Bakers Journal

The Aroma of Competition

November 29, 2007
By Chase Stackhouse

Chase Stackhouse muses on the good and bad of competition.

I live on the outskirts of a small town surrounded by both industry and agriculture. Access to the city and all its amenities are within 60 km. The local newspaper recently published a number of articles regarding the pros and cons of a large box store soon to be constructed in the nearby town. Some smaller communities within our province have said no to what appears to be the popular direction of the corporate world, whereas other communities have welcomed the change with open arms. Local independents (which seem to be a dying breed) often give up long before opening day. There is a fear that the smaller will be swallowed up by the larger.

History has proven this over and over again. Yet what should the small business fear from competition?
Back in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, if you can remember that long ago, my father’s bakery had the contract to supply a local catering company with 60 dozen donuts every morning. Catering companies went to construction sites or local industries and served a variety of items for the hungry worker. I must say you had to be into serious coffee drinking to stomach a cup of the java that flowed from these trucks. Yet on a cold morning, I am sure that a coffee and donut that sold for 25 cents from these trucks hit the spot. Production in the bakery began each day around 3:00am and the donuts were picked up by 6:30am. The donuts were the old-fashioned cake variety, dropped from a hand-cranked Belshaw cutter and fried in lard (trans fat or cholesterol problems were a non-issue). You learned never to talk to Dad during this process because he was counting the number of crank’s (donuts) so as not to overfill the fryer. I will always remember the amount of smoke that filled the bakery during this time, especially when the fryer got too hot. My father never liked thermostats and the fryer was ideal when the smoke started to rise from the top of the heating fat. Before school, I often worked and help with this standing order of donuts. Fellow classmates always told me I smelled like a donut and it’s no wonder. Half the donuts were hand rolled in white sugar and half were left plain. From the cooling racks, they were placed in brown paper bags. You could away tell which ones were “sugared” and which ones were left plain from the outside of the bag: the fat would stain the bags of those that were left plain.

Industrial sites in our city eventually added-on site cafés, drive-through donut shops sprang up with the convenience of not getting out of your car and catering trucks, for the most part, faded away. My father’s bakery produced these donuts back then for 50 cents a dozen. Today you could not buy one for that price. Yet it was not the eventual change that the bakery business would embrace that ended this era. It was not a larger producer that took this business away. My father’s brother-in-law’s bakery down the street offered to make these donuts for 48 cents a dozen. Competition is a good thing – but it’s sometimes personal and it sometimes hurts.

Chase Stackhouse is the pen name for a New Brunswick-based bakery owner. If you have any comments or questions for Mr. Stackhouse, please send them to the editor:

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