Business name: Padaria
Year founded: 2020
Address: 5 Manor Road E., Toronto

Launching a food business is always laden with risk; launching one during a pandemic is near impossible.

But the three founders of Padaria, a new Brazilian bakery in Toronto’s midtown, were determined to make it work, and by enlisting the help of Digital Main Street, they were able to get the essential business resources they needed to increase their online presence, boost sales and sustain their bakery throughout the pandemic.

The business

When Fabiana Bianco and her brother, Tiago, immigrated from Brazil in 2017 and 2018, they dreamed of a new business that would showcase flavours from their homeland.

Coming from a graphic design background, Fabiana set out for George Brown culinary school where she met co-founder Maira dos Santos, a trained pastry chef who had similarly immigrated from Brazil and was looking to build on her already established baking business. To gain experience in the local restaurant scene and small business terrain, Fabiana spent two years working for well-known Toronto favourites like Terroni and North of Brooklyn Pizza. Tiago has 15 years of restaurant experience and owns three restaurants in Brazil, and worked at Toronto staples like Leña before leading the savoury side of the kitchen at Padaria.  

Together, they opened the doors to their sweet and savoury bakery in May of last year — a less than ideal time, given the challenges of the pandemic.

The problem

While most brick-and-mortar bakeries are able to slowly build a friendly base of neighbourhood customers and attract foot traffic, Padaria has only ever existed during COVID-19. For them, the “regular” way of doing business wasn’t an option.

Their first instinct was to turn to delivery apps, but for a small business, the fees — sometimes reaching 30% — weren’t accessible. They managed to establish a small presence on the online grocery delivery site Cornershop to fill the gaps, but it wasn’t their preferred avenue of sales.

“We know it’s a nice display and people see us through those platforms, but our goal is not to sell more through Uber,” says Bianco. “Otherwise our menu and set-up would have to be a lot bigger than it is, and our kitchen is tiny for everything we produce.”

Having immigrated to Canada less than four years ago, none of the founders had credit scores or could secure approved loans. “It’s all our money and our assets that we have to put into the business,” says Bianco.

Seeing a decline in sales as Toronto entered the second lockdown late last year, the team decided to engage with Digital Main Street to tap into financial aid, e-commerce learning and digital marketing support. 

The solution

After hearing about the Digital Transformation Grant through a friend (the owner of beloved east-end chocolate shop Mary’s Brigadeiro), Bianco says they applied and were eligible to put that money toward much-needed business supplies, including a new laptop and ecommerce platform fees. They set up the online store to mimic the in-store experience as closely as they could.

With Bianco’s existing background in graphic design, she was also able to easily work with the team at Digital Main Street to establish a social media strategy for Instagram and WhatsApp.

Since launching the online store in December, their sales have skyrocketed, potentially making up more than one-third of the bakery’s entire revenue. Bianco says the combination of big-ticket holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, plus people not wanting to leave their homes in the winter months during lockdown, helped boost sales.

“The average spend online is almost triple the average spend in-store,” says Bianco.

So far, Brazilian rolls, cakes and party kits for small birthday gatherings are the best-sellers from the bakery, and sales of pantry items and specialty packaged goods from the online store are consistently strong.

When they have been allowed to serve in-store, Bianco says there have been line-ups that wind down all the way down the block. And the regulars keep coming back. “It’s a beautiful thing to see. We open a small business like this, and you see so many people coming and supporting us.”

The future

Bianco says one of their next steps will be to tap into the surge in online ordering and to work with the Digital Main Street team to increase their social media sophistication on platforms like TikTok. “That’s something that I see growing and I don’t even know where or when to start, or how or what to do.”

To help meet the demand of online sales, the trio aim to open a commercial kitchen in the coming year. With the increased capacity and supply, they could expand beyond selling just through their own space and could sell baked goods to wholesalers and other local bakeries for additional points of sale.

“We are so lucky to be here that I can’t be thankful enough,” says Bianco. “The way the business has being growing now is impressive — it’s been very fast. We were not expecting that.”

Padaria plans to serve a limited number of customers on their private patio this summer, pending provincial COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario. In the meantime, their team will keep meeting the demand for at-home versions of favourites like empadão, coconut cream cake in a jar and garlic toast kits.

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