Meet the bakery owners: Bobbette & Belle, OMG Baked Goodness, and PS by Prettysweet

Last week I did something that I’d never done before: I baked a pie from scratch. In my mid-thirties, that’s a rather embarrassing thing to admit, but nevertheless, I was proud of my peach pie. It turned out okay, but things were a bit worrisome halfway through, when instead of a nice soft ball of dough to roll, it looked as if someone had flipped a bowl of oatmeal on the counter. My hands were gooey and I was panicked. I have a serious appreciation for people who rise at the crack of dawn (by choice!) to bend over a hot and steamy oven and produce trays and trays of pies, cupcakes, cakes, and other delightful treats. It’s a science and an art, and the decision to open up a bakery is one that must stem from nothing less than fierce passion.

Prompted by curiousity, I decided to ask four extremely hardworking women, who own three much-loved bakeries in Toronto, how they do it and what they love about their work. Meet Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell from Bobette & Belle, Lesley Mattina of OMG Baked Goodness, and Adjoa Duncan of PS by Prettysweet. Women, I bow down to thee. Can I has a cupcake?

Bobette and Belle

Address: 1121 Queen St. E.

Neighbourhood: Leslieville

Owned by: Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell

Opened: November 2010

What time do you set your alarm clock?

Production at our shop runs from 6:00am until 11:00 at night, but we tend to rise around 7:00 to get into the shop. Of course this is after many years of almost non-stop work.

Do you resent having to go to bed early/rise early? When you do, what do you tell yourself to feel better?

The best part about the shop is the commercial espresso maker. The ability to mainline caffeine all day goes a long way towards lifting our moods.

Where did you learn to bake?

Allyson: My science degree has helped a great deal, but mainly I learned to bake from my grandmother who was an amazing baker and also made wedding cakes when she was younger. I can remember walking into my kitchen as a kid and it being covered in loaves of bread in various states of completion.

Sarah: I attended George Brown College and completed their pastry arts program, but even as a kid I dreamt of having my own baking show. I’ve been gifting people with sweets since I was about six.

What is your bakery most known for? Your biggest seller?

We feel like we are most known for having a very fresh, high quality product that is very consistent. We are fanatics about taste and freshness and we run a very tight ship in that regard. It is easy to get somebody into your shop one time, but it is the quality of the product that will have them return in the future. Our biggest sellers are probably our french macarons and cupcakes.

What is the trickiest thing to bake well?

Without a doubt, the french macaron. Not only does the recipe have to be perfect, but so do the quality of the ingredients, the consistency in piping, the temperature and humidity, as well as the exact timing of every step. It is truly an art form and there is nothing more satisfying than being able to create a consistently great macaron.

What do you love most about owning your own bakery?

We have discovered that along with our passion for baking, we both have a huge passion for business. Being able to be an entrepreneur and business owner affords you the ability to have your creativity come to fruition. What starts with an idea quickly becomes a reality, and having that kind of influence over your work is extremely exciting. We also feel like a family here and we have some of the best staff around.

What is the most challenging thing about being a pastry chef?

This business is not for sissies. It is backbreaking physical work, plenty of overtime, and relatively meager compensation given the work involved. The flip side of that is the passion and commitment that pastry chefs have for their work. There is a real sense of pride involved in doing your job to the best of your ability.

What is your best advice (in one sentence) to someone who thinks that owning a bakery is their dream job?

If it is a true passion and dream then they should pursue it wholeheartedly; there is a great deal of work involved but we are firm believers that the work is worth it given the opportunity to build something that you can truly call your own.

OMG Baked Goodness

Address: 1561 Dundas St. W.

Neighbourhood: Dundas West/Little Portugal

Owned by: Lesley Mattina

Opened: 2009

What time do you set your alarm clock?

It depends on the day, but between 4:15 and 5:45am.

Do you resent having to go to bed early/rise early? When you do, what do you tell yourself to feel better?

I’m not really all that good about going to bed when I should, so I often suffer the consequences—but it always feels worth it.

Where did you learn to bake?

I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my career, I’ve worked with some of the best. My first kitchen job was working with Michael and Anna Olsen at one of the top restaurants in Niagara, Inn on the Twenty. From there I staged in the UK  (Michael Caines, Gordon Ramsey), Spain, and Australia before returning to Niagara (Roberto Fracchioni, Tony de Luca) and finally Toronto (Anthony Walsh).

