Bakers Journal

Multi-allergy mission

February 18, 2014
By Colleen Cross

Joanna Schultz was motivated to open Pikanik, her gluten-, wheat-, nut-, dairy-, soy- and sometimes egg-free bakery

Joanna Schultz was motivated to open Pikanik, her gluten-, wheat-, nut-, dairy-, soy- and sometimes egg-free bakery, by the disappointment and frustration she felt on entering bakery after bakery that offered gluten-free products only to find a very limited selection of items that were safe to eat.

The shop offers a menu of breads, rolls, scones, muffins, cream puffs, cookies, squares and specialty cakes that changes daily.


Her two daughters, Frances, 6, and Gisela, 3, are intolerant to gluten and dairy. Schultz herself is gluten-intolerant.

“I thought, this can’t be all there is,” she says.

A baker “four careers ago,” Schultz had been doing her own baking for years, experimenting and developing recipes. When she realized what a demand there was for safe, delicious baked goods in the food intolerant and allergen market, along with the luxury of choosing freely from a menu, she set about developing and honing recipes for breads, buns, cakes and other treats in order to fill that niche.

She says her “classic sandwich bread” took two years to develop and entailed a challenging process: “I baked 20 loaves before I even had a glimmer of hope.”

In October 2012, she left the corporate world of labour relations to become an entrepreneur and opened a storefront location near her home in White Rock, B.C., a suburb of metro Vancouver where the multi-allergy clientele was underserved.

She started the business as a bakery and lunch counter offering nut-, gluten- and dairy-free products, and then added soy- and egg-free products. The popular lunch spot has since given way to a straight bakery, where the demand for product and demands on her time have made it necessary to focus on developing and making products.

Although not formally trained in business, she says she is comfortable in this new venture.

“I feel like this is what I was always meant to do,” she says.

Pikanik’s four staff members include Schultz, two bakers and a full-time manager of customer service. Schultz does most of the business administration herself, with help from her husband, Patrick Gibson, who is co-founder of a software development company and an amateur photographer.

Operating a shop that is “everything free” means there is no chance of cross-contamination. Production efficiency wasn’t even a consideration, says Schultz, because she couldn’t take the risk. But focusing on a niche market has helped her streamline marketing efforts. She posts her menu in the store and on Facebook every day and is able to drive home the message that the bakery is a safe environment for people sensitive to certain foods, without letting taste take a back seat: “We only mention it because you’d never know,” says the Facebook page.

Schultz describes the shop’s ratio of fresh to packaged goods as about 85 to 15, but increasing all the time. Most of what they sell are freshly baked goods: breads, rolls, scones, muffins, cream puffs, cookies, squares and specialty cakes made to order. She also has a ready-bake line that includes cinnamon rolls, burger buns and dinner rolls. All goods are freezable, she says. Customers appreciate having access to products seven days a week and baking with family when they feel the impulse.

Streamlined POS
When she brought home a three-inch-thick manual for the cash register and handed it to her husband, he quickly came up with another option. He downloaded a program called Shopkeep and set it up to run the POS system to run from an iPad.

“This system has helped me know when the key times are to schedule staff, track patterns in sales, identify top sellers, track inventory and more,” Schultz says.

It allows staff to change menu items at any time, do a sales analysis and pull reports, which is useful for figuring out customer traffic patterns. She says the Cloud-based system takes the guesswork out of making decisions and gives her some data to work with.

Shopkeep can serve as a database of customer lists for marketing e-mails and has recently added a built-in customer loyalty program feature, features Schultz plans to use to their full potential.

On-the-wall strategy
A customer web app Gibson created and a tiny computer called a Raspberry Pi allow her to feed information simultaneously to the website, Facebook, Twitter and an in-store projector.

On the wall of Pikanik’s clean, bright shop, in full view of the customer lineup, Schultz projects the daily menu, advertises products and highlights customer feedback.

“I enjoyed a wedding cake made by you over the weekend! One of the best I’ve ever had, and I’m not even trying to avoid gluten,” read one of the featured comments.

