Last week one of my suppliers told me Maple Leaf Bakery was closing. Yesterday I got the auction listing for all the equipment from MacDougall’s Auction. And another Regina bakery is through.
I can’t claim to know Cal Howell, the owner of Maple Leaf, very well. In fact, I don’t think we’ve met face to face at all before. But Cal made a point of calling me every year at Christmas to check in and talk shop. It was a lot of fun. We’d talk about how busy Christmas was and how slow January was going to be (good time to go to Cuba, according to Cal!) A couple years back he told me about his plan to only be open four days a week so both he and his bakers could get two days off. He was like us in that we both worked six days to be open for five and that gets tiring quick.
It felt weird to do it, but I checked out the Auction listings to see if there was anything I could use at our bakery but all the gear is way too big for us. Cal ran a wholesale operation. Sure, lots of his bread and other products graced the shelves of Oscar’s Deli on 11th Avenue (and I know many Orange Boot customers are also loyal Maple Leaf/Oscar’s Deli customers – I used to go there too before I started baking in my brick oven), but the bakery itself was 2-3 blocks away on Toronto St. When you’re selling wholesale it’s all about efficiency and Cal used modern baking equipment to make his bakery go. A huge mixer that actually lifts in the air and rotates to get the bread out. A mechanized bun line that divides and shapes each roll. A mechanized divider and shaper for forming round loaves. And a massive Picard revolving oven, the style of oven that has graced almost all the family run prairie bakeries over the past 50 years. One or two bakers can make a ton of product with a setup like that, but all that gear scares me to death.
I say it felt strange to check out the auction because it makes me sad when, after years and years of effort, everything a baker has built gets deconstructed to a building and pile of equipment. I always hope that instead there will be someone to buy the business and keep it going. Regina needs more unique, independent bakeries, not less. Besides, nobody is going to retire on the proceeds of used bakery equipment. Rumour has it that Cal owned his building, so at least that was in his favour.
I know from talking to Maple Leaf customers that his light rye and his Saskatchewan Field bread had a loyal following. I have to think that Cal and Maple Leaf meant something to these folks and both he and the bakery will be missed. I know I’m really going to miss those phone calls at Christmas.
PS. A few people have come into the bakery over the past week asking whether we’d start baking bread like Maple Leaf’s. That’s a tough question to answer, since I don’t know what characteristics folks found appealing. I mean, I might describe a Maple Leaf loaf completely differently than you or someone else would . And there are differences in equipment, ingredients, ovens and the like. But we’re listening and learning and thinking about what we would add to our ‘new bread’ list.
PPS. There are some low quality videos of Cal’s bakery and his gear that were made for the equipment auction. The overview video is fun simply to show the difference between a bakery like Maple Leaf and a smaller place like Orange Boot.