Paying It Forward in Montreal
November 6, 2007
By Rebecca Schwarz
Inspired by Art, Baking and Community, Cantor Makes a Difference
How did a student making danishes on a part-time basis become vice-president of a beloved Montreal baking institution? It probably didn’t hurt that Tony Medeiros had hands-on experience in every aspect of the baking industry, from baking to advertising to customer relations – even though he never planned for a career in the industry. Today, Medeiros combines baking with philanthropy, commercial art, and comic book publishing. None of it seems unusual to him, as he speaks modestly of his remarkable trajectory.
“You could say I started from the bottom of the ladder at the bakery level,” he says. “In my 22 years at Cantor, I spent about seven in baking, moved up to office work, and then to management.”
But don’t call him, “Mr. Vice-President”, “I was never one for titles. With titles, comes the growth of ego.” Medeiros has two business partners. He speaks highly of Max Cantor, whose father founded the bakery.
“Max Cantor is one of the smartest men in the baking industry, and is a mentor. He is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the bakery anymore, but is an arms-length away, if my partners and I need advice. A real sharp man.”
Medeiros was studying religion, history, and art at university when he began making danishes at the bakery. Despite a post-secondary diploma in commercial and creative art, he couldn’t find a job in his chosen field of animation.
“I came to a crossroad when I was studying art, and found that there were no computer programs for art in the late ’80s.”
So Medeiros decided to pursue a university degree, and began working part time at the bakery founded in 1922. Danishes gave way to shipping, then office work. Medeiros abandoned his university studies in favour of a full-time position at Cantor, becoming responsible for orders and in-house advertising. Here, Medeiros could put his diploma in commercial art to use, creating advertising cartoons for the chain. He also began computerizing the bakery’s operations. Not surprisingly, today he is the company’s webmaster, and maintains the website, www.sandboxworld.com, devoted to kids and comics.
“My art is what made me move up the ladder in the bakery, along with my computer skills,” he says. “Cantor Bakeries was one of the first bakeries in Montreal to computerize their office in the ’70s. Since I was savvy in computer skills, they found great use for my skills.”
Cantor has had a web presence for over a decade. The company receives orders “from all over the world,” from clients requesting delivery “to far places such as Hawaii.”
For a good 10 years, Medeiros juggled various responsibilities at Cantor until 2000, when he was named vice-president. Now, he helps create new products, and oversees the 100 employees at the St. Michel factory.
The factory provides bakeries and supermarkets throughout Quebec and Ontario, as well as schools and restaurants. “We were the first to supply bread to KFC when they came to Montreal,” Medeiros points out. Medeiros is in charge of client relations and human resources, and also handles all marketing for the company.
“The marketing department is basically one person — me. I can create a project from scratch to finish,” he says.
He is especially proud of “Party in a Box.” After donating giant cakes to the Montreal Children’s Hospital for their annual fundraiser, Medeiros came up with the concept: everything needed for a children’s party, in one box. Proceeds go to the hospital, so that “another kid can celebrate his next birthday at the hospital.”
Medeiros says his motivation was straightforward: “There is one thing that binds all of us, and that is a birthday. We all have one, and to kids, that is the most important day; and I wanted to help them celebrate that unique day.”
Besides “Party in a Box,” Medeiros develops new products each month; the latest is called Muffin Toast, but he won’t divulge any details just yet.
Bestselling products at Cantor include rye bread, bagels, muffins, cakes, and danishes. Rye bread is a particular favourite with Montrealers. Medeiros describes it as “the oldest on the island, and a true rye bread. Others just bake a knockoff sour dough version, and market it as a rye bread. Our rye bread is our claim to fame. We have customers from all nationalities, and from out of town who bring our products to other parts of Canada or the States.”
The bakery plans to bring its famous rye bread to other markets, too. “We are already in Ontario, and plan to go deeper. We are going against the grain, and are also going into the States, unlike many bakeries who are drawing back because of the higher dollar.”
To date, Cantor is the largest mid-sized bakery in Montreal, with more than 500 products. The St. Michel facility has two large ovens, plus a tunnel oven in use 24 hours a day, and two smaller ovens for speciality products. They prefer to hire interns from baking programs, and Medeiros complains of a “dry spell” in graduates at the moment.
A visitor to Medeiros’ office will notice a page from a comic book hanging on the wall above his office — Medeiros created the character of Disc Jockey, and sold it to DC Comics, publishers of Wonder Woman and Superman. The comic-baking connection isn’t so unusual, claims Medeiros, citing the Pillsbury Doughboy™ as an example.
A fan of rock music, and French and Portuguese poetry, Medeiros publishes comic books under his own imprint, Xpress Comics®. In his spare time, he reads, doodles, coaches soccer, and poses for photo ops with celebrities like Justin Trudeau — the latter at the launch of Dr. Robot, at the English Montreal School Board. The comic book — published by Medeiros — raised funds for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Medeiros also gives children tours of the bakery.
“It’s an amazing experience for many of them. A whole new adventure. I truly believe that baking is an art form, and along with my own art, it has become a fun venture that I am able to share with kids and adults alike.”
Medeiros brought his philanthropy to his industry, and to Cantor Bakery, in particular.
“Cantor is not about a nameless face,” he says, summing up his philosophy in his usual, straightforward terms. “We are people, and we help people.”
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