Baker and owner of frozen food manufacturer Alba Graeca
I immigrated to Canada from Serbia nine years ago. I moved to Windsor as a baker on a work permit and started to learn English at a second-language school.
I moved to Toronto and started to work in a bakery, and after a year I was promoted to manager, which I actually wanted to refuse because my knowledge of English was very poor. So I continued studying in ESL classes, and because I didn’t know anything about business, I also took George Brown College’s business management certificate program. I decided to go course by course.
In Belgrade I had taken courses to be a baker at Bozidar Adzija People’s University. My family are bakers, but I didn’t finish school – it was a turbulent time in my country – so my brother, who was a baker, actually taught me everything about baking.
After eight years at the bakery in Toronto, I decided to open a frozen food manufacturer, Alba Graeca. We specialize in a variety of handmade products, such as the burek – traditional pies from the Balkans – and pitas. They are ready to bake and sold to specialty grocers, bakeries and restaurants.
Things at work didn’t really go well during the 2009 recession, so I started to take the courses more seriously. There was a business plan development course that helped me understand financial ratio, cash flow and income statements.
I did a lot of research as part of two classes, especially in a business development class and one about how to promote your business. I collected information on potential suppliers, customers, distributors. While working at the bakery, I kept my business plan on my dining table and read it three or four times a night. It’s hard for anyone to go into business, but I didn’t have many connections here. Taking the classes and creating the business plan helped me build confidence and believe in myself when the time came to leave my job and start the business.
The best experiences on the job are meeting new people. I’ve met amazing store owners who have helped me a lot with many things – from labels to getting better prices from suppliers. People are really ready to help you, and that’s something that surprised me.
To do my job, you have to love the food business, because it’s very hard. Most of my days run to 12 hours. There is no question if you want it or not. Even weekends are not my own – it depends on what the needs are that week. You have to be 100 per cent dedicated. When I do promotions in stores and people taste my product and love it, I get a huge reward from that.
Where to study
ALGONQUIN COLLEGE (Ottawa) Baking and pastry arts: $1,305/ term (plus fees). algonquincollege.com CENTENNIAL COLLEGE (Toronto) Baking – commercial bakeries; baking – pastry arts management: $3,558/year. centennialcollege.ca FANSHAWE COLLEGE (London) Artisanal culinary arts: $3,589/ term. fanshawec.ca GEORGE BROWN COLLEGE (Toronto) Baking and pastry arts management; baking – pre-employment program: $3,820/year (plus fees); baker/patissier: apprentice program. georgebrown.ca HUMBER COLLEGE (Toronto) Baking and pastry arts management: $4,860/year. humber.ca NIAGARA COLLEGE (Niagara-on-the-Lake) Baking and pastry arts: $5,331/year. niagaracollege.ca