In the six months since Farm Boy saved Ottawa’s iconic Rideau Bakery from closure, the public’s appetite for its signature rye bread and other goods only seems to have grown.
“The reaction’s been outstanding, and we’re getting lots of requests for more products,” says Farm Boy co-CEO Jeff York. “It’s really going well.”
A local institution that was founded nearly 90 years ago by brothers David and Abie Kardish, the Rideau Bakery abruptly shut down its two locations over the Canada Day weekend, with former co-owner Louis Kardish telling various media outlets the closure was due to a combination of business and health concerns.
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The news hit close to home for members of Ottawa’s Jewish community. A letter from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa bemoaned the loss of a reliable source for kosher baked goods and thanked the Kardish family for their generations of service, while shocked customers took to social media to express their dismay.
Days later, Ottawa-based Farm Boy came to the rescue. The grocery chain purchased the historic family enterprise’s assets, ensuring the Rideau Bakery name would live on.
But as much as York was a fan of its products – “Once you have that rye bread, you’re not having other rye bread,” he says emphatically – even he could never have anticipated how quickly they would become a staple with Farm Boy shoppers.
The chain is currently stocking half a dozen Rideau Bakery creations, including its beloved rye bread. But customers are inundating the company with requests for specialty goods such as poppy seed rolls, York says, adding he’s not sure when more new items will be added to the inventory.
“You can’t find these products anywhere, so they’re really in demand by our customers,” he explains. “We’re just trying to figure out how to get going on those. It’s a process.”
The products’ instant popularity forced the company to scramble to build a brand-new bakery at its facilities on Walkley Road after determining it just wasn’t feasible to try to bring the Rideau Bakery’s old Bank Street kitchen up to modern standards.
York said Farm Boy had crews working around the clock to get the new bakery outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment as quickly as possible.
“It was a huge challenge,” he says. “Most companies would take a year to do a process that we did in six to eight weeks. It was a herculean task.”
Farm Boy retained several of the Rideau Bakery’s former staff, “but we gave them today’s tools to make it a more efficient process,” York explains.
For example, as opposed to someone having to lift 50-pound globs of dough out of a vat, that task is now done by a machine.
“Instead of having to reach in and be a weightlifter, you can go in and use today’s technology to be a lot more efficient,” he says with a chuckle.
“It’s not a corporate deal. It’s kind of a family deal.”
Now owned by Sobey’s parent company Empire Co., Farm Boy operates nearly 30 stores across the province. Rideau Bakery goods are available in all of them, and while it might seem like the grocery chain is rolling in dough thanks to its recent acquisition, York says it wasn’t all about money.
“A lot of companies, what they do over time, they look at saving a nickel here, a dime there,” he says. “Whereas Rideau Bakery, what they wanted to do was have a great product for the customer every day. They’re very proud of the brand and they kept the quality. Farm Boy’s a family business too. It’s not a corporate deal. It’s kind of a family deal.”