Bakers Journal

Features Profiles
That Something Special

Bakeries keen on specialty products


May 27, 2015
By Stephanie Ortenzi

Topics
Kelly’s Bake Shoppe in Burlington, Ont. photography by janis nicolay

Never in the history of food production has a person with allergies had more high-quality foods to choose from. Although only a few years ago, products suffered from poor taste, they’ve never tasted better, they’ve never been available so widely and they’ve never been more sophisticated.

And it’s not only nut- and gluten-free baking. Consumers who want to avoid dairy, soy, egg, sugar and salt can also find food happiness.

Although there’s no official count of how many Canadian bakeries are allergen-friendly, there are two websites showing how remarkable the numbers are and how closely they’re monitored.  

AvoidingMilkProtein.com charts allergy-free bakeries and restaurants. They track Canada as well as the United States. What’s interesting about this list and these niche producers – which also do a lot of savoury dishes, including pizza and pasta – is that even if they don’t do dairy-free, for example, if you ask them, they will. This site also dates its updates, which is impressive, because it’s a perishable business. Not all who set out to do this good work survive.

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The second site is valuable for travellers. GlutenFreePassport.com covers the world, literally, including airline food.

We spoke to five specialty bakeries, from Sackville, N.B., to Maple Ridge, B.C., as a sampling of the dedicated operators that choose to serve this pocket of the market.

Here’s what they had to say about their offerings, motivations, commitment and future goals.   

Zena’s Gluten Free Bakery
Maple Ridge, B.C.
http://zenasglutenfree.com
Est. 2011
Co-owners: Rebecca Stiles & Erin Culhane
We spoke with Rebecca.

Why did you decide to specialize?
Both of us were cooking that way. Erin was cooking for a friend who was dealing with cancer, and my daughter and I were having digestive problems. My husband and I started trial and error experimentations and found that eliminating gluten really worked.

What are your top sellers?
Our breads, which are sugar-, egg-, dairy- and gluten-free, and made with non-GMO flour, namely sorghum, tapioca and organic quinoa.  

How has your product line evolved over the years?
It’s been mostly customer-driven, which led to developing our Freedom line, which is free of gluten, dairy, egg and nuts, making it mostly vegan – we sometimes use honey – although we don’t typically call our products vegan, because it’s not our area of expertise. The line was originally a small part of the business, but it now makes up about 75 per cent.

What do you feel distinguishes your bakery from others?
We have a very personal relationship with our customers who tell us what they need and want, which led to taking sugar out of our bread. We allow our customers’ needs to influence the direction we take in our baking.

What was the biggest milestone from a business point of view?
In July, a space became vacant next door, which led to an organic physical expansion. And in the fall, we had a CFIA inspection, which was a validating process for us, because we are always doing our due diligence 100 times over. We always felt we were doing a good job keeping our environment safe and living up to our claims, but the inspection was a good test of our systems.

What kind of future do you see for your business?
Our dry mixes for cakes, cookies and muffins are selling so well in the bakery that we see growth potential in wholesaling them.

What advice would you give to an operator who wants to specialize?
Do your homework. Inform and educate yourself. People are putting a lot of trust in you, which is very gratifying, but also a huge responsibility.


Kelly’s Bake Shoppe
Burlington, Ont.
kellysxo.com
Est. 2012
Co-owners: Kelly Childs & Erinn Weatherbie
We spoke to Kelly.

Why did you decide to specialize?
It was a natural move for us. We were already vegan. It’s true to who we are.

What are your top sellers?
Mile-high brownie, skinny cookies, but really the cupcakes fly out the door. We have as many as 2,000 to 3,000 people coming through from Friday night and over the weekend.

How has your product line evolved over the years?
Everything is much prettier, more aesthetically pleasing. We’ve also diversified quite a bit, developing our lines. We recently started selling vegan ice cream.

What do you feel distinguishes your bakery from others?
Our level of commitment is very strong, and our branding is highly personal. We’re literally the face of the business.
    
What kind of future do you see for your business?
We have a cookbook coming out in March 2016. We’re looking at locations for flagship stores in Toronto and Vancouver, possibly franchising or co-ownership opportunities. We do some shipping, but it’s very expensive.

