Tony Bock/torstar news service
The local artisan bakery that makes great baguettes isn’t so little anymore.
When Ace Bakery embraced food-science technology, the little King Street West bread nook grew exponentially. Its customers now include U.S. grocery giant Tops Markets and even high-end hotels in the Bahamas.
It’s a delicious story for Linda Haynes, 59, and Martin Connell, 65, who seem to have it all figured out. But the recipe for success wasn’t completely straightforward.
Ace Bakery started in a small King Street West retail window with 10 seats in 1993, with the goal of providing Toronto with hand-made artisan bread, and providing money for a charity the couple started.
“Connell, who enjoyed baking in his spare time, was still working full-time in the oil and gas business when Haynes decided she was ready to resume working, after taking time off from her career as a TV producer to raise their two children.
“We thought it would be fun to have a small business,” she says.
The couple invested $800,000 in the business. Right from the beginning, marketing the business was a snap. Toronto food critics started writing about the great little bakery on King St. West, and consumers flocked to it. Customers started to ask for Ace breads at food retailers such as high-end grocer Pusateri’s and mass retailer Loblaws. Both were secured as retailers in 1994.
“(Loblaws) was our single biggest break,” Connell remembers.
By 1997, the business outgrew its King Street West location and moved to an industrial area, near Lawrence Avenue and Keele Street, in North York. There’s still a café attached to the bakery, but it serves mostly as an outlet for the owners to get feedback from customers on products.
The artisan-bread market changed when food-science technology allowed for par-baked bread that could later be completely baked by customers in their own ovens. Ace can now bake the bread 85 per cent, flash freeze it and then transport it to customers. The first long-distance shipments were to Ottawa retailers. Then Ace grew internationally when a Buffalo, N.Y.-based businessman, who had a home in Toronto, eased Ace’s entry to the United States.
Par-baked bread now accounts for 60 per cent of Ace’s sales. Today the bread is available in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, New York, Michigan, the U.S. eastern seaboard and the Bahamas.
While the first bread it made – white baguette – continues to be its top seller, the company continues to add new breads.
It bakes more than 100,000 units of bread every day and offers more than 160 different shapes of bread and 40 different types of bread dough.
The pair say they’ve been able to enjoy steady growth because they haven’t strayed from their core product. The temptation for brand extensions exists, but the pair says bread is what they know best.