Bakers Journal

Features Profiles
Thirty sweet years


May 29, 2009
By Brian Hartz


Topics

Baker Street – not only a great song by U.K. rocker Gerry Rafferty, but also a great name for a bakery.

Baker Street – not only a great song by U.K. rocker Gerry Rafferty, but also a great name for a bakery.

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However, this Baker Street is actually located on Hopewell Street in Toronto, in an unassuming grey building whose appearance belies the beauty and deliciousness of the products made inside it.

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A Baker Street worker puts the finishing touches on a batch of white chocolate cheesecakes.  
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From left: Baker Street’s Jason Kravice, Mary Somerton, Esther Kravice, Leah Somerton-Barr and Jessica Somerton.


 

Founded in 1978 by two sisters – Mary Somerton and Esther Kravice, who remain actively involved in the business – Baker Street has grown from a humble home-kitchen retail operation to a major wholesale supplier of gourmet cheese spreads and cakes to grocery chains such as Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Pusateri’s and Longo’s as well as boutique markets, hotels, casinos, resorts and restaurants.

Despite such rapid growth, Baker Street has remained family owned and operated. Esther Kravice is the company president, while the sales team is made up of her son Jason and her husband Jerry Kravice. Her other son Dylan handles the finances and Jason’s wife, Marla Kravice, handles public relations and marketing. Mary Somerton is vice-president and very much involved with the research and development department headed by Denise Stemmler, a former culinary instructor at institutions such as George Brown College. Mary’s daughters Leah Somerton-Barr and Jessica Somerton are Baker Street’s plant manager and quality control director, respectively.

For someone who’s been in the baking business so long, Mary Somerton has one of the more unusual backgrounds you might encounter.

“I used to work at Queen’s Park, as a legislative assistant for the NDP,” she says.

“But I’ve found it’s much easier to influence people through dessert than politics. I never thought it would turn into this, though – you couldn’t back then.”

“It’s been hard work, but the reaction of our customers is what keeps us going. We’re still at it because we have a lot to work for.”

Judging by the diverse range of desserts and spreads Baker Street produces, the company’s influence is spreading not only to a variety of markets, such as those mentioned above, but also manufacturers of private-label and customized products.

“Our R&D team has become very highly respected in the culinary industry,” says Marla. “Chefs and restaurateurs looking for something new will come to Baker Street and ask us to develop products for them.”

Baker Street started off with a very simple lineup of products: carrot cake, pecan flan, classic vanilla cheesecake and chocolate cake. Some, such as the carrot cake, are still around today, in their original formulations, more or less; while recently branching out with gourmet cheese spreads –herb, sun-dried tomato pesto and the popular red pepper jelly – has been a successful venture into an entirely new, non-dessert category.

“At the time they started, it was very much a male-dominated, pastry chef-driven industry,” Jason says, “and here came these two ladies with some great, solid, home-made recipes, and those became the foundation of a product line that essentially is still constructed the same way. Obviously some of the ingredients have changed but essentially the philosophy behind it hasn’t changed. And the trends have come full circle, especially with the way the economy is these days – these kinds of products are pretty standard on most menus.”

Baker Street isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel, but it is committed to innovation and wants to take traditional desserts to the forefront of culinary excellence.

“We’re taking these traditional flavours and putting a very current spin on them,” Marla says. “We’re making them more current, like taking cheesecakes and doing a crème brulee cheesecake.”

Jason agrees, adding, “The crème brulee cheesecake is a great example of a name and a flavour profile that’s recognizable to everyone, but we’re putting a twist on it. Turning crème brulee into a cheesecake is another way to get people to experience something they might have enjoyed when they were young, but with a new modern twist.”

Baker Street’s desserts have drawn rave reviews from The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star, The Sunday Sun and The National Post, with the Phantom Torte, the Palais Royale and the classic carrot cake garnering the highest praise. Its website, www.bakerstreet.ca, offers excerpts from these reviews as well as an online catalogue divided into four categories: jumbo cheesecakes, cheesy tortes, cakes and tortes, and pies and flans. Each item is accompanied with a mouth-watering professional photograph, a detailed flavour profile and an indicator of in what size – usually 8- or 10-inch – it’s available.

“We want to make the look of the dessert match the taste,” Marla says.

But not at the expense of a high-quality formulation, she adds.

“You can have something that’s beautiful to the eye and pleasing to the pallet that’s made with quality and fresh ingredients instead of dyes and impurities,” Marla explains.

“Over the course of 30 years we’ve seen consumers’ tastes change, to the point where people are much more conscious about natural ingredients. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to using the finest ingredients. In the past we’ve been asked to go sugar-free or use sugar substitutes, but that is an area we won’t go to. Our products have always been of the highest quality and will always remain so.”

Adds Jason: “We don’t make any desserts that we wouldn’t take home to feed to our kids. If my two-year-old, six-year-old or eight-year-old won’t eat it, then we won’t produce it.”

Baker Street’s production plant is HACCP-certified and all products go through a metal detector and weight checker before being packaged. Also, individual batches of ingredients, no matter how minor, are entered into the HACCP tracing system.

During a tour of the facility Jason pointed out many of the other precautions staff were taking, ranging from proper sanitation to constantly monitoring the temperature of various parts of the plant. Temperatures are precisely controlled to ensure the highest level of quality and consistency in the products before they are packed and shipped.

Jason also pointed out the ingredient stock room, which was surprisingly sparse.

“We don’t keep a lot of stock on hand; it’s replenished on a daily basis,” he says. “The idea is to have the freshest ingredients and put them into the products as fast as we can and get those products into the customers’ mouths as fast as we can.”

Adopting HACCP standards, says Marla, “is about traceability from when the ingredients were brought to the door to when the finished product goes out.”

From safety to innovation, Baker Street has found a solid formula for success while remaining a family-first business that hasn’t forgotten its roots. They also are savvy enough to know that no matter how bad the economy gets, dessert will never fall out of fashion.

“The biggest compliment we get is when we get a call from someone who’s planning a party and they start their planning with a dessert from us – they plan their entire party around it,” Marla says.

“I’ve found that more and more restaurants, major chains, supermarkets, or even individuals who are planning a dinner party … are starting with the dessert first,” Jason says. “It’s the last experience that your guest or your customer has with any meal. The dessert can make or break a good evening. It’s something that everyone can share and ooh and aah over. It’s just pure pleasure.”


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