By Stefanie Wallace
From start-up costs to health and safety regulations, the obstacles of starting a bakery are vast.
From start-up costs to health and safety regulations, the obstacles of starting a bakery are vast. Throw in motherhood at a young age, little experience and expensive facilities, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown challenge. But for Chrissie Boon, these obstacles were motivation to make the process easier for people like her.
|Chrissie Boon and her husband Justin Kozak have successfully turned their small bakery into a multi-tiered business. |
Photos by one2one Photography and Angela Henriquez
Boon is an award-winning cake decorator and the co-owner of Too Nice to Slice, a custom cake shop, and Icing Inspirations, a retail store selling cake-decorating supplies, in Kitchener, Ont. Boon’s interest in baking – and business – began at a young age, starting with Christmas cookies. “My mom’s next-door neighbour’s husband lost his job right before Christmas, and she wanted to buy Christmas presents for her kids,” Boon says. The ladies sold packages of homemade Christmas cookies to come up with some extra money around the holidays. As Boon got older, she joined the ladies in baking, using her share of the money to buy Christmas presents for her friends in high school, and continued baking when she began university, studying psychology at the University of Ottawa.
Things don’t always go as planned, though. Boon became pregnant in her first year, moved home from Ottawa, and enrolled part time at the University of Waterloo. But it was the cake decorating class she took at Michaels in 2004 that launched her career. “I took one or two classes and I came home and told my mom I was officially completely dropping out of university to pursue cake decorating,” Boon says. After much discussion, Boon and her mother agreed that she would stay in school part time until she was certain. It didn’t take long. By the next semester, Boon and her parents knew this was the right decision.
|The business’s commercial kitchen space has been available for rent since January, and is already a hot commodity. |
The next steps seemed relatively painless. “I started taking just about every cake decorating class I could get my hands on,” Boon says. She completed her masters and elite certificates in cake decorating, and with the help of her then-boyfriend (now husband and business partner) Justin Kozak, started researching the ins and outs of operating a cake decorating business.
Money, was, of course, a challenge: “A 20-year-old single mom who has absolutely no assets, no equity, and who is living in her parents’ house, has a terrible time getting any sort of business loan,” Boon says. “We have the support of family and friends like crazy, but we’ve tried to do it financially as much as we can on our own, and that’s a hard thing to do when you’re in your early 20s.”
|Boon began Icing Inspirations, a retail store, in order to sell supplies to her fellow cake decorators. |
Enter the next obstacle: the kitchen. “The more we found out about things, the more we realized I couldn’t legally operate a cake business out of my house.” Time was ticking: Boon had just attended a wedding show and booked 68 weddings. Health regulations vary from region to region, but in Kitchener-Waterloo, commercial kitchens are required for food-related businesses, and second kitchens in residential homes are not allowed. “We called every community centre and every church in the book, and nobody wanted to take on the liability of renting somebody their kitchen,” Boon says. The available kitchens they found weren’t cheap, charging from $35 to $75 per hour. “At the end of an eight-hour day, even the cheapest kitchen was approaching $300 a day to rent,” she says.
It didn’t take them long to realize this practice was much too costly. In October 2005, Boon opened her first storefront location – an 816-square-foot shop that served as the perfect venue to bake and decorate cakes and cookies by appointment only.
“I wanted to do more,” Boon says. “Even with the size of the shop, in order to pay the bills, I had to do so many cakes that it was exhausting, so we started selling supplies.” And so, Icing Inspirations was born.
|Boon often hosts guest teachers in her classroom, like Rick Reichart of Cakelava in Hawaii. |
Photos by Chrissie Boon
In March 2010, Too Nice to Slice and Icing Inspirations moved to their current location – a 5,000-square-foot former automotive factory building. “When we found it, we said, ‘What the heck are we going to do with all this space?’ “ Boon laughs. But between the retail part of her business and new ventures in teaching classes and hosting guest teachers, Boon and Kozak knew their old shop just wouldn’t cut it anymore. After giving the new digs a facelift – “It was terrible!” – the new location opened over Victoria Day weekend 2010.
The new home of Too Nice to Slice and Icing Inspirations includes a 1,000-square-foot kitchen and a 1,000-square-foot classroom (Boon will host five or six guest teachers this year, in addition to the classes she teaches). After moving, Boon says the initial goal was to get the classes, cakes and retail store back up and running, but with lots of room to grow, a long-term goal was to add affordable commercial kitchens available for rent. “We needed to find a way for these people to be able to do it affordably, because not everybody wants to open a storefront, and the very few kitchens that are available for rent are just not at all affordable.”
|Ayoma Fonseka, a student, covers a carved fish cake with fondant during an Icing Inspirations class.|
Boon and Kozak brought this vision to life in November, completing three full commercial kitchens, and officially began renting them in January. They are already a hot commodity.
“The costs that we’re operating at just help us pay the rent for that section,” Boon says. Renting a kitchen at Too Nice to Slice costs between $5 and $13 per hour, making it affordable for people who find themselves in the situation Boon once faced. “One lady came in and booked all of her hours, three days a week, up until the end of December. Her invoice at the end of it all was less than what I paid in rent per month at the old location,” Boon says.
Boon, who is the administrator for the Kitchener chapter of the Canadian Cake Decorators Guild, sees the importance of making kitchen rentals affordable from both perspectives. “A lot of cake decorators are my customers and they come in and talk about their struggles,” she says. “If they aren’t operating, I have no customers to buy my supplies. I understand why the rules are there, and I also understand the struggles of trying to deal with the rules because I’ve been in both situations.”
Between baking and decorating, teaching classes, operating a retail store, travelling (Boon has demoed at the International Cake Exploration Societé convention and at different shops across the United States with Kozak as her assistant), competing in cake decorating challenges (most recently, Boon and Kozak participated and won Cake Walk: Wedding Cake Edition on Slice TV) and raising their young family, Boon and Kozak’s hands are certainly full. But you’ll usually find them at the heart of it all, in the shop, interacting with customers: a part of the business they truly love.
“We have always prided ourselves on being the ones who deal with the good and the bad, and everything in between,” she says. “We’ve established ourselves as people who want to know their customers, and I think it’s gone over very well for us.”