High-quality baked goods for people who suffer from food allergies or have alternative diets are hard to come by in Ottawa, Ontario, and that’s why vegan bakers, Claire Tomchishen and Jacqui Okum saw the opportunity to fill the gap with Strawberry Blonde Bakery.
Claire developed an interest in baking while watching her father knead bread and bake delicate pastries growing up, and after turning vegan, Claire was disappointed in the lack of quality options available for her, and slowly began altering family recipes. With a vision to eventually open her own bakery, Claire sought out additional education at Algonquin College in their Baking and Pastry Arts program which gave her the background she needed to turn her passion into a business.
Jacqui became vegan in 2008 and like Claire, noticed a lack of options available to her in the form of sweet treats. Determined to change this problem, Jacquie enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Arts Management program at George Brown College. After two years of mastering the art and skill of baking, both Claire and Jacqui were ready to create a bakery that catered to this market—and Strawberry Blonde Bakery was born, a bakery whose mission is to provide high-quality baked goods for people who suffer from food allergies or have alternative diets. The bakery produces products that are free from gluten, nuts and animal ingredients, plus soy-free options.
The dynamic baking duo took the leap into business together because they both had a dream of opening a bakery in this market, and loved each other’s baking, so instead of becoming competitors, they became partners. With similar ethics, and shared interests, Claire and Jacqui knew that they were setting themselves up for a successful partnership. The pair explains that the number one tip they have for a healthy and functional business partnership is honesty. “We’ve found that not voicing our concerns only causes resentment to fester,” they explained.
Being entrepreneurs, it was natural for there to be many learning curves when opening their own business. “The biggest lesson we’ve learned is the importance of keeping staff happy and morale high in the bakery to boost productivity,” the pair says. Jacqui and Claire explained that they regularly have staff meeting and make sure staff know there is an open communication channel between all levels of employees so everyone feels their voices are heard. Of course, being a business that makes delicious treats, Jacqui and Claire said they were huge fans of providing lattes and treats for their staff to show how appreciative they are of their hard work. “There can never be too much praise!”
Jacqui and Claire wanted to leave aspiring entrepreneurs with this one last piece of advice: “There are no shortcuts and owning a business requires an ample amount of patience and dedication. Though you’ll have to kiss goodbye to your social life for a bit, it’s totally worth it.”
Written By: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada