Today I say farewell to another small town bakery that’s closing.
When we recently arrived in Grand Bend for a summer of cottage life, Uncle Jimmy’s Scottish Bakery was boarded up with a For Sale sign in the front parking lot. No more will fresh sausage rolls, oat cakes, whole wheat loaves, fresh buns, pies, tarts, or muffins grace the bakery shelves with customers waiting in line for the door to open on weekend mornings. Because this is primarily a beach town, many small businesses last only a few years. There are three, possibly four months of brisk commerce and many months when hardly a soul darkens the door. Uncle Jimmy’s seemed ready to survive as they chose to open only on weekends during the winter. Obviously, they were unable to consistently sell enough product for profitability.
In the 35 years that we have come to Grand Bend in the summer, Uncle Jimmy’s is the fourth bakery to close. Uncle Jimmy’s was primarily a storefront bakery with a few chairs and tables where customers could sit down and order coffee or tea to enjoy with a fresh cookie. scone, or muffin.
The trend across Canada is similar. During a recent road trip through Southern Ontario, we were unable to find a local bakery. There has been a steady decline in such special places. As of December 2016, Statistics Canada reports only 467 retail baking establishments in Ontario. With a population of more than 13 million people in this province, each bakery can potentially serve almost 28,000 people. Yikes — what an opportunity! Or, is it?
Operating a small bakery is a costly venture. Capital costs for equipment can run up to $50,000 which is more than many small entrepreneurs can manage. Ovens, mixers, proof boxes, racks and baking sheets are needed along with computers, cash registers, and packaging equipment.
Running a bakery is also difficult. 12 – 15-hour workdays are the norm. The chief baker needs to start work in the wee hours of the morning, mixing the dough and loading the ovens. The relentless work involves scooping dough to make various products, lifting heavy pans into and out from the hot ovens, packaging products, washing and cleaning mixers. There is anxiety on the business side in terms of calculating the amounts of various categories of baked goods, pricing products, ordering ingredients, managing cash flow, marketing, and maintaining equipment. Health, building and fire inspections, food safety laws, business permits, insurance, and licenses can confound talented pastry chefs who dream of owning a bakery.
Modern commercial bakeries that send plastic-wrapped pre-sliced bread and buns to grocery stores are highly efficient. Economies of scale allow efficient and large volume production with efficient supply chains. Stabilizers added to bread mix prolong shelf life. Profits come from selling at a lower price point and wholesaling to a large number of retailers. The small-scale bakery that produces artisan loaves with high-quality ingredients simply can’t compete.
Since happiness often comes with the sweet smells of freshly baked bread, pies, or muffins, I’ll have to spend more time in the kitchen — especially on the weekends when we have extra people at the cottage. We will miss those beautiful sausage rolls from Uncle Jimmy’s Bakery as we bid farewell to this bakery. Yet, I will reap the emotional rewards of spending time elbow-deep in dough as I knead various types of bread to delight family and friends who visit.
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