By Maureen McEwan
This October, Batter Up Bakery opened its doors in Kitchissippi. The custom bakery provides themed baked goods for any event.
“Whether it be corporate [events], or birthdays, or weddings or family celebrations, we kind of cover all the bases!” said Jamie-Lynn Pokrzywka, owner and baker at Batter Up Bakery.
Pokrzywka was looking for a retail space for nearly two years when the pandemic struck. In July, as an affordable spot became available at 396 Athlone Ave., she took the chance.
“For me, it was fortunate,” she said. “But, unfortunately, [it was] somebody else’s misfortune of having to close down during COVID that really allowed me to have that seed of opportunity to move into the neighbourhood.”
The bakery has seen a lot of community support from clients and the Westboro Village BIA since they moved in, Pokrzywka said. This was her “ideal” Ottawa neighbourhood to open up the retail space.
“It was always a dream of mine to be in an area that allowed for baked goods and [the] designing of baked goods,” she said. “I’m in kind of a niche market where I’m not doing the ready-to-go sales just yet — we’re more custom.”
“Westboro has that mid- to high-end boutique appeal and that was really my target market,” she added.
Over the last months, Pokrzywka said, the biggest challenge has been the uncertainty. Before the pandemic, the business was reliant on large events and there were different opportunities to generate income, like workshops, aside from custom baking.
With many events cancelled, the orders have changed as well. Pokrzywka said they used to do an average of 10-15 orders per week for bigger events. These days, the bakery can have 50-70 smaller orders on a weekly basis, which has meant more to manage on the administrative front, and they are headed for a busy holiday season.
But while the events are smaller, Pokrzywka said that the quality of the orders has “gone up,” as people make smaller-scale events “extra special.” In lieu of parties and parades, there are detailed cakes, cookies and cupcakes to mark the moments.
“It’s been really special to be part of those really important milestones, just in a different way,” she said.
The pandemic has allowed their team to “push the limits” on what they do creatively, Pokrzywka said. One of her favourite recent orders (and baking challenges) was a 3D cake of the Star Wars “Mandalorian” mask for a 70th birthday.
“I was so excited. I came in on my day off, blasted some music and had such a good time doing it,” she said.
The Star Wars cake, and others like it, remind her why she opened the bakery in the first place. Pokrzywka said that businesses have been in “survival mode” — taking all the orders they can get and rushing around — and it is nice to slow down on occasion and remember why they became entrepreneurs.
“When we get that opportunity to do something that reminds us of why we started this to begin with, I think it is pretty special to get to have that moment,” she said.
For Pokrzywka, it all started in childhood — baking has been a lifelong vocation. She came from a “very large family” (her mom was one of 17 children) that was always making food.
“We grew up baking,” she said. “I was always in the kitchen with my mom and my grandma.”
Pokrzywka “put down the spatula for a while” but got back into the hobby in university as a way to relieve stress. Eventually, she started to try using fondant and other advanced cake techniques.
“Honestly, my first cake was terrible,” she said. “But every time I was like, ‘I can do better.’ And that’s kind of where it started.”
In 2011, Pokrzywka made her first sale when a friend asked her to bake a cake for her niece. The business was launched and it was time to choose a name.
“I love baseball and I play softball in the summer, so I just kind of combined my two loves and came up with ‘Batter Up Bakery,’” she said.
In the early innings, Pokrzywka ran the business part-time while working full time in the interior design industry. But in 2018, she made the decision to leave her career and run the bakery full time — the rest is history.
And, in case you were curious, Pokrzywka does have a favourite baseball team.
“Well, I have to say the [Blue] Jays,” she said laughing. “I do really love the Jays. I used to live in Toronto, and I loved going to the Jays games.”
Her favourite baseball arenas are Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Fenway Park in Boston. Pokrzywka hopes to visit a few more someday soon.
“It’s actually on my bucket list to hit every [major] baseball stadium before I die,” she said. “So I think I have some time, as long as the pandemic slows down and I can travel again!”
To learn more, visit batterupbakery.ca.