Sweetening the lives of hospital patients
Giving back to the community with freshly-baked cheer
Joanne Emberson learned at an early age how a little sweetness can put a smile on the face of a hospital patient. As a teenager she would bring freshlybaked treats to cheer up her grandmother in hospital.
Before Emberson’s grandmother died at 94, she made her promise to one day open a pastry shop so that other people could enjoy her baking.
In December, after going to school in Sudbury to become a certified pastry chef, Emberson fulfilled her promise, opening a tiny bake shop on Concession Street a couple blocks east of the Juravinski Hospital, in the same neighbourhood her grandmother once lived.
Emberson called the little shop “Crumbuns.” It was the endearing nickname her grandfather gave to Granny Anne. There’s a framed heartshaped greeting card hanging on the bake shop’s wall, written grandfather to grandmother, addressed to “My Crumbun.”
“Baking has always been in our family,” Emberson says. “Between my mom, and my grandmother, I’ve always baked. My grandmother was always known for her butter tarts, cheesecakes and shortbread.”
It wasn’t enough for Emberson, a 25year-old single mother living in Dundas, just to fulfil her promise. She wanted to give something back to the community.
A cousin, Carter Whipple-Button, died in 2012 at McMaster Children’s Hospital of leukemia shortly before he reached his first birthday. From all reports, little Carter was as cute as his name.
Another cousin and childhood playmate, Nathaniel Hammond, died at the age of 29 at Juravinski after being first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11 months.
Emberson had watched cancer ravage two close members of her family at young ages. She saw how hospital staff and other members of the community had worked so hard and good-naturedly to help them in their devastating illnesses.
So Emberson decided to dedicate two of her pastry creations to the memory of her cousins, with proceeds of their sales going to two local hospitals.
There’s melt-in-your mouth mini-short bread cookies in the shape of buttons. She calls them “Carter’s Buttons.” They sell for 50 cents with all proceeds going to McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“He was such a little fighter, that one,” Emberson says of Buttons.
And there’s the candy-filled wedges called “Nate’s Pop Tarts.” Cousin Nathaniel had a sweet tooth and always had his pockets filled with candies. You’ll find his favourites cooked into the dough. “Nate’s Pop Tarts” sell for $2.75 a slice or $28 for an entire pie with proceeds to the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre Foundation.
“It’s like a giant cookie filled with different things — Kit Kats, M & Ms, every type of thing that Nate liked,” Emberson says. “It reminds me of him, because it’s just filled with candy. He would have thought it the neatest thing.”
Emberson has also created a “#crumbunspayitforward” wall where customers can have their pictures taken and posted on Facebook after buying the tasty treats.
You may think it a clever way of marketing a new business. It wasn’t the owners of Crumbuns who reached out for publicity. It was customer Jessica Compton.
She discovered Crumbuns in January, while recovering from hernia surgery. She’d drop in for coffee and some company almost every day, learning the stories about Granny Anne, Nate and Carter.
On the day The Spec dropped by, the shop was packed. Compton had invited some musician friends, including local singer-songwriters Robin Benedict and Brennagh Burns, to entertain customers. It was her way of “paying it forward.”
“After surgery, I ran into every complication you could think of. I ended up coming here with a book,” says Compton, 40, an educational assistant on leave from Prince of Wales school. “They treated me well. I hung up my jacket and it felt like home. This bakery kind of saved me.”
That makes Emberson smile: “That’s the goal. The fact she can come in and feel at home, like you’re going to Granny’s, feel comfortable.”
Emberson opened Crumbuns with the help of family friend John McQuarrie. With more than 20-years experience as an accountant in the food industry, he put up the financing to open Crumbuns and help Emberson with her plan to pay-it-forward to the community and her granny.
McQuarrie is the titular owner of Crumbuns, but says the ultimate goal is to hand it over, at least in part, to Emberson.
“I didn’t have the vision, she did,” McQuarrie, 58, says of Emberson. “She wakes up and can’t wait to get here,” I can’t remember ever doing that in 25 years of being an accountant.”
John McQuarrie and Joanne Emberson’s new bakery and coffee shop on Concession Street, Crumbuns, is serving up treats and giving back to the community at the same time.
Jessica Compton is a regular at the shop, and credits it with her recovery.
Small cookies, known as ‘Carter’s buttons’ are named in memory of Joanne Emberson’s cousin Carter who passed away at just 11 months in 2012.
Crumbuns opened on Concession in Emberson’s grandmother’s old neighbourhood.
These candy-filled wedges — ‘Nate’s Pop Tarts’ — are in honour of Joanne Emberson’s cousin Nathaniel, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 29.
Crumbuns makes ‘Carter’s Buttons’ in memory of cute-as-a-button Carter Whipple-Button, who died at 11 months.