By: Jason Stacey
Nobody makes baked goods quite like Kelly’s Bake Shoppe. Owned by mother/daughter duo, Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie, Kelly’s is a destination for everyone who loves healthy sweets and treats. Ranked third on BuzzFeed’s list of The Top 25 Cupcake Shops in the World You Must Visit Before You Die, this iconic downtown Burlington bake shoppe brings in customers far and wide with their vegan, non-dairy, egg free, nut-free treats. With a commitment to making the world a kinder and better place, this dynamic duo has shown that with a little love and hard work, any dream can become a beautiful reality.
q: Kelly’s bake Shoppe opened in 2012 and has become a huge success. Take us back to the early days when this idea was in its infancy. What was the “aha” moment when you thought the bakery could be a success?
a: The “aha” moment was when we still had our restaurant, Kindfood. It opened in 2010. I recognized the incredible demand of healthier baked goods that were gluten free and vegan. I saw this strong emerging market and our baked good sales were rapidly increasing at the restaurant. That’s when I knew I needed to open up a bake shop separate and away from, what I called, “the garlic and onions.” I also noticed that people were so elated to have desserts that were all-inclusive. We didn’t realize that we were tapping into an allergy market and that it was such a big thing. Originally, we were only vegan. Then we got rid of using any peanuts and tree nuts and then we became gluten-free as well. It was a transformation. Before we knew it, people were gravitating to the ‘all-inclusiveness’ of the bake shop. We didn’t start out as an allergy friendly business and then, all of a sudden, it was! To go one step farther, we saw that there was the love component, and that is what brought it all together. For me, it was such a feel-good story and that was really my “aha” moment.
q: Can you tell us a few of your favourite items on the menu?
a: I guess one of my favourites is our skinny cookie with chocolate chips, that might even be our biggest selling item. It’s obviously gluten free, and they are also, cane sugar free and they’re made with roasted bananas. My other favourite is our brownie. This took about 8 months for me to create. I was really struggling with the recipe and creating something that was gluten free and vegan, because it also had to taste chocolaty and decadent. It was a really hard recipe to nail because it had to be soft, but also be a little crunchy on the outside and just hit all of those challenging parts of a brownie recipe. I’ll never forget when I accomplished it because I was trying for such a long time and I knew that we had nailed something that was going to go so far. That brownie has now won the “Best Vegan Dessert” award in the GTA for many years.
q: Kelly’s Bake Shoppe was ranked #3 on Buzzfeed’s “Top 25 Sweet Cupcake Shops Around the World to Eat Before You Die.” After that recognition, how did it effect your brand?
a: We got recognized on a whole new level because out of those 25 sweet shops, the other 24 of them are all white sugar, egg, dairy and white flour bakeries. So here we are, the one out 25 included in this incredibly humbling honour of a list and we did it with high-protein flours and raw natural sugars, sometimes no sugar at all and with no artificial colours or flavours. There’s no compromising with that, so we would never put red food colouring in a red velvet cupcake or anything artificial. To say that we are included with all these other typical bakeries, for us that was such an amazing accomplishment. We were recognized as the heavy hitters in the world, because we were up there with beautiful places from London, Australia, the US, you name it, and to be number 3, we were shocked. I just believe it’s in our secret ingredient of love. I believe that’s what sets us apart from everyone else.
q: Over the years, you’ve obviously learned so much about food and food allergies and the ingredients that go into our foods. Can you share a little bit about that?
a: We do organic whenever possible and we don’t agree with GMO’s. Nothing should be genetically modified, we believe that’s one of the causes for allergies and celiac disease and other kinds of gastrointestinal issues. Our bodies are just not meant to break that stuff down. I’ve always led a very healthy lifestyle and it’s been my honour to share with everybody that, “we are what we eat”. We ensure that our ingredients are sourced organic and non-GMO and nothing artificial. All our food colours comes from nature – our colours come from California as they are from flower petals and plant sources. It’s very expensive, but again, we just don’t compromise that quality.
q: Mother/daughter relationships can be testy at the best of times. Tell us about what it means to work together and how it’s brought you closer?
a: In any business relationship, it’s sort of different than a mother/daughter relationship. We’ve had that extra layer of sometimes a complication, but in other aspects of it, to me, it’s just full gratitude. It’s put us into a whole new level of respect. We are so close, and it comes from being humble enough and to have the humility to understand where we have our strengths or weaknesses and to honour them. Erinn and I have hired business coaches that help us with day-in/day-out growth, strategies and to honour our strengths and weaknesses. For example, Erinn’s strength is in operations. Every day she works with staff and the operations and the whole growth of this business and has the patience for it. For me, my role is more outside/visionary and I go towards marketing and how I want us to be seen and perceived in the outside world. I will be more outwardly vocal about things and more in charge of the creative side. We really honour each of our departments and that’s the key to any successful business, even in this partnership. Forget about being mother/daughter, in any business, you have to have very clear lines drawn for which department you are a part of, because there’s no sense in any business doing double duty on any task. We’ve learned a lot along the way, we started with about 4 staff here and now we have 32. We’ve grown so much over the last 6 years and every year, amazingly, the growth is still there. We have to now plan for next locations and a production facility and other things that we want to grow into and if you don’t have that strong foundation, you will crumble. It’s been an incredible investment of time and money, but so important to honour our very distinct roles and strengths.
