By Mario Toneguzzi
Almond Butterfly, a Toronto-based gluten-free cafe and bakeshop, is expanding its presence in the city with big dreams for the future to grow the unique brand globally.
David Piesina, co-owner of the company with Melody Saari, said they will follow a 24-month cycle of opening new stores beginning next spring.
“We could be more aggressive than that but we’re still taking a bit of an organic approach. We feel like we’re still quite early in the process. We’ve seen a lot of businesses fail that tried to expand too quickly too soon,” said Piesina. “But we want to be basically everywhere in Toronto. I can foresee a future where we have six or more locations in Toronto within the next 10 to 15 years. I believe the timetable could possibly be more aggressive than that. The opening of each additional location should become easier, in a manner of speaking , as our systems and template further evolve."
“Currently our thought is to keep Almond Butterfly corporate-owned while we build up a few locations. But we do have an open mind towards what the future might bring as far as possible franchising models and things like that. I can’t tell you exactly where Almond Butterfly will be 20 years from now. But we are definitely taking the approach of focusing on opening one location at a time, at least for the time being. Melody and I love Toronto. We think Toronto has a lot to offer. It reminds me of New York. Each neighbourhood has its own mini strip, like a mini downtown. Every main drag in Toronto has a lot of residential behind it. There is a very strong urban presence here. It’s a foodie paradise here, with tons of opportunity for businesses who can set themselves apart from the crowd. We definitely have an eye towards other locations in Canada, possibly the U.S., possibly all over the world. We’re quite ambitious in that way.”
Almond Butterfly began in 2011 in Montreal as a home-based business. Piesina and Saari moved to Toronto in 2014 to open their first brick and mortar location at 100 Harbord Street in The Annex neighbourhood near the University of Toronto.
“Melody and I form a great partnership. I’m more the tech and systems guy, the business and operational side of things. That’s what I’ve always been into, that’s my background. Melody is the head baker, and creative side. In addition to her years of industry experience, she has a strong background in health and fitness. She also has a strong entrepreneurial drive. She’s a really talented baker and cook as well,” said Piesina.
“Back in Montreal, Melody started offering to people this really phenomenal bread, at least it seemed like bread to me at the time. I didn’t even know what gluten was as a lot of people back then didn’t know what it was. At the time, I was following a wheat-free diet, Paleo diet actually, so I was telling her I cannot eat that. It’s quite obviously bread. She tells me I can eat it . . . There was no wheat, no flour in it . I was completely floored by this really delicious banana pancake. At that time, it just seemed impossible to me to make something like that without using traditional wheat flour. So my whole world opened up to all these different types of flour.”
Tables were set up at different events to sell the products which expanded to different events across the city and a couple of cafes approached them to carry their goods.
“We consider our true claim to fame to be the fact that the products are so good. They actually exceed what anyone would expect from a non-gluten free product. We just try to put out really great food but it is gluten-free. It’s 100 per cent gluten-free and it always will be.”
Piesina said the company recently signed a lease on its second location with April 1 as the grand opening in Dundas West in Toronto.
“The second location is a culmination of just implementing everything we’ve learned from the first location,” he said.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org