By Laura Aiken
I’ve never had a crust quite like that of the Portuguese custard tart I
inhaled on the lawn of the Conscious food festival this summer.
I’ve never had a crust quite like that of the Portuguese custard tart I inhaled on the lawn of the Conscious food festival this summer. It was like a flaky, buttery basket – a croissant cradle, if you will. The unique crust is the handiwork of The Canadian Pie Company, whose website describes it as a cross between puff pastry and a croissant.
The Canadian Pie Company has garnered a lot of buzz in its first year, its pies gracing such coveted events and spots as the Toronto International Film Festival and the shelves of Pusateri’s. It seems as if the married duo behind the pies are on to something, and one can’t help but want to wander into the east-end Toronto neighbourhood where they’ve set up shop.
Keren and Erez Hadad immigrated from Israel to Toronto five years ago. Keren is a trained pastry chef and they first opened Café Florentin in Leslieville, an east-end community. Erez is the sales and marketing mind but also a trained chef. The couple wanted a European café, says Keren, but the taste of the local neighbourhood seemed to favour their pies and tarts more than their European pastries. Opening The Canadian Pie Company early this year and closing the café has effectively focused the business on what the market seemed to want while carving out a niche with the help of a signature product and clear vision.
I met with a Keren on a sunny fall afternoon at the café arm of the company. Baking is done down the street at a larger production facility where wholesale is the nuts and bolts of the business. Cloaked in reclaimed wood but bathed in light, the café is a cosy, casual presentation of pastry.
Keren describes her fruit pies as being “like a big croissant with tons of fruit in it and you can actually see the fruit. We’re unique in that we don’t use tons of sugar, we don’t cook the fruits before, so it’s not sticky. A nine-inch pie has a pound of fruit in it – it’s a lot of fruit.”
They are introducing a line of zero-added-sugar pies that use xylitol as a sweetener instead of sugar. Keren doesn’t add anything hydrogenated or any preservatives to her goods.
“I have a rule. I have two kids. Whatever I make, it has to be something that I would feed them,” she says.
She has hooked the business concept on passionate beliefs in community and using local ingredients, at least to the extent that is economically viable and makes sense for the bakery.
“Toronto has a huge greenbelt around it so why not use it? Unfortunately, it is Canada, so you cannot source locally all the time [thanks to the weather] but we source other stuff. We have savoury quiches so we use the mushrooms that are always local, the chicken is always local, the beef is always local, so everything we try to put an emphasis on using as much as we can, as economically we can, that is good for the company and also profitable.”
|“A nine-inch pie has a pound of fruit in it,” says Keren Hadad. “It’s a lot of fruit.”|
Keren readily admits that the commitment to sourcing locally can also be a headache: the farmers don’t produce as much so you need to compensate with other sources and it’s harder to manage production because it’s more difficult to know exactly how much you’re going to get from the farmer for the season. Still, she says, it’s better than nothing. As long as they are still small, she can keep doing what she can using produce from local farmers.
The Canadian Pie Company worked with Local Food Plus (LFP), a non-profit organization that facilitates the procurement of local, sustainable food. She says they were a huge help when it came to introducing the couple to farmers and finding the ingredients they were looking for.
On the heels of locally inspired principles is the company’s consistent presence in the city’s farmers markets. The Canadian Pie Company is a vendor in seven different farmers markets every week. Working the stands from time to time keeps her talking to her customers. Feedback is essential. It’s hard to please everyone or have everyone understand the beliefs behind your business, and the markets are a great forum for educating.
“Some people love the really sweet pies and they want the starch and the fruits cooked before. You can’t please everyone; it’s all a matter of taste.”
Or a matter of pocket. The baker has dealt with some price resistance as well. Prices vary but a nine-inch fruit pie is $16, and an 11-inch is $27.
“It takes time. People were saying to me, ‘I’m not paying that for a pie – are you insane?’ It took me some time but at the end of it, yes, people are getting educated, people are starting to understand that you see what you get. Things cost money. Sometimes people ask me for organic produce, that’s our limit. Organic is much pricier than local, I don’t think we are there yet. I wish it was cheaper. I prefer to make great products with great ingredients I get from local farmers – Ontario lamb, Ontario beef – it’s not that expensive.”
As the production manager, she’s elbows deep in baking behind the scenes much of the time at their offsite bakery that’s churning out thousands of pies a week to supply their shop, the markets, catering contracts, online orders and wholesale customers.
They employ about 30 people now but she say’s she’s always recruiting. The plan is to continue to grow the wholesale and sales through the farmers markets, which she says have been the best form of advertising for them. It’s a seven-day-a-week job for this mother of a five- and three-year-old, who considers herself lucky to be balancing work and family life as a family business.
“People ask me, ‘How do you work with your own husband?’” she says, laughing. “But I’m very happy – he does his half and I do my half. He does the numbers, the sales, he takes care of the things around it and I can actually bake and that seems like the best way to do it: Divide and conquer and everybody’s happy. . . . As a woman, from the class I graduated 10 years ago, there were 20 people and only two are still working as pastry chefs and they’re both guys. You come home and you’re tired, dead tired and you still have the kids. But I love what I do, love it, or else I would never do this. I hope my kids one day will say I want to be a baker.”