It took an early misstep, and a change of scene, to make Isabelle Loiacono sure of her passion
It took an early misstep, and a change of scene, to make Isabelle Loiacono sure of her passion. However, when Loiacono opened the doors of J’Adore Cakes Co. in east Toronto on Nov. 7, 2011, it marked the culminating step in a career devoted to opening her own bakery.
Loiacono had attended university but decided quickly it wasn’t for her. Then, while on a Mediterranean cruise with her family in celebration of the 25th anniversary of her parents Lise and Frank, she found herself doing more bakery hopping at each dock than anything else.
“That’s where I finally decided this is what I need to do,” she says. At the time “this” wasn’t yet a cake designer with her creation on the cover of Toronto Life, but it’s what she has achieved today.
Loiacono first attended and then graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Ottawa in 2006. She set her sights on owning her own bakery and started the journey at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta as a pastry chef.
She moved on to a job with Toronto’s Highland Farms grocery store as a cake decorator. There she learned production, busily pumping out 50 cakes a day. Her next position was as a pastry chef for Marigolds & Onions, a Toronto-based catering company, where she says she learned how to manage a kitchen and how to provide an even higher volume of product, needing “500 of this or “1,000 of that.” After losing the job with the catering company, she found herself feeling the need for a break from pastries. She came across the Bonnie Gordon College website and was in awe of Gordon’s gorgeous cakes.
“I kind of begged Bonnie for a job,” she says with a laugh. “I started out as the baker there.”
After a while, Gordon asked Loiacono to help her with a few orders for cakes.
“It became a really nice relationship with her where we worked really well together and we did some really beautiful cakes together. Then she asked me if I wanted to start teaching.”
Shy by nature, Loiacono was hesitant, but took the offer in the end. She ended up as a teacher and a principal cake designer at the school. But it was to be the final step for her as an employee. After watching friends open up their shops, she decided it was her turn to make her vision a reality.
|Isabelle Loiacono is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and a former teacher at the Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts.
The vision was a taste of Paris in Toronto, and it’s come to life on a rather unassuming stretch of the Danforth east enough to border Scarborough. Her mother, a retired kindergarten teacher, now works alongside her daughter every day helping to make the beautiful French pastries displayed in the retail shop. J’Adore’s shelves are graced by macaroons and such traditional French pastries as Religieuse, all flanked by her beautiful signature cakes. Her eyes light up when she talks of her macaroons, in particular. She has found a way to replace the almonds in the shell with other nuts such as pistachios, peanuts, pecans and hazelnuts. She uses nuts in the shell and in the filling, which isn’t too sweet, and she has honed the art of getting the tops nice and shiny. She says she has something for everyone, with cakes starting at prices as low as $500. On average, her cakes sell for $700 to $1,200. She makes Parisian cookies and cupcakes, and also serves coffee and sandwiches.
“French pastries are the basis for all pastries,” she says. “You can still add your additions, like a cream cheese or lychee, to change it up but it’s basically French. My dad’s half Italian so he keeps trying to get cannolis in here. I’m like, No!”
While growing up in Maple, Ont., on the west side of greater Toronto, Loiacono’s passion for baking cookies was developed at her Italian grandmother’s knee. There are no partners in J’Adore Cakes but her parents help in the store and with the business side of balance sheets and paying bills.
Her cake clients come from all stretches of Ontario, but getting bakery clientele through the door in a seemingly “shady” neighbourhood – that’s the challenge. She says a lot of people are finding her online and her blog has helped. Her name as a cake designer got a boost when she appeared the Toronto Life Wedding Guide cover and when one of her cakes was featured in Weddingbells. She tried a Groupon to pull some customers to the bakery, and found it worked well for getting her name out there and getting in some new clientele.
She always leaves the lights on, which is another way to stick out at night when people are driving by. She does promotions for her locals too, for example, coffee for a dollar. She is learning her market, but, true to her history of forward thinking, she sees her current digs as a temporary location to plant the seeds of the bakery’s brand. Once she can afford it, she plans to move downtown.
She says the cake industry is now very influenced by all the cake shows on television, which have given people an unrealistic view of the amount of work that goes into artistic cakes. Ironically, after developing such high artistic skills in cake design, she finds the market liking the homemade look.
“What’s happening now is people are leaning toward the whole rustic look, with whoopee pies, cake pops, pies and a homemade look that’s rustic.”
After finding her way to entrepreneurial success, Loiacono will find a way to meet her market’s needs while injecting her neighbourhood with her own little taste of Paris.
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