups made from scratch, as well as a large selection of tarts, cakes, squares and sandwiches.

“Everything we sell, we make from scratch,” Cassano says, “from meat pies to butter tarts; it’s all made on site.”

Cassano employs, including himself, just five people to turn out the entire product line. He and Wilcox are the only two responsible for the cooking and baking.

“Being well organized is the key to keeping the products flowing,” Cassano says. “In the morning you finish off your products, and in the afternoon you prep for next day. We put about in about 12-hour days. Working at Angus Glen taught me to prep for serving about 1,500 people a day – or five banquets. As long as you’re prepped, everything will fall into place.”

Cassano plans to expand the building next summer and do some landscaping out front.

“I’m looking to freshen up the building, do some landscaping and hopefully expand the kitchen next summer,” he says. “Next winter I hope to renovate the inside to create a bistro atmosphere; to give it a more concept-type feel. So one step at a time.”

Successfully running a small bakery on a commuter route back and forth from the city takes a commitment to customer service, a dedication to freshness and a willingness to ascertain and fulfil customers’ needs. Chef Marco Cassano and pastry chef Dave Wilcox are proving they have the experience, talent, ability and willingness to provide this service to the York and Durham regions.

And with their commitment to refreshing Annina’s look and facilities, this humble yet ambitious bakery café won’t be overlooked by customers en route to summer fun.
 
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July 2009

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