q: Being a father, I cherish those moments when I see my children grow and succeed. Tell us about your experience as a mother and what it means to have a front row seat to your daughters’ successes and failures.
a: To have this front row seat, I actually have to pinch myself at times and think, “How can I be this lucky?” To be in the front row seat and watch this girl who started working with me when she was 20 is simply incredible. She was in university when we had our first restaurant and worked with me part time (every spare moment she had she gave us). Then she jumped into the Bake Shoppe when she was 22 and just graduated from university. I said, “So what do you think about going into the cupcake business?” She had just finished doing 4 years at McMaster and the person she was then at 22 and the person she is now at 28, is like day and night. I’ve had the privilege of being able to sit and watch her grow into an epic girl boss. I couldn’t be prouder of how she has grown and turned into an extraordinary woman and just an extraordinary soul on the planet for what she does and contributes. I’m so honoured that I get this front row seat.
q: In 2016, you launched your first cook book, “Made with Love,” which features over 100 recipes from both Kelly’s Bake Shoppe and Lettuce Love Café. What inspired you to share your recipes?
a: For me, it was a burning desire of sharing my passion with the world. We actually happened to be discovered online from a New York City agent. He was googling “vegan” and another woman’s name, because he was potentially going to be working with her and somehow, I popped up in his Google feed. He started reading about me and sure enough, I got this email from him and he instantly signed us and told us we needed a book. We were already talking about it, and then that happened at the same time, we knew it was a sign that we had to get our words and recipes out to the masses. It was a national best seller in 18 days in Canada. It was a really cool accomplishment to be on that list with some very significant authors.
q: Your book has inspired many people and helped many people. Can you tell us a bit about a few responses you got from the book and how it affected them and affected you?
a: There are so many great testimonies. There’s one really good one on Amazon right now that says, “How can I not be eternally grateful to you two? You now have actually changed my life. You’ve made me think about how I’m consuming food.” We’ve had people read the book and actually understand that you are what you eat and the foods that you eat become you. We all want to be optimally healthy as we get older and you can’t do that by ingesting foods that are full of GMO’s and are highly processed. You cannot process them and have healthy cells. Forget about how we look on the outside, it’s the inside that’s showing the aging and we don’t see it until it’s too late. We have been inundated with thank you’s and people being so grateful for having another shot at a healthy life and understanding how easy it is to eat delicious and healthy food.
q: It was announced that there would be an urban development in downtown Burlington, which would affect small businesses. What does this mean for the future of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe?
a: This is something that I’ve been quite active in and very aware of. I delegated three times at City Hall to bring attention to the over-intensification of what’s happening to the downtown core. For me, my focus has been protecting our core from over-intensification and preserving our heritage and culture. Kelly’s Bake Shoppe is a casualty of what’s happening with the urban growth and urban intensification. A high rise condo has been approved for 18 storeys to be put on the Kelly’s Bake Shoppe block – the developer is appealing to go even higher now. We have a 2 years potentially left here and at any given time, the developer could give us a 6 months’ notice and we will have to vacate our premises. Like I said, my voice has never been about the Bake Shoppe, obviously we represent a massive love-hub, a place for people to come and hang out in and find some joy, my voice has been about preserving our beautiful downtown core and slowing the growth down. We believe with the new mayor and with our new Ward 2 Councillor, things are going to change, so I believe the people will have more of a voice. There is a chance to get these approvals changed to support having a culture down here that is more livable and less intensified.
q: This is a tourist attraction and people come from all over. What does it mean to you that people are travelling such far distances to come experience what you’re creating?
a: Who wouldn’t be blown away, right? I never get tired of hearing these stories. I was recently out front and talking to one customer from Wasaga Beach and another one who had driven in from Ottawa. The customers from Ottawa left early in the morning and made it there by 11am and they were going to turn around and go back in the same day. The fill up their freezers at home! We have people placing orders to have our retail sweaters shipped to the US. We even had people call us from Australia that want t-shirts shipped to them. With the internet, we’ve become a very small world so now we are all very much connected. We have a strong social media presence and our fans get to witness and dive into something that is so cool online. This creates the interest to want to come and visit us and drive from afar. It’s contagious. They want to taste that love and feel that culture. They want to connect and be a part of something that’s bigger than what they are.
Visit us today!
401 Brant Street, Burlington