Get to know a Baker: Wanda Beaver, Wanda's Pie in the Sky
On a sunny, bustling spring afternoon, I joined Wanda Beaver in her cafe and bakery to discuss her passions and the history behind Wanda's Pie in the Sky. As the sun shone and the front patio was filled with customers, I knew that the corner of Augusta and Oxford was meant for Wanda and her baked delights.
Did you always want to be a baker?
I've always liked to bake. I grew up in Niagara, where there's a lot of fruit and so I always baked, even when I was eight or nine. It was one of those things that I just loved to do. I didn't think that I could take it seriously as a profession, but while I was at art school--at OCAD, in fact--I started baking. Somebody wanted my baked goods in their cafe, and it just grew organically from there.
What's the secret to making a delicious pie?
I've done a lot of baking classes. Pastry is one of those things that people are intimidated by. I even get people in my class who are actually chefs and bakers and they'll say "they never really teach you to make pies and pastries!" Everyone sort of makes the same mistake--they undermix the pastry initially because they're afraid. And so I teach them that you can mix it more in the beginning, and then when you add the liquid you mix it less. It's sort of a eureka moment where they go "Now I get it!"
What's one of the most challenging baked goods to make?
I've been kind of fearless when it comes to baking. I'm always willing to try something, and it's a matter of patience. Admittedly, puff pastry is a bit of a challenge--I'm actually making some today. Also, I have to come up with a recipe for cheese and mustard pastries for somebody who has a mustard business. And bread is a challenge, too. It's something that we started making a lot more of about four years ago, with a sourdough. It takes a lot of practice.
Did you work elsewhere before opening Wanda's?
I've pretty well been self-employed for 25 years. In school, I had part-time jobs, but nothing food-related. Before I moved to Toronto 35 years ago, I practiced transcendental meditation and I worked at a number of meditation retreats. I was living in California, and I thought this is a fun way to see the world and travel. That's probably the only other experience that I had where I worked for somebody else.
Why did you move from Yorkville to Kensington Market?
We've been in Kensington for four years now. The bakery is here, the cafe, as well as the retail bake shop, whereas before we had the bakery in the west end, in an industrial area. Our place in Yorkville was tiny and we also had another location on Mount Pleasant--a small bakery, not a cafe as much as a bake shop. At one point, we had three locations and they overlapped. Now everything is here, and really, I find that one location works best.
Having a bakery in the middle of the city was a big order to fill. You can't find real estate in the city that's affordable for the bakery--but we did, and it's a great location. Corner spot, patio, a place where everyone can come.
What are the best and worst parts of owning your own business?
I would say the best and worst is employees. It's a big challenge. Right now, I've got a great crew. They're like 21-year-old kids who work for you, and I really enjoy it. Some of the worst things are dealing with the government, taxes, insurance companies, and that kind of thing. Customers are the biggest joy, that's why we're here. I love people coming in--they get a product and they know it's good.
What are your future plans for Wanda's?
I don't want another location. I find quality control is really important to me, and as much as I have great staff, every day is a challenge just for quality control. You always have to be on top of everything, all the time. And frankly, I don't want an empire. I'm not looking for expansion--in fact, we're expanding in our present location to make a better patio and a roof garden. It's already in the plan, we're going to do it this year--the plan is to grow herbs and tomatoes.
We'll start small the first year, but it's a 2,000 square foot roof and we'll be getting it properly engineered, and everything will be made with recycled materials. Everything's going to be done in the most ecological way. We also want to sell ice cream on a larger scale.
Where would we find you on your days off?
Well, I don't get many days off but I have a huge garden at home. I love to garden and going antiquing. Like I said, I do transcendental meditation so I go off on retreats if I can. I meditate every day twice a day, and it keeps me sane.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated baking ingredient? Fruit.
Best baking appliance/tool? Food processor.
One baked good you can't live without? Our Dulce de Leche macarons.
Next hot trend in baking? Pies for weddings.
One thing that you would never bake? Anything with lard.
Favourite cookbook? Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
For more baker profiles, visit our Toronto Bakers Pinterest board.
Photos by Stephani Buchman