By Laura Aiken
The bubblegum pink and brown storefront of OMG Baked Goodness pops like
a boxer’s punch amongst its subdued peers in the Brockton Village
neighbourhood of Toronto.
The bubblegum pink and brown storefront of OMG Baked Goodness pops like a boxer’s punch amongst its subdued peers in the Brockton Village neighbourhood of Toronto. It’s a good thing it’s tough to miss, because pastry chef Lesley Mattina has customers from far and wide stopping by. What started out as a wholesale business two years ago morphed into a neighbourhood bakery concept that has ultimately evolved into a destination.
Mattina, a particularly endearing juxtaposition of petite and sweetly animated, buzzes around between the cozy retail nook at the front of the store and vast canyon of kitchen beyond, while I make myself comfortable on the wooden bench near the door in preparation for her interview with Bakers Journal. As she pours me a glass of lemonade, the artfully arranged cupcake tree on the counter and menagerie of savoury pastries and sweet treats below inspire a fierce growl of the stomach, and I doubt I’ll get out of this place empty handed.
Building the brand
While the food has caused a stir in the local press since Mattina opened the doors in October 2009, the artist’s bent to the interior is equally worthy of conversation. Baking trays make up a front for the counter. A tree trunk with antlers attached serves as part display table, part pure whimsy. A large mural of a cupcake local by graffiti artist Elicser dominates the left wall. Photographs and prints for sale are hung around it. She has developed a strong face for OMG in the front of the store, but curious onlookers are openly privy to the back where they’ll see Mattina and staff standing on milk crates, hands deep in their work. The whole scene looks professionally planned, but in fact Mattina, had only three weeks and the help of family and friends to get OMG’s retail doors open on schedule.
|A large mural of a cupcake adorning one wall was painted by local graffiti artist Elicser.|
“I had to come up with what OMG was going to look like. I didn’t need to do that before as a wholesaler, I just had to have a logo and delicious food … luckily I have really talented friends. It definitely developed in a very natural, organic way. My friend had these beautiful antlers and we thought: What should we do with them? They don’t have anything to do with cupcakes, but they’re interesting and beautiful.”
The antlers may not have anything to do with cupcakes, but OMG sure does. Their signature item (that contributed a lot to the hype) is the vegan chocolate cupcakes, which are sold in full and mini sizes. The cupcakes were a request from a wholesale client in Kensington Market, a trendy Toronto neighbourhood where people are often looking for specialty products.
“I did a lot of product development and recipe testing. Vegan baking wasn’t something that I specialized in – at all – so I had to do a lot of work to create the product I wanted to make … I describe it as the best chocolate cupcake you’ll ever have, and it just happens to be vegan.”
Baking itself wasn’t an original specialty of Mattina’s. She graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., with a psychology degree, but she landed at On the Twenty restaurant in Jordan, Ont., training under celebrity chef Anna Olsen and her husband Michael. It was at On the Twenty that she discovered a love for baking.
Mattina has created signature products out of rather scientific baking, producing melt-in-your-mouth vegan cupcakes and flourless chocolate tortes. Yet, she prefers to work outside the confines of a recipe.
“I know how recipes work and I do have recipes, but I would never say here’s a recipe, follow it to the exact T. I love a little bit of this and a little bit of that cooking and baking … I think instincts and food are meant to be together.”
Expanding the business
When Mattina secured 1561 Dundas St. W. as a location, she decided to use the vast space for community benefit. Not only does she hold events there, but she rents the space out to fellow bakers. As a former home-based wholesale pastry chef, she says finding a place to bake was always a problem.
|Mattina made creative use of baking trays for her counter front.|
“It’s a space for people to rent to test their products and make sure it’s a viable business. I wanted to be able to take advantage of the vast space that we have here, so we’ve had some entrepreneurs come in and do some testing and baking for farmers markets. I love the fact that it’s a community space.”
Moving from a home-based business into a leased space had its challenges. Securing financing was a huge hurdle in making her dream a reality. Her young wholesale business wasn’t eligible for its own bank financing, so it was all loaned to her personally, creating the “most extreme, skinniest, shoestring budget that you could ever imagine.”
For bakers looking to expand their operation, Mattina advises to start with less than what you think you will need. It’s easier to add new equipment and build up, rather than sell equipment and pare down.
Having a good and steady clientele that will help keep you propped up as you expand is also key. Mattina’s previous employment in the industry served her well when she opened as a wholesaler, which is still the bulk of her business. Her first invoice was sent to the first company she ever worked at in the food industry. Tapping into old networks can be a great tool for new growth.
Launching the business on a tight budget was tough enough, and left little money for a splashy ad campaign to attract the public. Instead, Mattina made the most of social media.
|OMG carries about 40 different products with plans to expand on the signature sellers.|
“My marketing budget consists of chalkboards, Twitter and Facebook. Social media marketing has done very well for me … I walk a fine line on those social media sites of being OMG and of being Lesley. I don’t think people would identify with me as much if I was just an anonymous OMG website or Facebook. I like to do a nice balance of personal messages from me, and messages that are strictly business related.”
She gauges it as effective by all the feedback she gets from the sites. She also purposely works the front of the shop a lot, and is diligent in finding out what brought people in that day. This is how she discovered the true nature of her boutique business.
“I thought this would be very much a neighbourhood spot, but it’s not. Instead, it’s become a destination, and people are coming from Peterborough and Etobicoke and Burlington. Of course, they’re coming from up the street too, but I expected that. I did not expect the destination.”
As the company “grows up,” Mattina envisions select products being more widely available at a “boutique” commercial level. She wants to continue building the retail side as a destination. While there are about 40 products in the company’s line, she says the focus will be the runaway hits. Currently, the savoury turnovers, vegan cupcakes and herb and garlic focaccia make up the bulk of sales. Growth on the savoury side of the business is outpacing everything else. She stresses that all of her products, including the specialty items, are made with the basic ingredients found in a home kitchen, manipulated in a way that makes them work.
“I cook and I bake how I want to eat. I don’t want to put things in my food that I wouldn’t have in my own kitchen. It needs to make sense in my brain and in my heart and in my mouth.”
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