Bakers rise across Kawartha Lakes
From home kitchens to new storefront locations, these entrepreneurs are finding success
Isolation has given us more time for our thoughts, and apparently there were more than a few locals who pondered their dreams of owning their own bakery, and decided to take the leap. With the help of social media skills, family support and various specialties, they’re ensuring that 2022 shapes up to be a year with an explosion of new local businesses geared to those with a sweet tooth.
Some of these bakers have opened storefront operations, while others base their business from home. Each has a different style that means they’re not necessarily in competition with the other bakers of Kawartha Lakes. What they do share is growth that comes primarily from their own advertising on social media, especially Instagram.
One of these is Leaha Denney, owner of A Dash of Denney, which she has operated from her house in Lindsay since April 2021. She specializes in cookies, from oatmeal with a twist of honey to chocolate chip, peanut butter hot chocolate and sprinkle surprise, plus sugar cookies, her go-to for decoration. A specialty is a thank-you box of cookies “primarily ordered by businesses to have us send out to their customers.”
Hanna Brouwer runs Brouwer’s Bake Shop from her home in Downeyville. She started the business in June 2021, and focuses on cakes and cupcakes, “but that will change in the future.” Every cake she shares online is decorated and iced in its own unique way.
Natalie Thai owns Mochi’s Bakery in Bobcaygeon, specializing in cakes and cupcakes but also offering Japanese-style milk breads and cute little meringue cookies. Those who catch Brouwer’s and Thai’s creations online will be dumbfounded at their creativity with icing.
Danielle Williamson is another local baker, now with a Lindsay store she opened in November 2021. When interviewed, though she’d been selling her creations online and in markets
for over a year, it was the two-week anniversary of Oh So Sourdough, her store on Cambridge Street North in Lindsay. Everything she bakes is from sourdough and does not include any commercial yeast.
Andrea and Robert Majkut, are the team behind Porch Light Bakery in Fenelon Falls. They moved from Markham in December 2020 and started Happy Earth Farm on Cedar Tree Road; the Francis Street bakery is their next big family project. Their menu includes cakes, but also souffle cheesecakes, focaccia, pies, jelly roll cakes, maple bacon cheddar biscuits and more. There’s a special emphasis on butter tarts — Andrea said there’s no doubt this area lives for them.
All five bakers have a side job except Williamson, who has made Oh So Sourdough her full-time work. The Majkut family have their farm, Thai also works at a different bakery and Denney is a full-time nurse. Brouwer started a teaching career with the Trillium Lakelands board in 2014; she has been on and off maternity leave since her family has grown so she’s not sure exactly what the future holds.
Every baker has had help from their families to do some of the work when needed. Brouwer’s mother sometimes picks up ingredients. The Majkuts’ daughter and son both contribute to the bakery and farm. Denney’s husband Brandon is her primary delivery person. Thai’s husband helps with taking and editing pictures and answering phone calls. Williamson’s husband also did deliveries (now they do pickup.)
Some of these entrepreneurs got into the bakery business by accident, but have loved it enough to build it further. Denney became entranced with decorating Christmas cookies. When her mother-in-law Caroline Denney died, she was left with a large set of Christmas cookie cutters; when the pandemic hit, she began to bake more seriously to fill the time while on maternity leave.
At Happy Earth Farm, the Majkuts originally wanted to grow vegetables and sell them in time for the Fenelon Falls Farmers’ Market. They couldn’t get going in time for the season, but they contacted manager, Kathy Martin, who said the market needed a baker.
“I said, “Oh my goodness,” explained Andrea. “I know my son’s class baked cinnamon buns on a weekly basis for fundraising when he was in elementary school. That was the only baking experience I had. I said to Kathy, ‘That’s a real challenge, but you know what? We’ll dive into the deep end and we’ll try it.’ So we go in. And everything was received with great success.”
One week the family made sweet potato dinner rolls for the market, and the only one who bought them was an elderly gentleman. He then came back “nearly every week after and kept asking for those rolls,” Andrea said. “It broke my heart every week to tell him it was impossible to bake for one person only.” That experience spurred them to start taking orders so they could properly prepare.
In 2019, when she lived in Toronto, Thai started working in the bakery at a Whole Foods Market She enjoyed selling beautiful cakes and pastries to her customers. In October 2020, she and her husband moved to Bobcaygeon, working at Bobcaygeon Bakery for three months before it was put up for sale. Her husband came up with the idea after hearing about Ontario supporting home-based food businesses during COVID, so in February 2021, Mochi’s Bakery was born.
COVID played a major part in Williamson’s story as well. She worked for Mickaël Durand for about two years and sourdough stood out from the many different products she baked. “Sourdough is such an interesting concept,” she explained. “It’s a living thing and you have to take care of it almost like a pet. You feed it and it inflates and grows. It’s natural fermentation, flour and water and giving it time.”
Williamson continued working until the last week of her pregnancy, and when it was time to return to work, COVID hit and Durand suggested it was safer if she stayed home with her children. She never lost her passion for baking, however. She started growing her own sourdough at home, began baking breads and then started selling her works at the Rusty Spur Farmer’s Market in Woodville in October 2020. In the summer of 2021 Williamson put up a tent in her yard to sell her products, and a woman who was impressed with the cookie she bought encouraged her to set up in the property on Cambridge Street. Williamson did so.
When the pandemic started, she said, “My children were out of school, connections with their friends were lost and they were missing a sense of normalcy. It really had them feeling like nothing good could ever come from all of this and nothing could ever be the same. I wanted to show my children that you should never give up on your dreams and aspirations.”
Brouwer didn’t dream of becoming a baker, but in 2016, after having her first child, she found herself spending more time in the kitchen where baking eventually became “a bit of an obsession. I do a lot of procrasti-baking, which is basically when there’s lots to do but I ignore it and bake instead. When my daughter Uma turned two in May of 2021 my cake making obsession had reached an all-time high. One evening in early June, I asked my husband if he thought I could sell my cakes. He quickly said yes, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Brouwer is planning to open her own storefront; she’s bought a property in Downeyville where she hopes to sell “coffee, other baked goods, some convenience items and some unique finds. We hope to open mid summer.”
The social boost
Starting a sweet new business is one thing, but spreading the message effectively is another. For these entrepreneurs, social media has been the key to success.
“I think that having consistency on your page is key to drawing people in,” said Brouwer, whose Instagram posts are as artful as her cakes. “I try to use a solid background for all of my cake pictures, which I think helps create a more eye- catching feed.”
Williamson has more than 1,000 followers on Facebook where she promotes her business, something that amazes her. “I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback and people are consistently saying the town really needed this and it’s really good I’m here.”
The Majkuts are just beginning, and as a family project, their daughter is in charge of social media advertising.
Thai and Denney have each brought a fun twist to their social media promotion.
“I introduced Mochi’s Bakery to people in town by posting a giveaway event, in which I gave away free cupcakes for people to try,” said Thai. I got a lot of welcome from people in town and started taking some orders. The first custom cake I made for a customer in town was a Finding Nemo cake. The customer was so happy that she shared the cake online and I got more orders.”
Denney went out to businesses, doing a fundraiser for the Kawartha Lakes Food Source. She created a game called The Lindsay Logo Challenge for the businesses for the fundraiser, where she would ice a cookie with the logo of the business on it, then bring them the same materials she used to see if they could imitate her and ice a cookie the same way.
Over 70 businesses managed to be on board and she was able to raise almost $200 for Kawartha Lakes Food Source. “I got the community engaged in a different way, and that’s how I made a lot of my initial connections.”