Learning to bake was combined with learning to cook; I think I’m a much better pastry chef because I also know my way around a hot kitchen.

What is your bakery most known for? Your biggest seller?

Our top sellers (by far) are the herb & garlic focaccia and the vegan chocolate cupcakes. I describe the cupcakes as the best chocolate cupcake you’ll ever have, they just happen to be vegan. Coincidentally both our top sellers are vegan and we’re really proud of that, however, we aren’t a vegan bakery. Lots of butter here!

What is the trickiest thing to bake well?

Currently we are developing products that are gluten-free. It’s very challenging to do well—to make something like bread be identifiable as bread and be delicious without using gluten is VERY tricky. We have nailed a couple of products: our famous focaccia, brownies, pop tarts, cookies, and tortes.

What do you love most about owning your own bakery?

I love being able to get feedback and actually meet the people we are feeding. It feels full circle for me, dreaming, conceptualizing, testing, making, feeding.

What is the most challenging thing about being a pastry chef?

To pour your heart into making something but never know if the client enjoyed it. I find that most chefs and pastry chefs get a real kick out of feeding people; it’s a nurturing thing, and probably also an ego thing, so it seems counter intuitive to be hidden in the kitchen, to be invisible.

What is your best advice (in one sentence) to someone who thinks that owning a bakery is their dream job?

Go to business school.

PS by Prettysweet

Address: 848 King St. W.

Neighbourhood: King West

Owned by: Adjoa Duncan

Opened: February 2013

What time do you set your alarm clock?

When I opened, it was set at 5am since the hours were 7am to 7pm. Now that we open at 11, I don’t really need to set it—my body thinks sleeping past 8am is wrong.

Do you resent having to go to bed early/rise early? When you do, what do you tell yourself to feel better? 

I don’t mind being up and working early; I like the days where I can get near a whole day’s worth of work accomplished before noon.

Where did you learn to bake?

I enjoyed baking at a pretty young age. Then I began working for a friend of my mother’s who had her own catering company. It was basically my first job from my teens through to the beginning of my twenties. I learned a lot from her. From there, I expanded on some of that experience at George Brown, but I went there basically for the Chef Training Course (I thought I should be more well rounded than “just” pastry). Fresh out of school I worked at European bake shop and was there for a few years. That’s where I started making wedding cakes and consulting with brides. Talking to people was a welcomed change to the conversations I had with myself in the kitchen. Then I moved to London and worked at a restaurant as a pastry chef. When I came back about a year later, I worked in pastry at a few places in the city. It would probably be most accurate to say I learned from a lot of different people through the years.

What is your bakery most known for? Your biggest seller?

I’ve had people come in saying they’ve been craving the chocolate chunk cookies or the caramel cheesecake.  The butter tarts and brownies are pretty good sellers, too.

What is the trickiest thing to bake well?

I think once you get a feel for whatever you’re doing, nothing is that tricky. I don’t remember who it was that told me, but I was once told not to be afraid of what I was doing (I think I was folding something light into something heavy and it required a light but firm hand). That idea (not to get heavy) goes a long way in baking, but in life, too. Once you decide something is going to work out, your concern is making it amazing, not saving a failure. Not to say I haven’t been beat by a recipe before, but once you play and practice it to figure out the essential parts that make it work, it’s just your own will to succeed that you battle with.

What do you love most about owning your own bakery?

I love that I can make whatever I feel like and just put it out to sell. Also that I can cater to people and make whatever they want, and if there’s leftover, just sell it. My favourite thing to ask people is never mind what I can make, what do YOU want? Having the shop and talking to people, I’ve been able to make one offs for people that I either haven’t made in years, or never thought of putting together because it’s a bunch of someone’s favourite things or flavours.

What is the most challenging thing about being a pastry chef?

I would say it’s having to be both a business owner and a pastry chef. Being a business owner is a lot of hats to wear, never mind doing the thing that genuinely brings you joy.

What is your best advice (in one sentence) to someone who thinks that owning a bakery is their dream job?

It’s a lot of work, but you get to do what you love, so just keep those both in mind.

2 Comments

  1. Danica
    August 31, 2013

    Another great Pastry place is J’adore cakes check it out here http://danicasamuel.com/search/cakes

  2. whoisarlette
    August 31, 2013

    Adjoa is fantastic! Happy to see her featured on here:)

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