Bakery is part business venture, part calling

Eric Morse–

The St John’s Bakery makes really good bread.

They have been known for some years on the artisanal organic (Breton-style) bread scene in the Downtown Area, but after experiencing some organizational difficulties in 2013 – 14 are ready to re-emerge with a new marketing push.

It’s partly a business venture, but much more a calling, for the bakery is operated by the St John the Compassionate Mission on lower Broadview Ave, and, as its administrative director Erin San Felippo tells the Bulletin, “is a community that seeks to be one of love and healing, and to recognize the inherent dignity in each person and to bring together the gifts and needs that people have.”

“We operate a variety of programns to serve people in need,” San Felippo continues. “including mean support programs, other food support programs, supportive housing programmes. We’re a drop-in centre and we run summer camps and programmes for families and kids, and we operate a couple of non-profit social enterprises; there’s a thrift store up on the Danforth and of course a big part of what we do is the St John’s Bakery.”

The Mission, which is operated by the St Gregory of Nyssa diocese of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, was founded in 1987 on Blake St. in Riverdale above Gerrard. It moved into two adjoining small buildings on Broadview in 1995; the mission, which was fully renovated by volunteers, occupies the northern half at 155 and the bakery is at 153.

St John’s didn’t get into the bakery business until 1998, and how it did so explains the French connection.
“Bread had been with the Mission since the beginning,” explains sales manager Shawn Burk. “When we were still on Blake St., Father Roberto (Ubertino, the Mission’s executive director) found that for many people from the streets, when they had a purpose it changed their lives.”

The Original Bakers of St. John’s came along in 1998, when Farther Roberto went to France and met a group of Breton bakers through a French mission group called pain de vie.

“These were folks who had had troubles in their lives and baking became their way out,” says Burk. “Farther Roberto brought them back here and they first started with ten loaves in the basement of the mission next door every night, made for the people in the Mission.”

There is a regular full and part-time staff of about twenty (three full-time bakers) including the fleet of one delivery truck driver and driver’s helper. “We have never missed a delivery, to 35 corporate customers and nine markets,” says Burk. “That takes a very professional team in the middle.”

One of their proudest stories is of a man named Gordon Brown, who lived on the streets for 25 years with a major drug addiction, became lead baker on the morning shift, and went on to give motivational talks in the Toronto corporate sector – while selling the bread to the groups. Brown still blogs about the bakery.

The bakery now can bake up to 1800 – 2000 loaves, says newly-appointed bakery manager Heather Levchuk. They make several varieties of both sourdough and non-sourdough bread, with the kind of loaf rotated according to the days of the week. They also do a fine line in rolls and some sweet pastries. All are unspeakably delicious. The sourdough includes Red Fife, the original Ontario whole wheat flour, which originated in Peterborough on the farm of a gentleman named Fife. The sourdough breads take two days from creation of the leaven to final baking.

At the moment it is serving two year-round weekly markets (the Evergreen Brickworks and Wychwood Farmers’ Market on Christie), and nine summer markets including Sick Kids’, Trinity-Bellwoods, Stonegate in Etobicoke, Nathan Philips Square and Withrow Park. They were regulars at Riverdale Park in Cabbagetown until it closed down. In addition they have a surprisingly large and diverse number of retail outlets in the greater downtown area, and they are actively looking to expand their retail and wholesale distribution network. There is also an online delivery service.

A full list of retailers and product is available on their website at www.stjohnsbakery.com.

The Bulletin took home a loaf of olive cilantro bread, of which nothing remains as this is typed.

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