The business of home bakeries

Ever cook or bake something and think to yourself, “I could sell this”? Home-based bakeries are cropping up all over Montreal as a homegrown alternative to packaged goods. But are they here to stay?

home bakeries Melissa Rainone montreal
Melissa Rainone, 23, runs Pâtisserie SugarHigh out of her parents’ Laval home. Photo by Viki Bristowe (The business of home bakeries)

“I’m so grossed out by everything. I’m cleaning constantly,” confesses Melissa Rainone. That the 23-year old Concordia graduate considers herself a germaphobe is probably a good thing in her particular line of work — she runs a home bakery near Montreal where hers are the only hands that touch the treats she produces.

Rainone is the only employee, so far. That’s because she runs her bakery,  Pâtisserie SugarHigh, from a kitchen in her parents’ basement in Laval. She currently takes orders and sells at craft fairs, making her a part of a rising trend in a trendy food city.

There are a growing number of these home bakeries in and around Montreal — SugarHigh’s Facebook page likes over a baker’s dozen of businesses not unlike her own, and those are just the ones with an online presence. As foodies everywhere are growing increasingly curious (and concerned) about what ingredients they regularly consume, DIY operations are growing more prevalent.

For Rainone, starting SugarHigh was the stuff sweet dreams were made of. Two years ago, she realized there may be something more to her baking when friends kept prodding her to bring her homemade treats to their get-togethers. Upon completing her studies in English literature last spring, she decided to pursue her enterprise; one logo and some business cards later, her basement kitchen blossomed. In fact, Rainone whipped up nearly 500 cupcakes for special orders over Halloween — no small feat for someone working autonomously.

She’s been able to establish a clientele through word of mouth and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “The Internet has been a phenomenon,” she says.

“I can give my customers exactly what they want. They like that I have a face that they know. There is a lot of comfort [that] comes from someone who does baking from home in a kitchen.”

Most home bakeries start out similarly: an idea, frosting on cake. But once the dream becomes a little more tangible, a license is required from the MAPAQ (ministère de l’agriculture, des pêcheries et de l’alimentation) in order to receive the provincial Hygiene and Food Safety certificate. Home-based food production businesses are held to the same standards as any restaurant or production kitchen — they’re required to have a sink nearby, hand soap, garbage bins and an area that’s exclusively designated for food preparation, which naturally means a kitchen, yes, but one that’s not used for anything else, like laundry. Once these requirements are met, then the business owner has to fill out a form from the City of Montreal to ensure they can indeed sell baked goods from their home.

While the process is more complicated than it seems at first glance, the argument for home bakeries is pretty fair: why choose something store-bought and potentially full of preservatives over a product likely made by someone you know and trust? Or so says Melody Saari, owner of home-based, gluten- and dairy-free bakery Almond Butterfly.

Almond Butterfly cupcakes via Facebook

“My products are tried and tested,” she says. “They are whole, gluten-free, and there is no chance of cross contamination. I am not going to allow any products that shouldn’t be in there.”

Coming from a family of bakers, Saari decided to take charge of her life and subsequent sweets-eating by baking her own gluten-free products when she learned of a gluten intolerance. “When you encounter intolerance to gluten, you go into panic mode,” she says. She, too, had an eye-opening experience when people at her CrossFit class kept telling her how good her gluten-free goodies were. “It became apparent in a short amount of time that this was popular, the real deal,” she says.

Almond Butterfly is now run from the kitchen of her duplex with the help of her boyfriend, and they deliver within the greater Montreal area, or invite customers to pick up their orders. As of late, she has been shipping elsewhere in Canada and even taking special orders from the United States. Saari likes her setup for now — “you’re committing, but you’re not too committed,” she says — but has plans to open a storefront in the future.

Her kitchen consists of two tables: one for the raw food, another where decorations are applied. She’s also got a KitchenAid mixer, a stove, two fridges and a large cooling rack. “This is a start-up, so it’s a good way to go. For me, this is ideal,” she says.

But the home set-up wasn’t ideal for Liana Lessard, who runs a local shop called Sweet Lee’s Boulangerie Rustique in St-Henri with her brother, Greg. Sweet Lee’s has been a licensed business with storefront location for close to a year and a half, but once upon a time, this venture was smaller.

“We started as a home-based bakery and evolved to much more than that,” she says. “It’s a good way to begin a business, especially getting all of the logistics and paperwork set up, which enables the opening of your store.” Lessard feels her current industrial kitchen is much better suited to the scale of baking that happens at Sweet Lee’s.

As there will always be a want for pastries and goodies, the DIY bakery offers an alternative to more commercial ventures. SugarHigh, Almond Butterfly and Sweet Lee’s are three unique bakeries, but their goal is the same: it’s all about giving consumers options from a face they can trust. “My company’s motto,” says SugarHigh owner Rainone, “is about having your cake and being able to eat it, too.” ■

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