The Bakery Warkworth
2018 Bronze Prize Winner
2018 Bronze Prize Winner
First-time business owners rise to the occasion with The Bakery Warkworth
Jessica Root and Jason Butler say they entered the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest “on a complete whim,” which makes perfect sense once you hear the story of how they started their community bakery in the first place.
It was a little over two years ago. Having just started a family, the Toronto couple was looking for an affordable home. Expanding their search farther and farther outside the city, they eventually settled 150km east in the small Village of Warkworth, Ontario. Looking for a commute-free job close to home, Jessica decided to ask the local bakery if they had any part-time jobs available. It turned out the bakery was for sale, and as they say, the rest is history.
“We had no idea what we were getting into, but we were somehow driven to it,” explains Butler, who has worked in kitchens for over a decade but had zero prior baking experience outside of one college course. “We just knew we needed to do it.”
Fast-forward just shy of two short years and The Bakery Warkworth has become a staple of the community, supporting an array of local farmers and offering nutritional, handmade stuffed buns to multiple school ‘hot lunch’ programs. “This community is magic,” says Root, who also had no previous experience in the bakery business. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this anywhere else.”
Offering quality baked goods, artisan breads and delicious homemade prepared meals, The Bakery Warkworth sources everything they can locally: meats, cheese, butter, berries, milk etc. While the business previously relied heavily on tourists for its sales, Butler and Root dreamed of building a community hub for the 685 residents who call Warkworth home.
“The way the math works out, we pretty much need everyone of these people to come in every day and spend a dollar. It sounds impossible, but we’re still standing,” laughs Root. “What happened is by supporting local farmers and our community, it created this bond where they support us right back. Now we’re part of the heart of Warkworth.”
To continue to grow and provide even more local school children with nutritional hot lunches, The Bakery Warkworth is in dire need of extra freezer space. With the $5,000 they received for their top-ten finish in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, Butler and Root hope to be able to afford a new walk-in freezer by September.
“We’re incredibly grateful. You have no idea what $5,000 is to us, it’s like a year’s salary. It’s really huge,” says Root. “Our sole drive is to stay here and provide a bakery for this little town. We want to be able to pay our bills, keep a roof over our kids’ heads, and do as much as we can to contribute to our Village.”
Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories. After baking their small business into the very fabric of their community, Root and Butler offer three morsels of wisdom for other entrepreneurs:
- Listen to your guests
Today, The Bakery Warkworth is known for its delicious homecooked prepared meals. But, it took a lot of work to streamline the process and get the meals to the point where they were bang on every time. For this, the small business owners give full credit to their guests.
“We asked a lot of local guinea pigs, “Hey, can you try this? Can you tell us what you think?”,” says Root. “Getting constructive criticism, tweaking things, and making everything better. That has been our biggest success.”
- Do everything with integrity
Root says being open and honest with everyone in the community has made the process of operating a small business much more forgiving. “From the beginning, we tried to be very transparent with the community about who we are and what we were trying to accomplish,” she says. “Because of this approach, our guests have always been patient and quick to offer feedback or advice.”
- Push through
While it sounds adventurous and romantic, Root makes it clear that the couple’s spontaneous decision to move to a small village and start a business hasn’t come without its hardships.
“There have been a lot of struggles and dark moments where we might’ve considered jumping ship, but you just have to push through and there’s this little light called Warkworth at the end of it,” says Root. “This is the hardest job we have ever had for no paycheque, but it’s all worth it.”