By Colleen Cross
The place to be on a cool, rainy morning in Vittoria is The Good Bread Company
The place to be on a cool, rainy morning in Vittoria is The Good Bread Company, a cozy, warm bakery where the smell of fresh bread stimulates the senses and the customers linger and leave reluctantly with loaves of bread tucked under their arms and big grins on their faces.
|Rick Posavad doesn’t market the business as a European bakery but the recipes are based on the European-style bread he grew up on.
Rick Posavad, co-owner of The Good Bread Company with his business partner Daniel Pruden, opened the small bakery on Father’s Day 2012 in Vittoria, Ont., a village of 600. They envisioned slow, steady, controlled business growth that was based on love and craftsmanship.
What happened next is by any measure a success story Posavad did not foresee. He shakes his head in wonder.
“We did not expect the business to grow so quickly.”
The small-scale bakery resides in a leased building, formerly a bungalow in the historic village that is nestled 15 minutes from the shores of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario.
A “once-in-a-lifetime circumstance” allowed him to embark on the adventure of owning a bakery: a bakery came up for sale close to home and at a time when he was ready to open a business. Posavad and Pruden took over the well-regarded existing name but built a different sort of bakery to what was there earlier, which was a business that delivered bread to homes around Norfolk County. The original Good Bread Company ran briefly from 2008 but in 2012 Posavad and Pruden leased the building and began a storefront bakery.
In the division of responsbilities, Pruden handles the main task of baking the bread and product development while Posavad looks after merchandising and marketing. Various administrative tasks are shared. Posavad functions as back-up baker for the dessert items when necessary.
Pruden, a gifted and intuitive baker, started taking courses around 2009 to complement his natural understanding of the process. Posavad’s background is in education, music and theology but he comes by his retail savvy honestly having grown up in retail working for his parents and spent several years as a merchandiser for Garden Gallery group.
They are big on demand and marketing ideas and small on time, space and labour. Posavad employs two part-time employees who handle customer service and some administrative tasks and help where needed.
He likes the creativity of the venture and enjoys product development.
“But at 3 a.m., it’s work.”
There were issues with the quaint bungalow they moved into, among them a lack of storage space. Retrofit as one-half kitchen and one-half store, it offered little room for storage.
“When we opened, it was just one table, and we started adding more tables as the business grew. Eventually we had to build a shed behind the bakery for storing supplies,” he says.
A lack of adequate parking space was another issue that led to a creative solution. Posavad started a farmers market in nearby Port Rowan. With no such market there and quite a bit of interest expressed by his established customers, he took on the role of organizer, inviting other vendors to cater to the resort town with a growing senior population that is the gateway to Long Point, a popular area for summer cottagers. Every Friday last summer, Posavad manned a Port Rowan booth, chatting up the locals and enjoying every minute of the fresh waterfront air.
Posavad says they have had requests for a repeat engagement.
“It was a limited success. We may do it again but there was not quite as much interest as we had been led to believe.”
If they do it again, he says they will make sure all costs, including insurance premiums, are known before they wade in.
Meanwhile, he has found other promising outlets for the bread. He sells it through a local restaurant in nearby Waterford, which is on Posavad’s way home from work and makes for a convenient spot to drop off the bread. He is pleased with the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the two businesses. The lunch spot serves all-day breakfast and grilled sandwiches made with Good Bread’s signature light rye and other loaves, then sells the bread by the loaf.
“They sell the loaves they test, so it’s an easy transition from tasting to buying,” he says.
Posavad loves Norfolk County, which was recently rebranded as Ontario’s Garden.
“My heart is here,” he says. Before starting the bakery, he bought a five-acre hobby farm.
What does he grow on the farm?
“Right now, weeds,” he says with a chuckle. It is a lot of work, he says. “It’s like having two full-time jobs. So right now I am concentrating on the bakery.”
The farm houses beehives (he sells the honey in the bakery) and organic vegetables, which he plans to incorporate into the business someday soon.
