Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wild Fire Bakery, Victoria, British Columbia

Delicious Food that is Good for You and Good for the Earth

Wild Fire Bakery’s cheerful exterior is matched by its warm, welcoming interior. There are a few wooden tables and chairs at the front, while a baker is mixing large quantities of bread dough at the back. Two large brick ovens dominate the left hand side of the store.

As you would expect from an organic bakery, there is a choice of substantial loaves of bread – everything from rye and multigrain to apricot-anise and garlic-cheddar. But the display cases in front may surprise you. There is a decadent chocolate cake decorated with chocolate flakes and tiny yellow flowers, chocolate mousse shaped like mice with playful chocolate tails, and lemon tarts topped with a mountain of meringue.

There is an astonishing assortment of muffins – blueberry ginger, banana hazelnut, carrot millet – and cookies – lavender shortbread, orange hazelnut biscotti, fig and oat. You’ll want to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee before trying to decide what (or how much) you will buy.

Building a Business
Erika Heyrman is a quiet, tiny woman with a passion for her bakery, which she and her first husband opened in April 2000. Erika’s husband was a baker who had already built a tiny brick oven in his driveway. They had a baby and were trying to decide on jobs so, when they had a successful year selling bread and pastries at Moss Street Market, they decided to open a bakery.

It was a huge undertaking, and I suspect it’s a good thing they didn’t realize what they were getting into when they started gutting the interior of the store on Quadra and Pandora; it took three months to build the two brick ovens by hand. “It was so demanding. It was around the clock, trading off with each other,” says Erika. “I’d work a 12-hour shift every Wednesday, even with a one-year old baby.” But it was a community initiative with lots of help from friends and steady customers who have supported the store for the past 10 years.

Over the years, Erika has learned how to do every task. But two years ago, with a second child on the way, she wanted to find a better balance of work and family. She now focuses her energy on managing the store and leaves the day-to-day tasks in the hands of her staff. She’s taking the summer off so she can be with her children and will work from home on her laptop.

There are now 22 employees, about half of whom are full time. The bread baker works from 9 in the evening till 5 in the morning. The pastry chef and several others arrive at 5, and the bakery is open to customers from 7:30 to 6. Wild Fire also sells wholesale to local health food stores and cafes; the muffins are particularly popular.

From Organic to Sustainable
Erika had worked on organic farms before opening Wild Fire, so selling healthy, organic baking with as few preservatives as possible was always a priority. The focus is shifting as Erika places increasing weight on sustainable farming practices rather than simply organic products. “It’s a little more flexible, based on where and what you grow,” she explains. “I used to buy organic wheat from Saskatchewan and was paying $2,500 to transport it by truck. Now I’m buying my wheat and rye from two farmers in Metchosin. It’s about a 15-kilometre drive from their place, and they deliver every couple of weeks.”

Rather than setting strict rules, Erika works with the farmers to find a mutually satisfactory arrangement. She guarantees to buy their crop at a reasonable price, and they agree not to use Monsanto products and to farm as organically as possible. The farmers don’t spray the crops they sell to Erika, and they don’t use chemical fertilizers.

Sustainability requires flexibility because there are so many factors to consider. “The only chemicals they use is when they prepare the soil for planting,” says Erika. “The alternative is 8-10 days of tractoring to pull out the weeds.” The spelt comes from a farm in the northern interior near Armstrong. By fall, all the grains will be from British Columbia.

“Simplicity is a good approach,” says Erika as she talks about her relationship with the farmers. “We know each other. We communicate throughout the season. They know my bottom line, and I pay them a good price.”

There’s Nothing Wrong with Delicious Food
People often assume that, because I’m a vegetarian, I only eat tofu and greens. Truth is, I love chocolate and cake and wine as well. So I really appreciated Erika’s approach. She says that the bakery has deliberately sold both bread and pastries, right from the beginning. “It’s delicious food made with really good quality chocolate and no preservatives,” explains Erika. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Erika has also responded to customers who repeatedly requested wheat-free products. All of the cakes and muffins are now made with spelt, so there are plenty of choices for everyone. A number of the products are also egg- and dairy-free. The bakery also sells pizza, soup, salad and sandwiches.

Erika has found a creative way to ensure that the new 12% harmonized sales tax doesn’t stop customers from buying her products. There is no tax on six or more baked goods so, if a customer is only planning to buy one muffin, they are offered 5 tiny, coin-shaped cookies – for free! They now have 6 items, and there is no tax. And the mint- and orange-flavoured shortbread cookies are delicious.

Speaking of creativity, Erika grows all her own garnishes – flowers, herbs, lavender, mint – in the bakery’s roof-top garden.

Visit Wild Fire
My sincere thanks to Erika who generously responded to my request for more information about her bakery and spent an hour talking to me on the first day of her holidays.

Be sure to visit Wild Fire Bakery (1517 Quadra Street, just past Pandora) if you are in Victoria, British Columbia. The baking is absolutely delicious. It’s good for you and good for the earth.


Stephanie V said...

Yummy review...definitely makes a trip to Victoria in order.

Jen said...

Wow, those look amazing! Now I'm hungry, thanks :o) Great post!

Derek said...

That is a great story, and such a creative way regarding the new HST taxing!!! Brilliant!

Shelley said...

Love the chocolate mice! I want one! :-)