Putting down roots in the Forest City, a couple creates a unique recipe for a bakery business expansion
Photo: Tommaso Altrui and Serena Bird
TOMMASO ALTRUI AND Serena Bird operated a gelato shop in Italy, but when they immigrated to Canada and experienced their first Canadian winter, they figured, “It’s too cold in Canada to sell ice cream year round.”
Luckily, Serena is also a skilled baker and cake decorator, and that became the focus of a new business, La Cakery, which they opened in Brampton in 2012.
Last year, they trademarked La Cakery’s name and licensed a new owner in Brampton to use the brand and Serena’s recipes, while they moved to London to open a second store. The couple has four children, ranging in age from five to 21, the youngest three still at home.
This year, their focus is on pursuing more licensing partnerships. There are already two new confirmed locations, which will open this spring in Mississauga and Oakville. “One of our goals is to create the first franchised cake company in Canada,” says Altrui.
With that end in mind, the couple rented space in a commercial area on Leathorne Street, which will eventually serve as a training kitchen and headquarters for a La Cakery franchise system. While Altrui manages that part of the business plan, Bird is busy creating cakes for retail and corporate clients—a steady stream of them have found their way to the shop since it opened in November.
“One of our goals is to create the first franchised cake company in Canada” —Tommaso Altrui
“We used a lot of social networking sites—Instagram, Facebook Google Ads—before we opened, but a lot of people find us through word-of-mouth,” says Bird. “Cakes have to look good, but they also have to taste good. There are a lot of talented decorators out there. What makes our cakes different is the taste, and our fillings are very light.”
Bird makes everything from scratch, using less sugar in the batters and icing than traditional recipes call for, and offering egg-, dairy-, lactose- and sugar-free options. “We do a lot of special occasion cakes, but we also have walk-ins who are looking for a nice cake for dessert,” says Bird. A basic cake can cost as little as $30; the price for a custom order can climb into the thousands.
In addition to serving as the company’s chief baker and trainer for new La Cakery owners, Bird is also the quality-control person. “I do surprise visits to the Brampton store to ensure that the product is up to our standards,” she says.
She is planning to do regular site visits to the new locations as well, and recognizes that, by doing so, the franchising side of business will need to grow slowly. “We have had interest from as far away as Vancouver, but we’re not there yet,” she says. Kym Wolfe