This woman left the restaurant industry behind to create one of Toronto's hottest bakeries
A Toronto bakery that started out as something of a secret has exploded to supply some Toronto cafes with items like popular bagel bombs.
Within just one year, her bakery has gone from a one-woman operation run out of her parents' house to a full-fledged business with multiple employees and wholesale partners, some of which are the most popular new cafes in town.
Kirby originally started out cooking in 2012 at a Toronto catering company, but "really hated the bro culture and toxic masculinity."
"I noticed the only person who paid any attention and respected me was the pastry chef," Kirby tells blogTO.
"From then on I had just fallen in love with the process, patience for quality and the families I've made in the kitchens I've worked in."
Unfortunately, battling a toxic work environment would turn out to be a common thread in Kirby's career: after working on the opening team for Buca in Yorkville, she moved to Vancouver to work at Hawksworth but "quickly regretted" it.
"After practically working myself to death there I decided to leave and
jump around, learning to slow down and make sourdough at Nelson the Seagull, and then eventually becoming the pastry chef at Annalena," says Kirby.
"From there I was asked to be the head baker and open up their new cafe concept for which I, once again, worked myself into the ground for two years. It was then I realized I needed boundaries and a personal life to stay healthy, both mentally and physically."
It was around that time that she accepted a job in Toronto, moving back in February 2020.
Three weeks later she was "completely ghosted by the company" and without a job, finding herself scrambling for something to do and being pulled back to the one shred of peace in her life: baking.
"I found making sourdough very therapeutic. During my time at Nelson the Seagull, I developed very bad anxiety, something I never thought I'd experience in my life, so repetitive motion really helped calm me down in moments of panic. I think tying that into the name of the brand
Breadhead stays true to how I cope," says Kirby.
"Making something like sourdough, you're never going to get the same loaf twice, there are just too many factors to consider. So when you see that initial oven spring in the first 10 minutes of baking, you get this crazy hit of dopamine that any baker could tell you, it can turn your entire day from bad to good."
Unable to "sit still for more than a week" she started up Breadhead in April.
"When that job fell through, it was almost a blessing in disguise because that birthed Breadhead," says Kirby.
"We wanted to create an army of breadheads, like deadheads, you know, The Grateful Dead, and that name really resonated with me."
The business moved from Kirby's parents house to an apartment where she lived with two roommates and baked small batches using a miniature bakery setup in her fortunately large 120-square-foot bedroom.
She was able to deliver orders two to three days a week, and by February 2021 she was moving the bakery into the kitchen at White Squirrel Coffee Shop across from Trinity Bellwoods Park.
She now does weekly pop-ups using a preorder system on her website, and has expanded her team to include baker Lauren, driver Andrew, brand and graphic designer Ben, and food stylist Sage.
"I originally wanted to do a croissant-based bakery, with sourdough bread, but sometimes life doesn't give you the equipment or the electricity for these things, so I decided to go with a more brioche/bread-based menu," says Kirby.
"We make donuts, and we rotate their fillings and glazes seasonally. We do large format pies and galettes, as well as basque cheesecakes and
Breadhead specializes in in-season ingredients, getting them from suppliers like Muddy Crops and vendors at farmers' markets.
Their future plans include opening up three days a week in December, and they'll be slowing down webshop pop-ups in November to prepare for that.
Ultimately, Kirby wants to keep it small, and keep it sourdough.
"In a perfect world I'd have a retail bakery of my own, but I don't want to stress myself out getting there," says Kirby.
"Name it, I do it. This is what a small business looks like. It's a lot of work but I wouldn't have it any other way. There is something about working for yourself that is so liberating, I wish anyone who has that dream, pursues it. I was broke when I started Breadhead. Anyone can start a business."
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