Our annual check-in with bakeries from coast to coast.
Specialty Diet Baking in the East
White Sails Bakery & Tea Room serves up a mix of specialty diet products and traditional Maritime fare.
By Jane Ayer
The Peggy’s Cove Road in Nova Scotia curves along the water, offering up twists and turns and lots of glimpses of ocean water (St. Margaret’s Bay to be precise). One of those turns brings White Sails Bakery & Tea Room into view. Owned by Sandra and Doug Poulton, the bakery is 16 years old and is very much a labour of love.
The Poultons are transplanted Ontarians, brought to Nova Scotia by Doug’s sales job almost 20 years ago. After they’d been in the province a couple of years, Sandra started thinking she’d like to run her own business.
“The area didn’t need another craft store,” says Sandra, “so I started asking people what sort of business they thought would work.”
“A bakery,” was the common response. Unfortunately Sandra didn’t have a lot of baking experience. Not to be deterred, she paired up with a friend who had some experience at the mixing bowl and learned what she could from her about the craft. Eventually, Sandra started baking and selling her goodies from a local fish and chip business. When the bakery outgrew the fish and chip shop, White Sails landed at its current location. Sandra worked with local industry suppliers on the bakery layout and equipment requirements and the bakery finally opened its doors to the public, complete with a little tea room where customers could sit and have coffee along with a sweet or lunch.
In the meantime, Doug was still working fulltime at his sales job. With Sandra busy at the bakery in the evenings, on holidays and weekends, Doug often found himself spending his spare time there, lending a hand and learning the ropes. He didn’t get a free ride, jokes Sandra.
“I’d even charge him for the pop he drank,” she says.
Eight years ago, Doug retired from his sales gig and he’s been White Sails’ full-time bread baker ever since. The couple’s son, Brad, bakes all of the squares for the bakery (squares are very much a Maritime favourite). White Sails has one other full-time worker, a regular part-time employee and a couple of students who work on a seasonal basis. While the route brings plenty of tourists by in the summer, and White Sails employees are paid above minimum wage, the Poultons admit finding trained staff is an issue, especially on a part-time basis.
“There’s a very good cooking course at the local college, but the programs are really geared towards working in a restaurant or an in-store,” says Doug.
While staffing remains a challenge, it’s one that hasn’t harmed the business, which is open five days a week. A chain grocery store opened up in the area a few years ago and gave the bakery a run for its money for a little while, but eventually the customers came back, looking for the home-baked goodies and bread they had become used to. They were also looking for that personal touch: things like being able to bring in their own pie plates to be lined and filled and taken home to pass off as home-baked. The bakery’s strength really is its size and its ability to communicate with customers and find out what it is they want and need.
Sandra says tea biscuits are one of the bakeries best-loved items, and her chowder draws in the crowds for lunch. Doug’s breads are also a big draw (check out the recipe for his flax-filled Bluenose Bread in the July 2004 issue of Bakers Journal). Trends are a little slower coming to his part of the world, but that doesn’t stop Doug from consistently testing out new recipes.
“I keep trying to make the ultimate loaf of bread, so I sometimes take it ahead of where people are,” admits Doug. “We still have customers who are die-hards for white bread, but that’s slowly changing.”
Most of the bread he does make fits the whole grain trend very well. And many of the bakery’s products also fit the growing demand for baked goods for those with specialty diets, including diabetic and wheat-free products. Part of the reason the Poultons have introduced wheat-free products is for very personal reasons: Sandra has developed a flour sensitivity in recent years.
Doug admits they’re not getting any younger. But for the time being, he says, as long as the wind is still in their sails and customers are still looking for White Sails’ goodies, they’ll keep doing what they’re doing.
A Baker’s Dozen
A New Brunswick business gives a whole new meaning to the term.
By Jane Ayer
When Nick Stam, owner of Nick the Dutch Baker, calls his bakery business a family business, he really means it. Stam and his wife Christine have 12 children, ranging in age from two to 24. And all of the kids, no matter what their age, help or have helped out with the market-based business.
