Breaking Bread – and New Ground – with Victoria’s Origin Bakery
When we sat down to speak to Marion and Tara about their business, Origin Bakery, we got a very interesting piece of advice for those thinking of starting a new venture:
Go to Hawaii.
It might not be the Business School 101, but for Marion and Tara, a short trip to Maui was just the escape they needed to formulate their vision. That Marion was a flight attendant and could arrange cheap airfare helped, but the fresh air – free of distraction – made for the perfect planning environment.
We went behind the business to tell the story of how two long-time friends who only knew they wanted to do something together, turned that dream into Victoria, BC’s first exclusively gluten-free bakery.
Marion explains what started the whole thing.
Tara’s been a pastry chef for 15 years or so and we both loved food. Basically what we like to do together is eat, talk about food, make food…so we knew we’d do something business’y together that way.
While Marion was still working as a flight attendant, Tara enrolled in a local business course. With the casual camaraderie that comes from being friends since high school, Tara picks up the story.
“I had decided to quit my job and spend time with the kids but soon realized I go stir crazy when I’m not working. So I decided to take the business course, just to see what could happen.”
What happened was eye-opening, but it wasn’t necessarily the course material that inspired. In a class of 20 students, 8 were celiacs, meaning they couldn’t eat gluten.
“We’ve been in the food industry before and we’re foodies, so we understand when people get excited about food and want to tell you about their experiences. But I have never experienced anything like the conversations that were happening at breaks and lunch with those 8 individuals. They were unbelievable, passionately expressing their views – did you find out about this? did you hear about this? do you know what’s going on over here? you should try this! – and it was like that little lightbulb that went off and we thought, wow, this is something we should probably pay attention to.”
Course completed, Tara and Marion booked that trip to Maui to figure out whether or not they could do it. By the time they got back to Victoria, the two friends had a fully fleshed out business plan. It meant starting small; taking online orders, baking in Tara’s home kitchen and selling at a market stall on Saturdays. They quickly saw there was indeed a market, and had an idea that they could make a better product.
Food isn’t just fuel. Usually when you go to a bakery you get something to feel good, to indulge. Sure, you can get your bread for the week, that’s a staple; but nobody goes to a bakery because they have to. You want to enjoy it.
Being a pair of perfectionists, Marion and Tara impressed investors with their thorough research, and soon had backing to open a permanent space. From idea to ribbon-cutting, it took about a year and a half.
Since then, Origin Bakery has been a roaring success. The community embraced the concept and the range of products has diversified to include bread, tarts, pies, bars, muffins, cookies and more. In fact, everything you’d expect in a ‘normal’ bakery.
Indeed, the philosophy at Origin is such that the food must be delicious first, but like the tagline says, Gluten-free is our specialty. Tara explains.
“There are three major pieces for Marion and I when we’re looking at products to sell; we want to do things that taste really good. It doesn’t matter if you have to eat gluten-free or not, you’re willing to eat it because it’s yummy. Because of that, the texture needs to play into it. And then the other, of course, is the nutrition. I mean, it’s a cupcake, it’s an eclair…but like the breads and the muffins, it all needs to be a little bit more balanced than what’s currently available.”
It’s a key part of what makes Origin Bakery so special. Tara and Marion – while not celiac themselves – are certainly empathetic to the idea that some people have to cut certain things out of their diet. But by no means does that mean that they have to limit the enjoyment they get from food.
The response has been enthusiastic. Customers return regularly, coming from far and wide to take advantage of delicious, healthy food. But it was the health aspect that prompted Marion and Tara to take their role in the community one step further.
“Our customer service employees were being asked a lot of…very specific health questions…” Tara pauses, delicately. “We were learning a lot about our customer’s digestive systems…”
So 2 years ago they set up the Origin Community Health Network. It was an effort to link practitioners in the community with a customer base that was looking for help. It allowed people to reach out, get some information and call someone who had the resources and the answers they needed.
I ask Marion about what’s next for Origin Bakery. Having recently opened a second location, she explains that the future looks good. I ask about further expansion, but they’re coy. The nature of the Origin product means that it doesn’t have as long a shelf life as those filled with preservatives. Maintaining the quality is paramount, so rapid expansion or worldwide shipping isn’t a priority.
Nevertheless, judging from current successes and the drive of the two owners behind the business, the future of Marion, Tara and Origin Bakery is as bright as the sunshine in Maui.
Origin Bakery is Victoria’s first exclusively gluten-free bakery. There are two locations. Pandora: 1525 Pandora Ave (in Stadacona Centre, across from the Park) and Colwood: 110-1790 Island Highway, Colwood.