Vicky d'Amours has some basic advice for aspiring bakers wanting to open their own business – make sure you are a morning person.
“A lot of mornings you come in at three, especially at busy times like Christmas,” she said. “It's a morning industry and definitely not one for those who find it hard to get out of bed.”
She owns and operates Vicky d'Amours Specialty Cakes in Timmins and her delectable creations can be found in restaurants and independent food stores in the city, North Bay and Sudbury. Her facility on Joseph Street employs two other bakers and about seven others helping out in various capacities such as assemblers and packagers.
She originally attended a Cordon Bleu school with the goal of becoming a personal chef but ended up baking desserts to help out a restaurant. While employed as a waitress at the Fishbowl Restaurant in Timmins, she offered to bake when its source of desserts was no longer available.
“I would bake for friends and then started with the Fishbowl,” she said.
Her decision to go into the business full time, about 10 years ago, was not an easy one to make and she personally found all her clients on her own. The restaurant has been a valued customer from the beginning.
“I have a guaranteed volume but I am always looking at ways to branch out,” d'Amours said. “I don't advertise and I really don't have a storefront but people are welcome to drop in and pick something up.”
She is also working with the University of Guelph to find ways to improve some products by balancing and tweaking some of the formulas.
“I really understand the science of baking and the products I create,” she said. “I also know what my clients like and don't like, and I am always trying new formulas.”
She describes her products as the result of “good, honest baking” and uses no fillers nor additives.
“I make everything from scratch.”
But what she doesn't do is bake at home since her business serves as her “baking place.”
“I miss it when I am gone and it seems like I can't leave it,” d'Amours said. “It's a real passion and every day that I am here I am having fun and I enjoy it so much.”
She thrives on the pressure and deadlines and each day at work she looks forward to seeing her staff who, she said, are like “good friends.”
“I love creating and every day is different. When I try making different products, it's like a surprise and I really like that.”
The facility is a busy workplace and a typical day leading up to the holidays can mean baking 1,700 butter tarts, 160 sugar pies and 7,200 bars that end up in 400 packages.
In addition to her regular clientele, she offers corporate gifting – popular during the holiday season – that includes a variety of baked goods such as cookies and squares packaged in festive containers.
She has offered classes throughout the year when time permits and they included dinner for two, pie crusts, hors d'oeuvres and cookies.
“It allows me to branch out,” she said.
When she isn't baking, she researches trends and tries to keep ahead of the times. She also doesn't bring her baked goods home, a practice some of her husband's friends didn't expect. After spending a day in the outdoors, the friends were sure to find some delicious treats waiting for them at her home.
“They didn't believe that I wouldn't have anything at the house so I guess they were a bit disappointed. But if I take them home, we would just eat them,” d'Amours said.
Instead, she leaves that to her satisfied customers.