Stam is originally from Holland. He trained there as a master baker and arrived in Canada 26 years ago to work with Beaver Foods in London, Ontario. It was at Beaver Foods, he says, that he learned to bake the Canadian way.
“I made date squares, meat pies, bran muffins, doughnuts, large chocolate chip cookies – in Europe everything is more delicate.”
Stam says he was looking for a bit of adventure and only planned to stay in the country for about a year. Once he met Christine, those plans changed.
So too did his choice of employment and a year later he left Beaver Foods to set up his own bakery business in Norwich. The business was mostly market-based. After hanging up his bakery whites for four years to become the principal of a small Christian school, Stam decided it was time to return to the industry. With most of the markets in his area being serviced by other bakeries, Stam turned his eye to the East Coast. He and Christine had visited the Maritimes on holidays and they decided to give it a shot. In 1996 they packed up their family (which at the time comprised nine children) and headed east. Notre-Dame is where they landed, just outside of Moncton, the fastest growing city in the Maritimes and expected to become the largest city in New Brunswick within the next 10 years. After moving into their home, the Stam’s built a production bakery onto the side of their house, picked up a few more pieces of equipment with which to fill it (Stam had only brought a mixer with him) and were soon in business. Since that time, Nick the Dutch Baker has become a fixture at the year-round Saturday Moncton Farmers Market. Stam’s booth at the market is a permanent one and he’s even gone so far as to install an oven for baking-off some of his products and enticing customers to the booth with the smell. The Saturday Dieppe Farmers Market (just outside of Moncton) is also a year-round venture, while the Bouctouche Farmers Market (which is north-east of Moncton, along the Northumberland Strait) is outdoors and seasonal. There’s also a Friday morning indoor market in Shediac that is year-round. To make it to each of the markets, “we divide the troops,” says Stam.
Some of the older kids manage the Bouctouche and Shediac locations, with Christine and more of the kids at the Dieppe market and Stam and the rest at the Moncton location.
“The year round market is a Saturday morning experience,” says Stam. “People do not go just to buy food, they go to talk to the people who produce it, to bump into people they know. Markets here are very different from the ones in Ontario. Here we have a mix of people, including lawyers, and doctors walking around with their hotdogs like everyone else.”
That’s not the only differences between market life in Ontario and Moncton, says Stam.
“In Ontario we had a big Dutch clientele who would buy butter cookies or a nice pastry. Here we sell a lot of bread.”
Customers have 14 different kinds of bread to choose from, including a number of whole grain, stone ground and organic options.
“We hardly sell any white bread,” says Stam. “White bread sales are definitely going down at the benefit of whole grain
Raisin bread is the customer favourite from the bakery’s roster: with equal amounts of raisins and flour, it’s easy to understand why.
Also popular are Dutch turnovers, sausage rolls, cookies, meat pies, brownies, lemon squares, and date squares. Stam says those sorts of things seem to sell more on an individual, impulse basis: bread is what first brings customers to his booths.
When they’re not at market, Stam says all of the kids (who are home-schooled) help out in the bakery, according to ability. That’s also how they get paid.
“There are lots of jobs for almost any age group: the youngest ones can wash the dishes, dry the dishes, unwrap butter, pack bread. We want to teach them that this is what real life is like. If you work a lot, you get paid a lot, if you work a little, you get a little, if you don’t work, you get nothing.”
The older kids can now take over the business if Nick and Christine need to get away or are looking for a vacation. Stam says he’s also working on a procedures manual to help simplify things.
“I’m a baker, so I train them all. As a baker you learn a skill, you learn to follow orders, you need to be accurate, you have to be polite, able to interact and talk intelligently with customers; those are skills you take with you through life.”
Besides just helping out in the bakery, some of the older, more mechanically-minded, kids are able to fix broken-down equipment and mend burst water pipes. Essentially, the entire family pitches in wherever needed.
Stam is content with his family business and has no plans to make major changes anytime soon.
“I’m not getting rich, but with a family of 12, we can live on the income.”
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