By Emily Saso
Special to the Star
Read the original article here.
Sugar, flour and milk. Baking is synonymous with this trio of ingredients and seems unimaginable without it. But for Peachy Yutangco, owner of Organic Oven, baking is often unimaginable with those ingredients. In fact, refined sugar, wheat and cow’s milk are downright banned from her Brampton bakery.
Yutangco’s face warms quickly when a customer enters her shop to special order a gluten-free wedding cake. Her laughter fills the room as she giggles off a compliment from a thankful diabetic regular. But Yutangco is also a person used to dealing with heated situations – long before she bought her first oven.
After immigrating to Canada from the Philippines with her daughter in 1995, leaving behind a business, impressive academic credentials and most importantly, an abusive husband, all Peachy wanted was to start an organic bakery – one that offered a wide array of products under a single brand name, from a single location.
A simple enough idea.
“When I opened my first location at Steeles and Kennedy in 2001, I was using organic wheat, spelt and kamut in my baking and my focus was only on organic. But soon, customers started telling me about their allergies and food intolerances.”
Gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), yeast, dairy and sugar were mainstays of her customers ingredient concerns and in them, the barely five-foot tall Peachy saw a big opportunity to not just grow her business, but to make a difference in people’s lives.
In Organic Oven, Peachy Yutangco discovered her purpose: to bake for the baked good deprived.
With a background in chemical engineering, Peachy was more than up to the challenge of developing her own recipes for the food allergy and food intolerant prone. But one dietary concern topped the rest – many of her customers suffered from celiac disease, an illness that damages the absorptive surface of the small intestine when gluten is consumed.
In order to serve the growing market of sufferers (an estimated one in 133 people in the GTA have celiac) Peachy moved to a new location at 31 Melanie Drive in Brampton, focused on wholesale distribution and – now here’s the biggie – turned her bakery into a completely gluten-free facility.
“One of my friends in the marketing business said ‘You can’t do that! The gluten-free market is too small.’ And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter. They will come to me.’ ”
While all of her products are made with 70 to 90 per cent organic ingredients, Peachy didn’t even know what “organic” was when she arrived in Brampton.
“Back in the Philippines, we raised our own chickens and planted vegetables in our backyards, so I didn’t know anything about pesticides or genetic modification,” she says while pulling out a tray of vegan quinoa chocolate chip cookies.
“But when I got here, I kept hearing about organic food and how much healthier it was.”
So Peachy and her daughter Precious, now a student at York University, ate organic whenever they could, even though they were on a very tight budget.
After spending several years working minimum wage positions under the table until her Canadian citizenship became official, Peachy got a job where she was able to put her chemical engineering degree to work. When that job ended, Peachy needed a new start. So in 2001, she returned to her first love: baking.
But it wasn’t easy. As a new immigrant with no credit history or collateral, Peachy didn’t qualify for any bank loans. Desperate, Peachy took $5,000 from a high-interest lender at a rate of 28 per cent. The loan covered her first and last month’s rent, but little else. Peachy’s friends also pitched in, lending her the $6,000 she needed to purchase her first mixer and oven. Peachy’s part-time job took care of the remaining cash she needed to get things going. But going where, she wasn’t quite sure.
“It was very difficult to survive at first. My daughter worked for at least two years without pay.”
Now, however, all those struggles are starting to pay off. Major purveyors of organic goods including Whole Foods, Magic Oven, Noah’s, Health Shoppe and Evergreen now sell Peachy’s wares. The Big Carrot has been a particularly important customer, bringing in roughly $50,000 a year for the bakery, sales that can be attributed to Organic Oven’s very own shelf placed in a high traffic area.
While there’s always a tasty treat around every corner in her line of work, Peachy still isn’t quite satisfied. While her wholesale location is doing well, Peachy wants to open Organic Oven cafés in Bayview Village, Yorkville, Yonge and Eglinton, Davisville and Oakville.
“I need investors to make it happen, but I really believe that I can make a million dollars in my first year from just one location,” she says, beaming at the thought.