Business and Operations
A Tale of Two Bakery Cafes
By Michelle Brisebois
By Michelle Brisebois
It takes more than a leap of faith to make your bakery a café, too
Thinking of taking your bakery to the next level? Perhaps you’re considering whether or not to put in a few tables. Maybe you’re wondering if adding coffee, or having in-house seminars will help grow your bottom line. These are all fabulous initiatives to be considering, but you’re wise to evaluate all of the angles before you leap in headfirst. You see, what you’re really looking to do is take your retail operation into the realm of “experiential brand”, and this is a more complex type of business. Take heart though: there are others who’ve already taken this leap, and we thought it would be helpful to look at two existing bakery cafés – one urban and one rural — and examine what makes these operations such a success.
Fresh is a bakery café nestled up against the foot of the Niagara escarpment in the town of Grimsby, Ont. Contemporary, with a dash of “Mayberry”, this operation bills itself as “More than a bakery.” Chef Joshua Groom offers his customers breads and delicacies baked fresh daily, as well as gourmet soups, coffees and preserves. There are several tables inside the establishment, and the sunny patio offers a stunning view of the quiet town. Chef Groom has set up shop in Grimsby, after working at Inn on the Twenty, and as executive sous chef at Nectar, in Toronto. “Given my background, not having a larger culinary perspective wasn’t really an option,” says Groom. “Having a sit-down area, broader menu and culinary experience allows me to have a point of difference.”
By contrast, Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream resides squarely in the Annex of downtown Toronto, on Bathurst Street. Madeleines is Victorian, with a definite French café vibe. The back patio is an oasis, in the middle of a bustling city, complete with a comfy couch tucked neatly into the corner. Owner Kyla Eaglesham also has a foodservice background, having grown up in the Kawarthas, working at her parents’ resort, and then attending culinary school. After a stint as a flight attendant with Air Canada, Kyla decided to return to her heart’s desire, and open a bakery café that would truly offer a unique experience.
“Although my training, education and passion may be rooted in the culinary arts, I’m grateful to have worked in other businesses, and taken business-related courses, before opening Madeleines,” says Eaglesham. “Having that discipline really helps me look at things from a marketing point of view.”
It’s clear, from looking at both Chef Groom and Kyla Eaglesham, that having a foodservice background has given them confidence and perspective, which in turn, has allowed them to grow. A bakery, looking to evolve into a bakery café, would be wise to ensure there is some foodservice expertise on the team, even on a consulting basis.
Nothing makes an experiential brand come alive more than offering in-house seminars. Events such as this give customers a chance to discover your operation, to learn something new, and to have a positive association with your bakery café. Both Fresh and Madeleines offer several seminars which have been well received. Joshua Groom’s seminars showcase a bit of theory, with mostly hands-on culinary experience. Topics include unique summer salads and cooking with ethnic backgrounds. Madeleines offers everything from a “Crooked Gingerbread House” seminar (with libations), to a class on decorating Easter eggs for grownups. “Having seminars allows my customers to truly have fun with food, and that’s a wonderful thing – in terms of helping them to bond with our brand,” says Eaglesham. “It’s also provided another stream of revenue.” Offering a unique experience isn’t the only way these two establishments make a personal statement. Their menus also incorporate a dash of social responsibility.
The coffee selection at Fresh includes an organic coffee bean purchased from Nelson, B.C. “I like to offer something slightly off the beaten path in my coffee lineup,” confirmed Groom. “I actually use the coffee as an ingredient in many of my pastries. We offer a coffee and caramel pear crumble, that’s a firm favourite.” When asked if his customers are keen for organic products, Chef Groom offers a different perspective. “My customers are more engaged with the whole concept of fair trade coffee than organic coffee. We all want to know that the workers were properly paid for what we’re drinking.” Madeleines also has a robust lineup of coffees, including artisan Italian coffees and iced coffee, but Eaglesham agrees that coffee is one segment that needs a dose of social responsibility. “We try to look at beans sourced from single plantations, one farming collective. The whole concept of fair trade isn’t that well defined. What does fair trade really mean?”
Catering is an integral part of both Fresh and Madeleines, and the nature of the events range in size and tone. The artisan sandwiches from Fresh have graced business meetings at local companies. Other events benefit from Fresh’s team approach, which provides turnkey solutions from menu planning to linen ordering, bartender and service staff hiring. Madeleines also sees brisk business in its event sector. “We’ve had many bridal showers here,” confirmed Eaglesham. “One couple actually chose to have their wedding right here. I often end up co-coordinating a variety of wedding-related details for the customers. I guess I’m somewhat of a wedding doula,” jokes Eaglesham.
Both Chef Groom and Eaglesham have strong support from talented teams. Fresh’s young and vibrant catering group work together to make events unique and memorable. Madeleines is a family affair, with Kyla’s husband, parents and brother, all working in the business with her. Both of our entrepreneurs agree that being able to wear many different hats – from baker to teacher – has allowed them to truly make their bakery cafés unique experiences.
Taking a bakery beyond bread takes vision, flexibility, and solid planning. What both of these bakery cafés offer consumers is a “third place.” Sociologist Ray Oldenburg refers to the first place as our home, and those we live with. Our second place is the place of work, and the third place provides an “anchor” of community life, and facilitates and fosters broader, and more creative interaction. It’s a concept that consumers are
hungry for. After all, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.