Not Just Pie in the Sky: The Story of a Baking and Business Entrepreneur
When we look back to the past and consider what was historically considered to be the role of women, we usually think of the role of homemaker—a role that would naturally include baking. Today when we think of the role of women, we naturally consider the fact that women now play a significant role in creating a thriving economy. One Canadian woman, Wanda Beaver, combines these two roles—checking both boxes in one stroke. We asked her how she has created a successful career in her hometown of Toronto based on her culinary talents and savvy business sense.
Q: Baking in some form seems to be as ancient as humanity itself. What got you interested in baking?
Living in the Niagara fruit belt, I grew up with fruit trees in my back yard and spent summers as a teenager picking cherries and peaches. I baked my first pie at the age of nine or so. With youthful enthusiasm I dove in, not knowing that baking pies is considered to be a challenge, even by experienced bakers. By the time I found out it was difficult, it was too late; I was an expert! I have always loved cooking, especially baking. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that I would be drawn to it as a career. And the rest is history….
Q: What are your favorite baked goods to create?
Since my bakery is called Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, I have to say my favorite dessert is of course, a pie. But what kind of pie? Growing up in the fruit growing area of Niagara, the first pie I ever baked was a sour cherry pie, and it is still my favorite.
Q: What is the difference between a baker and a pastry chef?
A pastry chef can be a baker, but a baker isn’t necessarily a pastry chef. Usually a pastry chef makes a variety of desserts—not just baked goods—such as mousses, pastry creams and chocolates. A baker is usually under the supervision of a pastry chef or production manager, whereas a pastry chef is usually in charge of production.
Q: When did you realize that baking was not just something for enjoyment but could also be the basis of a career?
I was attending art college when I made a pie for a friend whose roommate was a café manager. She loved the pie so much that she asked if I would make pies for her cafe. To make a long story short, by the time I graduated I was making pies for a number of different cafés and restaurants. I thought it would be only temporary but here I am 35 years later! My husband was working as an Industrial Designer at the time; I asked him to help me out and we have been working together in the business ever since!
When people ask me for advice on what they should do to start their own business I always tell them to find something that they love to do so much that they would happily do it for free. You absolutely have to have a passion for something to be a successful entrepreneur. And quite often, especially in the food industry, it takes many years to be successful and turn a profit, so you really have to love what you do.
Q: Tell us about your business and about your cafe?
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is a bakery café producing a variety of baked goods: pies, cakes, cheesecakes, squares, cookies, croissants, danishes and more. We are mostly a retail business but we still do a percentage of our business in wholesale items that we sell to restaurants, cafés and caterers. We also serve vegetarian soups, sandwiches, pizza and a variety of daily specials.
We moved the bakery to Kensington Market about 12 years ago. This area has been a landmark in Toronto for close to a century. We are in a prime location with a beautiful wraparound patio on a corner. After being in business for 35 years we have finally found the perfect home! It’s a very high traffic area with students, residents, visitors from all over Toronto and tourists from all around the world. Even in these uncertain times of the last year, we have still managed to stay open and in business. Pies certainly are a comfort food at any time, but especially now.
Q: Do you believe, as some do, that the joy or sorrow the chef feels when cooking will create an influence in the person eating the food?
Absolutely! Whenever I hire new staff, whatever their credentials and qualifications, what is of primary importance to me is their attitude and how cheerful and positive they present. Whether it is the staff in the bakery or the staff in the café, it is of most important that everyone gets along and has a very positive attitude. I have no doubt at all that it makes a very big difference in the quality of the food and the atmosphere in our bakery.
Q: What do you do to maintain your focus?
Without a doubt, running a business successfully—any business, whether it is a small, two- or three-person shop or a large multi-tiered organization—requires an exceptional level of focus. For me, personally, what I find has allowed me to build and grow a thriving successful business, is the ability to be adaptable, creative, flexible and to accept delays and failures on the way as learning experiences, a chance to change course and find new opportunities.
Having practiced Transcendental Meditation for 50 years (exactly 50 years this month!) has most certainly given me an increased ability to focus, to have a wide angle of vision and to be infinitely flexible—which, in business, is indispensable.
Q: What other benefits has TM twice daily brought to your career?
To expand a bit on what I mentioned in the last answer, my ability to be creative and innovative in so many aspects of my career is something I find has grown and increased over the years since I learned TM. Whether it’s writing and publishing a cookbook or promoting and actively supporting a variety of charitable and social causes, my energy and interest in these endeavors has grown. Most importantly, I would have to say, TM has kept me youthful in mind and body and given me energy, enthusiasm and fulfillment in my career life without sacrificing my main focus in life, which is the growth of consciousness and the pursuit of spiritual growth.
Q: Does the increased creativity from TM manifest as new concoctions and recipes, thinking out of the box?
Having fun with new and exciting ideas and recipes is definitely one of the best parts of owning a bakery. I mean, what job is more satisfying than making delicious sweets that make people happy? Any holiday or special day is an excuse to make a new and yummy creation. Most certainly, daily meditation recharges my creative batteries and I am always coming up with new ideas or reinventing tried and true favorites.
Q: With all the diverse dietary needs people have–gluten free, sugar free, fat free—does the flexibility you derive from TM help you make creative substitutions?
Most certainly. It is very encouraging when I see the growth of some of the positive and healthy dietary trends in the last number of years. Adapting to the needs and changing desires of the public and developing new products to meet them has been an exciting and surprisingly effortless process. Fortunately, I have a staff who are also very creative and enthusiastic in responding to the changing needs of our customers. Practicing TM has definitely helped to make me an employer that fosters creativity, teamwork and positivity. We have fun!
About the Author
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.