Out of the oven

Wolfe Island Bakery maintains its reputation with popular baked treats

Though the pastry-baking shift begins at 7:30 a.m., someone is always overseeing the ovens at the bakery — a night shift, from 10 p.m. to morning, covers bread baking.
Though the pastry-baking shift begins at 7:30 a.m., someone is always overseeing the ovens at the bakery — a night shift, from 10 p.m. to morning, covers bread baking.
Photo: 
Established in the 1980s, Wolfe Island Bakery made its mark with its famous Red River Bread. Nowadays, butter tarts (above) are another customer favourite.
Established in the 1980s, Wolfe Island Bakery made its mark with its famous Red River Bread. Nowadays, butter tarts (above) are another customer favourite.
Photo: 

There’s always something in the oven at Wolfe Island Bakery.

Located just north of Princess St., it provides a getaway from the hustle and bustle on the street. Patrons enjoy the warm atmosphere, comforting smells of the kitchen and, of course, the famous butter tarts.

As I walked in, it was obvious that pastries are the center of attention, whimsically placed

behind the glass counters surrounding the cash register.

Everything is authentic — real food and genuine people is what makes the bakery so successful.

About 30 years ago, Steve McIntosh bought a decrepit building on the corner of Queen and Chapman Streets for $2,500. This would become Wolfe Island Bakery, which McIntosh still owns today.

“I’ve had customers that have been customers for thirty years that are still coming in,” he said.

Formerly just a bakery on Wolfe Island, the store opened its Queen St. location in 1995.

“It started as a hobby at the market,” McIntosh, ArtSci ’78, said. “Then it just grew.”

Today the team of about 13 workers seems to work together flawlessly to turn out meals and baked goods seven days a week. It’s like clockwork.

Their passion and joy shines through their work, bringing in an even crowd of families, elderly citizens and students.

“On Saturday and Sunday, we have a killer breakfast, so we’re full of students,” he said. “We call it the hangover crowd.”

Right now, the shop is preparing for the holiday season where they will turn out over thousands of cookies and sweets.

Even with high traffic from the upcoming holiday season, there are certain challenges and risks to opening up and maintaining a bakery.

McIntosh told me he has seen many bakeries close down because of the high cost of labour, the difficulties of management and building costs.

But he said his bakery has the most important aspect for keeping the business successful — its products.

“When you’re in the food business, it all boils down to the food,” he said.

Franziska Godwin is one of the people behind the storefront, working to bake goods each day. A full-time pastry chef at the bakery, she starts her work at 7:30 a.m. with an eye for what needs to be prepared that day.

“It’s a constant calculation of what we do next,” she said.

She’s a cordial woman, warm and inviting with some serious baking skills and a strict demeanor when it comes to her oven.

As soon as she starts it in the morning, she said, something must always be in it — timing and organization is key.

Even though her job is demanding, when Godwin is baking, she seems at ease, effortlessly preparing pastries.

It’s not the only time that the kitchen’s in a flurry of activity — a night shift works from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to handle the baking of bread products too.

The original bakery opened on Wolfe Island with its famous Red River Bread, a customer favourite that’s still popular today.

I was readily put to work making butter tarts for the market at Confederation Park the next day.

I quickly find out that Godwin, who was born in Switzerland, has skillful hands much quicker than my own.

Baking is a very hands-on activity — it becomes clear that Godwin’s most used tool is her fingers. She haphazardly shapes pastry dough into the well-greased tins and quickly pours the sweet, syrupy butter tart filling in the mould.

Flour flies from the bag onto the dough and filling spills onto our counter — our hands are

sticky and our aprons covered, but a little mess isn’t a baker’s concern in the midst of a task.

There’s something soothing and liberating about the messy but methodical repetition of the process.

Godwin said she discovered her love of baking at a young age.

“All I wanted to do was bake a cake and cook,” she said. “I made my first big meal for people when I was 11 and made my cakes when I was eight or nine.

“Ever since then, I knew it was kind of a passion and that’s why I decided to even own a shop one day.”

That dream came true about 20 years ago. She immigrated to Ottawa and opened her own bakery.

After selling the shop in 2001, she began working for another bakery when an injury left her unable to bake until she moved to Kingston a little over a year ago.

“I saw Wolfe Island Bakery,” she said. “I was happy.”

One year later, it’s clear that Godwin is exactly where she is supposed to be — effortlessly crafting tarts, cakes and squares.

We turn out about four dozen tarts and move onto the peanut butter truffles to use Godwin’s favourite kitchen tool, the mixer.

The recipe is surprisingly simple for such a decadent pastry. We alternate use of well-worn measuring cups and sifters, handled daily to make the baked goods.

“Everything you see here is made here … even all the pastries, the bread, everything is from scratch,” Godwin said, “and that’s why people appreciate it.”

Though the abundance of buttery baked goods can be a hit to the waistline, Godwin avoids this path. The job itself is very physically demanding. Godwin, for example, said she stands on her feet, running around and lifting bags of flour for the entirety of her shift.

“It is hard physical work and I think many people don’t realize it,” she said.

But the experienced pastry chef doesn’t look tired — she’s alive in her work.

After all, a baker must, most importantly, be passionate about their craft, she said.

“I always believe you have to like what you do and then it comes out better,” she said, “It’s something rewarding.”

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