When Christine Costa (pictured) and Melanie Larocque began working together in the administrative office of a Fortune 500 company in 2008, there was no way to know that they would end up dear friends and one day be partners in a successful Toronto specialty bakery. Theirs is a Cinderella story about two former colleagues turned close friends who flipped their career paths on end to start their dream business.
When they met, Christine had been with the company for more than 25 years, and Melanie was barely 25 years old, but they had a natural camaraderie. The two bonded over a passion for baking and even though Melanie moved on to other positions and eventually to a new company, the two kept in touch.
“One day we decided to take a baking class together,” says Christine. “There was an open house at George Brown College, and we decided to check it out.” They actually ended up missing the Open House, but it did get them talking seriously about opening a bakery. “We’d say things like, “When I open my bakery, I’m going to have these types of cupcakes and these types of muffins,” says Melanie. “We both had this dream of opening a bakery, and eventually it went from ‘I want to have,’ to ‘we want to have,’” she says. “We worked so well together for more than a year; we knew we could do it.”
Making the transition from corporate job to entrepreneur was a huge leap for Christine. “I was raised with the mentality that the goal is to find a job where you don’t have to stand on your feet all day. You went out and found a nice job sitting at a desk somewhere,” Christine reveals. “Starting a bakery was something I always wanted to do, but just never had the chance. There was always a mortgage to pay or something else that prevented me from doing it,” she says.
Like many entrepreneurs, the idea for their business was born from both a passion and a need to fill. As a gluten-intolerant, Melanie didn’t like a lot of the current products being offered. “I didn’t like the texture or the taste of most of the gluten-free products. Above all else I didn’t like the ingredients that were being used. The three main ingredients you find in gluten-free products on the shelf are starch, sugar, and salt — all ingredients that are not great for you,” says Melanie.
“Chris and I knew there was a niche in gluten-free and healthy baking, and no one else was doing what we were thinking in terms of quality ingredients. It was a natural evolution for us.” “We had a business plan and we spent a lot of time and effort on research and development. We went to baking school and took classes on regular and specialty baking. We knew we wanted to do holistic and gluten-free baking so we just kind of focused our education on that,” says Melanie.
They began creating delectable gluten-free baked goods with pure and national ingredients. Some of the ingredients you won’t find in their list of ingredients are soy, refined sugar, corn, or hydrogenated oils. They are also proud of the fact that the starch content of their baked goods is always less than 25 percent.
The two strategized, planned and did extensive market testing, not only on the business, but on their recipes, too. Before we officially opened the bakery, we started baking from home,” says Melanie. “We would wake up early in the morning and go to our jobs, and then stay up until midnight baking. Then we would do it all over again the next day,” she says. “We started doing events every weekend to get the word out. We wanted to be sure we had a good following that would help spread the word when we opened our physical location.”
After extensive testing and focus group tastings, the feedback for their products was overwhelmingly positive. That’s when the search for the perfect location for a retail bake shop was on. “The launch of the business happened over a two-year period,” says Melanie. “It didn’t happen overnight.”
In May of this year, with a commitment to quality and an extensive menu of delicious breads, desserts, candies and confections, Melanie and Christine opened the doors of the Whisked Gluten Free Bake Shop in an industrial Scarborough.
“It was a hard decision to leave my job and take this leap, but it was a good decision,” says Christine. “I go to work every day and I’m happy.” “If you believe in and love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work,” echoes Melanie. “You’re tired at the end of the day, but it’s a good tired.”
Although the business is currently focused on retail, Christine and Melanie eventually plan to take their products wholesale. “I travel a lot for work,” says Melanie, “and I see such a need for gluten-free products. When I travel, I can never find anything to eat,” says Melanie laughing. “There’s a lot of need for great, gluten-free products that are of restaurant quality.”
Christine and Melanie counted on Sloan Partners to help get their financials lined up at the launch of their business and say they will need our help in making business and accounting decisions as they grow their company. With their early success, quality products and plans for growth, Sloan Partners stand ready to help these true entrepreneurial clients attain their business goals.
Whisked Gluten Free bake shop is located at 1970 Ellesmere Road, Unit 4, Toronto. Check out their products menu, health and nutrition information, and easy bake at home recipes on their website, or stop in to taste some of their delectable treats. (Hint: Try the macaroons!)