Bakers Journal

A labour of love

April 18, 2012
By Rebecca Edwards

All about good, honest bread,” reads the motto of Loaf, a successful bakery in Fernie, B.C.

All about good, honest bread,” reads the motto of Loaf, a successful bakery in Fernie, B.C., supplying retail and wholesale customers with handmade, fresh daily bread and pastries.

The bakers at Loaf make a labour-intensive bread they believe in.


“Our basic dough is made with Canadian flour, water, yeast, salt and a little olive oil ­– nothing else,” says Phil Gadd, owner of the bakery, which opened in December 2009. “There are no additives, no preservatives, no fat or chemicals and we’re proud that everything is handmade.


“It does mean there are extra labour costs, but I do passionately believe that our bread tastes 10 times better than any supermarket bread.”

Head baker Jayson McLellan and his assistant baker Anthony Laniohan spend up to 12 hours a night hand-scaling, kneading and forming loaves from Loaf’s range of over 20 specialty breads.

Favourite breads include sundried tomato sourdough and carrot and herb. The sweeter varieties include apricot, fruit and nut, and raisin and cinnamon.

The most individual loaves and pastries handmade in one day came in at more than 1,000 on Christmas Eve, and the two bakers regularly produce 800 units in a shift during the busy farmers’ market season.

“I think a lot of technology used in big bakeries is unnecessary,” says McLellan, who began training at British Columbia’s Kimberley City Bakery in 1991 and has since worked across Canada in bakeries of all sizes and philosophies before returning to the East Kootenay region last summer to join Loaf.

“I prefer the hand-moulding – it keeps you in contact with the product, you understand it more than in some wholesale bakeries where everything is automated and you are just pressing buttons and catching the bread as it comes out of the machine.

“A lot of businesses use shelf-life extenders to try to eliminate their waste, but if you are on top of your game and have a good crew, you shouldn’t have much wastage, and can still run a professional business without having chemicals in the bread.”

McLellan adds that Loaf’s bread, which is made with sponge dough, is more European in style than most Canadian recipes, with a crisp crust and a dense texture.

Although Loaf owners Phil and Claire Gadd have now worked in every part of the business, neither has a baking background.

The couple is originally from the United Kingdom, where Phil worked in television production and Claire was the exhibitions project manager for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum until they decided to move their young family to the small mountain ski town in southeast British Columbia.

“We knew we wanted to emigrate to Fernie because we wanted the outdoors lifestyle for our family,” says Phil.

“From there, the search was on to come up with an idea of making a living. A friend recommended a café in Dorset, which was also a bakery. We visited it and left saying, ‘This would work in Fernie.’

“We have realigned the business plan slightly over the years, but generally this is what we always thought would work.”
They emigrated in August 2009 and set about renovating a former pet store into a café and kitchen.

Immigration delays meant their first head baker, Arek Szewc, did not arrive from the U.K. until Loaf’s opening day on Dec. 19, which was also the start of the ski season.

“Arek and our assistant baker were on Skype for the two weeks before, working out the bread recipes,” says Phil.

“We were definitely flying by the seat of our pants and we weren’t really sure what was going to happen. But we soon began to build up regular customers and things got bigger and bigger.”

By the following November, the products were so popular they could open a commercial kitchen at a separate site, allowing them to become the only local wholesale baker for the ski resort’s hotels and restaurants, and also to develop the pizza and café side of the business. Loaf’s thriving café features its specialty breads on a Mediterranean-style lunch menu, and Italian-style pizzas that are hand-spun each evening.

“We always planned to sell pizzas, but we were lucky that an Australian pizza chef was in Fernie for a ski season, so he helped us launch our pizza nights,” says Phil.

The café now has its own head chef, Billy Woodford, who has developed the lunch and pizza menus using the bakery’s own breads and fresh ingredients prepared daily.

“The labour market in Fernie can be really tough; it is a small town of 4,000 people and there are a lot of workers who come here for the winter season and then leave.

“We have been lucky to find a number of skilled staff who come to Fernie to ski, and end up working with us and staying beyond the season.

“I think we manage to attract good workers because we allow a certain amount of creativity – if someone has got an idea I will always give it a go if the numbers add up.”

 Loaf was recently named best place to eat in Fernie by a local business magazine and has also received awards for its pizza and baked goods.

Phil was named in Western Living Magazine’s Top 40 Foodies Under 40: Class of 2012.

This past January, Phil and Claire bought a building in downtown Fernie with plans to extensively renovate the interior and exterior to create a 50-seater restaurant and retail store.

Loaf also employs a professionally designed website, blog, e-mail newsletters and Facebook page for a modern online marketing strategy that stands out in rural British Columbia, where few businesses use online marketing.

Winter will always be the ski town’s busiest season but Phil says he has tried to get the local population to shop at Loaf year-round.

The Loafers loyalty card gives regular customers the chance to earn points redeemable on future purchases, and during the spring and fall off-seasons there are midweek discounts.

Loaf has also partnered with the Fernie Ghostriders, the local Junior B hockey team, offering discounted hockey tickets with pizza sales on home game nights.

The Loaf of the Week feature gives a 25 per cent discount on a different specialty bread each week, encouraging customers to try new flavours.

“We knew from the start that if we couldn’t get a consistent amount of sales coming in throughout the year we wouldn’t survive as a business in Fernie,” says Phil.

“It was always a big thing for me to keep selling the bread throughout the year, and the bread is still the highest-selling section every day.”

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