“Customers love to see their comments projected in the shop, and seeing other people’s testimonials as they are standing there thinking about whether to buy something really impacts folks – especially people in our shop for the first time,” says Shultz.

Connecting with customers
Social media (Facebook in particular) is integral to the bakery’s mission. Schultz, a finalist in the Bakers Journal Business Awards, put it best in an e-mail to Bakers Journal: “The key underpinning of my business is customer engagement. In this day and age, when bricks and mortar businesses need to compete with web-based sales, customer loyalty is critical. There is no better way to build customer loyalty and brand recognition than with customer engagement – my customers are as passionate about my business as I am. Not a day goes by that I don’t have customers thanking us from the bottom of their heart for doing what we do, committing to spread the word, taking business cards to hand out to their friends, even posting our brochure in their apartment buildings! I’m so proud of that.”

 “It’s really when I want to communicate with our customers or I want to engage them in something,” says Joanna Schultz of Pikanik’s social media strategy.


She focuses her efforts on Facebook because of the demographic it provides. “Not only does Facebook allow us to share what’s going on in the shop, promote new products, etc. – it provides so much more,” she says. “People get their hands on our products faster by messaging us . . . and, critically, the more people that ‘like’ our page, the more insight we gain about our customer base.

“You can also build anticipation about product development. One day I posted a photo of a pizza we made in the shop and it went viral. It was obvious from the numbers and comments that a fantastic gluten-free pizza dough needed to move up in our development list. Since we’ve launched that pizza dough, it’s become one of our best sellers.”

On days she is swamped, readers might see only one post – that day’s menu by 10 a.m. – but when she has more time she posts a photo, a story or a new product announcement.

 “The way we approach customer engagement isn’t a gimmick,” she says. “We use technology to connect with our customers and to have them connect with each other…  This connection with our customers also helps build trust and confirms our status as experts in food allergies and specialty food production.”

Pikanik has recently made the foray into the mobile world by launching an iPad app.

“It provides our lunch menu, daily highlights, a link to the full list of baked items, customer testimonials, store hours, map, directions, one-touch phoning,” Schultz says. “The next version will include push notification of special deals, coupons and announcements. A future version will provide ordering and payment options directly on the phone, plus a push notification when the order is ready.”

Multi-allergy hurdles
The business’s biggest hurdle, says Schultz, is finding suitable ingredients from options that are limited and expensive because she cannot buy them in bulk.

“When you start going multi-allergy, your options for ingredients get more and more narrow and more and more expensive,” she says. “There’s one kind of margarine, and it doesn’t come bulk. There’s one kind of chocolate, and it doesn’t come bulk.”

She finds she has to be very careful where she buys ingredients because lots of bulk distributors handle nuts. 

These limitations make you creative, she says. You have to learn to think outside of the box.

“I love that I am constantly discovering something new that surprises me.”

“I have a lot of conversations with our bakers that start this way: ‘I’ve had a crazy idea . . . ’ It happens all the time. Then we sit down and we think about, how would we actually go about that? Ninety per cent of the time the ‘crazy idea’ works really well the first time we do it.

“Once you’ve done this for a while, you start to know intuitively what’s going to work.”

Winner of 2013 Surrey Now People’s Choice Best Gluten Free award, Pikanik is the only bakery Schultz knows of that covers this niche in her market. The bakery was just named Best Bakery 2013 South Surrey/White Rock in the Surrey Now, an accolade Schultz is particularly proud of because it recognizes Pikanik’s strengths among a wider field of competitors.

Next up are three product launches. In addition to her all-purpose flour, this winter Schultz will launch a pancake mix, soon to be followed by scone and vanilla cake mixes in early spring. With these products she’s hoping to inspire home bakers and to make the shop’s baking more affordable.
But the real satisfaction, she says, comes from lifting limitations and from seeing kids walk into the bakery and being able to choose any treat they like.

“Parents say, ‘You can have as many things as you want because this is the first time in your 10 years that you’ve been able to do this.’

“A 10-year-old kid who’s never been to a bakery because of a severe nut allergy and now gets to choose something. That’s big.”

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