Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Leigh Diggles who runs Comfort Bakeshop in Port Sydney, Ont.
What is Comfort Bakeshop?
My husband always says I’m making cookies the way they’re meant to be eaten. People have forgotten what a cookie should taste like. It’s real butter. It’s good vanilla. You’re eating it within 12 hours of it being made. That’s what I try to do with Comfort Bakeshop. I make things that I think are really delicious, and other people happen to like them too.
I make artisan cookies, cakes, and confections. It’s all handmade from scratch with premium ingredients. And even though I’ve grown a lot, it’s still small batch. Everything is scooped by hand and baked by me.
How did the business get started?
My husband and I, we’re both from North Bay, but we were living in Toronto and I was commuting to work by train. I worked for a big insurance company. It was the kind of job I was pretty sad doing. I was always thinking about what other things I could do.
On the train ride home, things would pop into my head. One of those things was the name Comfort Bakeshop. So, I actually bought the website name and the business name 10 years ago, but I didn’t do anything official with it until 2017.
But I was working for this insurance company and I started doing remote work—which is all the rage now, but I was one of the first at my company to do it. And my husband and I thought if I can work from home, why are we living in the city? So, we moved to Muskoka in 2012.
I was always baking on weekends and in the evenings. It’s something I was really passionate about. And then I was laid off when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was sad for a minute, but then I thought, this is perfect because I’ve been wanting a change. I never would have just quit, so they kind of decided for me. That was 2017 and that’s when I started baking full time.
What’s the inspiration behind the name?
I guess it’s about the feeling of comfort. I always like to do really nice things for people. That’s how my mom is and it’s the type of person I am too. I think of baking as my love language, so that’s how I show people that they’re important to me. It’s love made with love. That’s how I see it.
So, the name comfort means to be cared for, to ease discomfort. When you’re having a piece of cake, you’re not thinking about anything else. Especially right now, I think people need something to make them feel happy, even if it’s just for five minutes of their day. I focus on little moments of joy for people.
Where do you bake your goods?
I started out renting kitchen spaces wherever I could find them. When you bake for retail stores, you need a separate kitchen. That’s mostly where my things are sold is in retail locations, independent grocers in Huntsville and Bracebridge, and Stephen’s Butcher Shop in Port Carling. Those are the main stores.
I don’t have a storefront. I now have what I call a production kitchen. We built a separate kitchen in our home in 2019. It’s in a separate area of the home, and it’s a health-inspected, commercial kitchen. I actually just had my inspection last week. We do have future plans to expand and build a separate kitchen, not in our home.
What are your most popular products?
On the retail side of things, sometimes I rotate flavours. I’m kind of getting started with that, but right now I deliver three or four flavours a week to the retail stores. The most popular are hard to say, but I’ve got my Ultimate Chocolate Chip. It’s a really good cookie. Not too sweet, kind of salty. Then I’ve got a confetti cookie. It’s a soft vanilla sugar cookie full of sprinkles. And I’ve got a ginger spice cookie, just a really chewy ginger molasses cookie. Those are the top three that I always keep on rotation.
I also make my Nan’s date squares in the summer for the butcher shop. Those are really popular. And I actually call them Nan’s date squares. I got labels made and everything.
Then the most popular custom order that I get is a birthday cake, like really special birthday cakes. Especially now, I find that since we can’t go anywhere or do anything, people are willing to splurge on a really nice birthday cake.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
I’ve been really fortunate that people are choosing to purchase small doses of joy during the pandemic. Anything that’s a little pick me up. So, I’ve never been busier.
I have some friends that are florists and they’re seeing the same type of thing because a beautiful bouquet of flowers is just one of those things that make you feel good. And it makes me feel good to give that feeling to somebody.
What does the future look like for Comfort Bakeshop?
I’ve thought that maybe when we have a bigger kitchen, I could teach classes there. Maybe start doing virtual classes. I’m just trying to think of ways to grow so that I can have some help with the everyday scooped cookies, just to give me more time to innovate and do more custom work.
What I hope to do in the future is to have a ready-to-go section on the website. So, instead of something really custom, I can just be like hey, I’ve got five cakes this week and you can go online and purchase them and pick them up on a Friday. I’m hoping to update my website soon to make it a bit easier.
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