Westboro and Wellington West bakeries excited about holiday season while dealing with inflation

Amandine Pajor poses for a photo inside her bakery.
Amandine Pajor, owner and baker at Wellington West’s Amandine Patisserie, said the past year has been challenging for businesses. Photo by Simon Hopkins.

By Simon Hopkins

Bakeries through Westboro and Wellington Village are serving up special treats for hungry shoppers during the holiday season. 

Amandine Patisserie, located at the intersection of Wellington and Parkdale Avenue, will add traditional French sweets into the mix. 

“In France, it’s a tradition to make yule logs at Christmas,” said owner and baker Amandine Pajor. The traditional cake is sponge cake and buttercream, rolled to create a layered spiral and made to look like a log of wood. “We also make gift boxes with cookies and gingerbread,” she said. 

Kitchissippi’s bakeries are excited for the holiday season, but the past year has presented a challenge for the businesses. The economic consequences of the pandemic negatively impacted many, and now, bakeries are facing high inflation. 

According to Statistics Canada, prices rose sharply in 2022 for wheat-based products. That included raw ingredients, food purchased from restaurants, and grocery store baked goods. Supply chain costs like transportation, fuel and production were initially to blame for some of the price inflation – like what was seen across the food industry. 

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 dramatically impacted the global supply of wheat. Ukraine is a major grower and exporter of wheat. The drop in the worldwide wheat supply due to Russia’s actions has created a volatile international supply – causing prices to rise.

The exterior of Amandine Patisserie.
Amandine Patisserie has not seen a rose in costs because their baked goods were already high. Photo by Simon Hopkins.

Pajor’s bakery hasn’t seen much rise in costs because prices were already high when she opened her doors a year ago. “It’s really challenging to start a business right now,” Pajor said.

The bakery opened during a time of ballooning costs and surging interest for borrowed money. “Our rent and costs were already high when we opened,” she said. 

According to a 2023 report by ReMax, commercial real estate costs have risen in Ottawa for all sectors except for office space, driven by scarcity. This is a continuing trend from 2022, where high demand for commercial leases has forced prices up. 

The challenges are even bigger for owners like Pajor, who want to pay employees more than minimum wage. 

“It has become more and more complicated to pay a living wage for my employees,” Pajor explained.

 According to Ontario Living Wage, a living hourly rate in Ottawa this year is $21.95. That is the third highest rate of all the areas in the province, only behind Toronto and the Simcoe area north of Toronto. Ottawa also saw the largest jump of any area in the province – up from $18.60 in 2021. 

As a new business, Pajor is still trying to grow her customer base. She said the best way to support businesses in your community is to shop locally. “Come visit us,” she said. “Spend money at local bakeries instead of at Costco or Walmart – we keep the money in the neighbourhood.”

Baked goods sit on a shelf in the bakery.
Baked goods inside Amandine Patisserie. Photo by Simon Hopkins.

Elsewhere in Kitchissippi, Jacqui Okum, the owner of Strawberry Blonde Bakery, said they’re trying to make the holiday season as inclusive as possible with nostalgic treats free of common allergens. But they, like other small businesses, have suffered over the last year.

Okum said that the impact is twofold – customer spending has declined while the bakery’s costs have risen.

“The Christmas and Hannukah seasons have been pretty steady, which is nice,” she said. “But the rest of the year before that – not so much.”

And even though Okrum’s gluten-free bakery doesn’t use wheat, their ingredient costs have risen like any other.

“Sugar this past year has gone up significantly,” she said. “Our vegan butter has gone up as well – everything has gone up.”

The bakery uses rice flour in its baking, which has seen global supply issues similar to wheat. An August 2023 flood in Northern China’s cereal belt, combined with India banning the export of rice, squeezed the global supply, sending prices up.  

Strawberry Blonde Bakery is challenged to find the balance between raising their prices to cover costs without making themselves too expensive for customers on a tighter-than-usual budget.

Okum also said that there is no government for small businesses right now. Many are frustrated by the government’s requirement to pay back the loans given during COVID.

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