The Toronto business was established and thriving with a comfortable income… what would inspire a couple of high-energy entrepreneurs to sell everything and begin again in Dufferin County?
Simon Silander owned and operated Brick Street Bakery, based in Toronto’s tony Distillery District, with locations under First Canadian Place in Toronto’s Downtown Underground and in the gentrifying Leslieville neighbourhood. He had a large staff of full- and part-time employees and the demand for Brick Street bread and other baked products was growing. Danielle Hampton was an actress, “So I worked a lot as a server in Toronto restaurants and clubs,” she said with a wry grin. She also worked in the Leslieville bakery and often took samples in hand to show restaurants and independent food stores.
On their rare days off they would escape the city and drive to the Dufferin region to visit Simon’s brother. “We started to look around and check the listings,” said Simon. With more curiosity than intention, they’d “explore the beautiful landscape that’s only an hour from the city.” The more they looked and the more they talked about it, the more appealing the idea became. With a girl and a boy ages 2 and 4, the thought of living close to the land with a sustainable farm, their children having a hand in growing their own food – perhaps one day living off the grid – seemed like a good idea. “It was what we had been educated ourselves to do,” said Danielle.
What tipped the balance was the house.
One day, their exploration took them up an unpaved cul-de-sac and in a treed driveway beside a For Sale sign. One look and they were head over heels. “The land gave me a hug,” said Danielle. They began calling it the 100-acre Bakery and visited often. “We’d bring picnics (when there was no one here), explore the trails through the woods, and sit by the pond,” said Danielle. “I thought I’d need a lot of convincing to move up; I was born and raised a city girl; but I didn’t.”
She confesses she was a little apprehensive about winter. “I was waiting for a freak out,” she said, “a panic attack about being isolated, but it didn’t happen. Even when we ran out of propane the delivery truck was here in a matter of hours and the fireplace kept us warm. The winters are gorgeous and we loved tobogganing down the hill in our back yard.”
Now they’re right at home.
The original shed across the driveway from the house already had water and electricity. With local trades, Simon turned it into a sophisticated one-man bakery, with windows facing the house on one side, and, on the other, down the hill toward the water. On the north side of the bakery, foundations of two large wood fired ovens are ready for the firebrick that’s piled on skids in the driveway. Simon has found a local source of organic flours and continues to discover how to make the most of the choices, including the heritage red fife wheat.
Silas is enrolled in a Montessori School. “I heard good things about the schools here,” said Danielle, “but I like the Montessori philosophy and method.”
Business is Growing
While Simon modifies and reinvents various baking tools to make his operation easier, demand for his breads continues to expand. Orders from local restaurants and retailers grow week to week and Danielle sets up her booth at a couple of farmers’ markets and knows she’ll be doing more of them next season. “We found a real community here,” says Simon. “We’re living amongst a lot of like-minded people. A lot of things led us here, and it’ll take a lot more to lead us away.”