What advice would you give to an operator who wants to specialize?
Make sure the work is true to your core passion.


Voila Gluten-Free Bakeree
Oakville, Ont. Est. 2009
Ottawa, Ont. Est. 2014
www.voilaglutenfreebakeree.com
Co-owners: John & Julia Richer
Head pastry chef: Kaleigh [daughter]
Ottawa store manager: Ryan [son]
We spoke to Ryan.

Why did you decide to specialize?
My mother, who is the lead baker, is a celiac, and we found that there were very limited options for her that
tasted good.

What are your top sellers?
It varies week to week, but carrot cake is at the top, then butter tarts, cupcakes and our breads.

How has your product line evolved over the years?
As we got busier and had growing demand, we developed more recipes, including dairy- and egg-free options for vegans.

What do you feel distinguishes your bakery from others?
We’ve been a family business since Day One. We make products you wouldn’t know are gluten-free because of the taste. We’re 100 per cent gluten-, peanut-, nut- and treenut-free. We trace back all our suppliers to make sure they are, too. We don’t use preservatives, and use very little sugar and salt. You don’t mess around with an allergy.

What kind of future do you see for your business?
We hope to continue growing and to be known as the go-to place for gluten-free. And we’d like to start selling to grocers and health-food stores to give more exposure to our products and for people to know who we are.

What advice would you give to an operator who wants to specialize?
The big one is to believe in what you’re selling, because having happy and returning customers is very worthwhile.


Treasure Mills School Safe
Aurora, Ont.
TreasureMills.com
Est. 2003
Owner: Robert Johnson

Why did you decide to specialize?
We saw that there was a niche to be had. Everybody was contaminated in their process and distribution. No one was doing it. It was an answer to market demand, and the barrier to entry was significant.

What are your top sellers?
Cupcakes, banana chocolate loaves, brownie bars and blueberry chocolate chip cookies – all of them completely nut-free, peanut-free and dairy-free.

How has your product line evolved over the years?
We added cupcakes, chocolate cookies, granola and muffins, including adding seasonality to the cupcakes and cookies.

What do you feel distinguishes your bakery from others?
First and foremost is our brand, School Safe, which addresses the problem in the consumers mind. Secondly, we operate from a state-of-the-art plant with efficient auto-baking that allows us to scale. Third, we individually wrap, so that the product is safe and has no risk of contamination until it’s opened at school or at home.

What kind of future do you see for your business?
Our future is bright. The demand for our products is growing around the world, and we’re well-positioned to grow because we have more real estate than we’re using.

What advice would you give to an operator who wants to specialize?
Have the products made for you, because the cost of manufacturing is huge.


Cackling Goose Market
Sackville, N.B.
cacklinggoosemarket.ca
Est. 2007
Co-owners: Amanda Feindel & Mark Istvanffy
We spoke with Amanda.

Why did you decide to specialize?
My two children and I we were diagnosed as celiacs. In 2012, we became a fully dedicated gluten-free bakery and café, which is also wheat-, dairy-, soy- and corn-free. Some products are even egg-free. Up until then, since 2007, we were a health-food store.

What are your top sellers?
Our carrot cake, which is made with as many carrots as possible, organic walnuts, sweetened with organic cane sugar and iced with coconut cream.

How has your product line evolved over the years?
We started with a signature “Super Grain” loaf – a daily bread that could be sliced for sandwiches and give customers a “normal” experience with bread. Now, we’re on the verge of a large expansion that will allow us to expand our line as well. We’ll be wholesaling new breads, baguettes, mini vegan chocolate cakes from the freezer, pizza crusts and ready-to-go meals such as mac ’n’ cheese and lasagna.

What do you feel distinguishes your bakery from others?
I am completely unwilling to compromise on ingredients. I would never sell anything I wouldn’t eat myself. Profit should never impact the high standard of customer service when it comes to health. We have a very product-savvy customer base, and we enjoy sharing knowledge with them.

What kind of future do you see for your business?
The expansion for sure. We’ve started selling some wholesale in Moncton [N.B.], and we may be breaking ground in the fall.

What advice would you give to an operator who wants to specialize?
Know your stuff. Be passionate about it, and understand the health reasons.