The annual Norfolk County Holiday Soup Luncheon in Simcoe, 15 minutes away, which lets people sample a smorgasbord of local soups and chilis for a donation, provides a great outreach opportunity for Good Bread and other local businesses. The event, whose entire proceeds go to support local food banks, is a boon to the bakery.
“It’s a lot of fun. I make new contacts, see old contacts,” says Posavad, adding that he loves to chat so this is a perfect forum for him. “For about four hours at the event, I sample our signature loaves exclusively.” The event is a good fit because bread is a natural complement to soup.
A healthy and growing tourism industry has been pivotal to Good Bread’s growth.
Posavad, a marketing whirlwind, can see the difference it makes to business. He monitors everything – the breads that sell, the days that work best for customers, the kind of visitors they bring in, for example, locals and weekend drivers out for the day from the Greater Toronto Area, and seasonal cottagers.
He advertises in tourist publications and a popular local weekly shopper, pulling in surprising numbers and demographics.
“You wouldn’t believe the high-end cars – Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Jags – that show up from London, the Toronto area, Tillsonburg and Ancaster,” he says. “There is something about the ambience that makes everyone patient and friendly. Perhaps the most touching compliment we ever got was when someone said, ‘I feel safe when I come in here’. ”
He likes the “old-fashioned harkening back” they have managed to create. A calculated investment in a bread slicer early on, for example, has paid off in the satisfaction customers get from the unhurried personal service they receive. “Actually, the purchase of the slicer was solely for customer service. At the outset we had senior citizens come in that told us they couldn’t slice bread because of joint pain.”
“We’re facing an odd situation now,” says Posavad. “Initially we personally handled and served every item on the shelves: tongs for cookies, individual bags for tarts and muffins, and so forth. But as time went on, and the volume of customers increased exponentially, I realized we had to do some prepackaging to minimize wait time for those in line. Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to develop a supermarket feel. So I’m always experimenting.”
If he is a bit hesitant to ramp up production beyond what they can handle, Posavad has no shortage of plans for Good Bread. He agreed early on to participate in a “butter tart trail” in Norfolk County, for which a movement is underway.
Posavad calls Pruden “a gifted baker with a lifelong curiosity and love of developing recipes.” Pruden loves to read and study the work of the best bakers, including his favourite, Jerry Hamelin.
They source as many ingredients locally as possible while maintaining high quality. Rye and spelt flour comes from the local Brant Flour Mill. They prefer organic ingredients but have not taken the step of guaranteeing non-GMO ingredients.
The bakery once offered gluten-free bread through an outside supplier, but the partnership ended when they couldn’t get the service they required. Posavad is in the process of sourcing a new local supplier that will meet their needs.
What they do promise customers is chemical-free products with no preservatives, baked fresh every day. They use no premixes and do not force the development of the loaves. This means, of course, that on cold days they have a smaller bake, which is matched by smaller customer turnout.
Love to experiment
Good Bread’s signature loaf is the light rye, which also sells the best “probably because it’s my favourite and it shows,” says Posavad with a smile.
Mid-week Good Bread features spelt and kamut. Over the last few weeks they have introduced vegetable-infused loaves. Beet bread and the kale and onion loaf became very popular, once the customers got over the psychological hump of seeing burgundy and bright green loaves, he says.
Born in Canada with Czech-Croatian roots, he doesn’t market the business as a European bakery but the recipes are based on the European-style bread he grew up on, which was not high in sugar or fat.
However, they do bake one buttermilk loaf every day, and one fruit loaf every other day. The fruit breads on offer cycles between currant, prune, pecan and apple. During Bakers Journal’s visit, a new whole-wheat walnut loaf was being well received by visitors stamping in from the cold air.
The two like the process of experimentation and to that end they check out high-end bakers in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake for comparison and inspiration, he shares. “That’s how we decided to try doing a beet bread. We found one out there but said to ourselves, ‘we can do better’. ”
Posavad shares another bit of wisdom that has served Good Bread well: “We don’t accelerate or delay the rise,” he says. “The bread is the boss. ”