|A funnel cake made at FunlFun. Customers can mix and match toppings for their six- or eight-inch cakes.
Today’s consumer culture demands choice for patrons of bake shops or dessert purveyors, and savvy shop owners are offering customization in everything from cookies to funnel cakes with a side of homespun charm.
Leading the way in bespoke treats is Kim Gans, owner of Sweet Flour Bake Shop in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood. Upon entering the robin’s-egg blue and chocolate-brown shop, customers catch the scent of melting chocolate in freshly baked cookie dough as it gently wafts through the air.
And when Gans says freshly baked, she means it: Customers can select their dough (three types: classic, oatmeal or peanut butter) and choose up to three decadent mix-ins from a list of 20. Dried fruits; white, dark or milk chocolate chunks; nuts; sprinkles and other whimsical options vie for patrons’ attention.
But here’s the distinguishing feature that allows everyone from grandma to grandchild to enjoy his or her own cookie creation in mere moments: “Our signature baking process prepares made-to-order cookies in two minutes,” says Gans. “Customers choose their dough, mix-ins, and get warm and delicious cookies baked on the spot.”
Served toasty warm from the oven, muffin tops or customized cookie sandwiches are also at the ready in case you want something different. Oh, and don’t forget your glass of ice cold, organic milk to wash it all down.
This isn’t just clever marketing savvy on Gans’ part, either, even though she has an MBA and worked in brand management and new product development. She genuinely loves cookies and the whole warmth-of-home ambience baking and sharing them engenders.
“As a child, my mother always had fresh baked goods in the house. When I was older, my best friend would bring me cookies to make me smile, and today, each night after dinner I bake a warm cookie for me and my husband,” she says.
For Gans, it’s all about creating that special “mmmmm” moment that comes from biting into something wonderful. But the same could be said about digging into the nostalgic, tasty fun of a funnel cake.
Paul Jafar Pour thinks funnel cakes are, in fact, so much fun that he named his shop in Toronto’s north end FunlFun, with a second location in Thornhill opening soon.
“Funnel cakes have always been a crowd pleaser,” Pour says. “They’re hugely popular in the United States, and although just as popular here, there were not as many retail locations offering this popular treat. We saw this as an amazing opportunity to expand on a great product. By offering the amusement park favourite in a sit-down environment combined with service and quality, we’ve hit on a real niche that people are embracing.”
He investigated which batter to use and came upon U.S.-based The World’s Best Funnel Cakes. He chose this product for his shop in part because of how it tastes – it delivers crisp ribbons of cake that Pour says are made with “high-quality ingredients that produce cakes lower in fat and cholesterol but still high in flavour.”
But what customers love most is their ability to mix and match all of the toppings for their six- or eight-inch cakes. Pour, a former real estate and mortgage industry professional, knows that the customization edge is one way of staying ahead in the competitive food industry.
“In order to stay afloat, you must be able to offer your consumer what they want, not what you want to make for them,” he says.
From various soft-serve to hard-scoop ice cream flavours; or fruit, chocolate or caramel toppings; young and old alike are being drawn into the joy of having their very own funnel cake prepared to their taste. FunlFun’s best sellers include funnel cakes topped with vanilla ice cream and strawberry, and vanilla soft-serve drizzled with hot fudge.
“The amazing thing about dessert is that people of all ages enjoy it,” Pour says. “The younger kids obviously have a more vocal way of expressing their excitement when the plates are brought to their tables, but adults have had a hugely positive response as well.”
FunlFun and Sweet Flour Bake Shop indeed cover all the bases by offering gourmet coffees, teas and other treats meant to keep every sweet tooth satisfied until the next nostalgic pang hits home.
Both businesses have hit on the notion of offering something unique and made to order in neighbourhoods full of families that want an alternative to their local coffee or bake shop. Even during economically challenging times, Gans and Pour know that, on occasion, something as simple as a cookie or a cake can give people something to feel good about.