Bäckerhaus Veit founder Sabine Veit started her company with one goal: simple survival. The 24-year-old single mother had immigrated to Canada from Germany and needed work. As the daughter and granddaughter of professional bakers, she says, “I did what I knew, which was baking.”
Veit started a small retail bakery in 1987, producing traditional European-style breads. It grew quickly—credit the era’s craze for carbohydrates—and, by the early ’90s, wholesalers had come knocking. Sensing an opportunity, she shifted to complete wholesale distribution and added a line of frozen products with the longer shelf life large commercial customers needed. Europe-trained bakers would make and bake the bread at Bäckerhaus Veit’s facility, let it cool slightly and then flash-freeze it. Customers would re-bake the frozen bread on their premises to offer a moist, fresh product without the overhead of maintaining an on-site bakery.
The model filled a much-needed niche. Today, the company produces more than 200 varieties of breads, rolls and pretzel products to supply retail, food-service and institutional customers situated in both Canada and the U.S. (Approximately 60% of the bread the company bakes goes to buyers south of the border.)
But even with robust revenue streams, Veit is uncomfortable with complacency. To that end, the company invested $15 million last year to move from its 55,000-square-foot production facility to a 150,000-square-foot space in Mississauga, Ont. that incorporates automated systems. The modern machinery handles higher-volume, more easily mass-produced orders from clients looking for basic bread and rolls, freeing staff to tend to the artisanal European-style items the company is known for.
That’s key, because Veit is adamant its hands-on spirit is what makes the company special. “Our heritage bakery is really what drives R&D and keeps us close to the dough so we can understand what the dough needs: time to mature, proper hydration and all the things that make it great,” she says. In fact, she credits the success of Bäckerhaus Veit to its refusal to abandon what it does best in search of easier money. “We constantly remind ourselves of what business we are in,” Veit says. “We are not in the cake business; we’re not in the transportation business. We are in the bread business, and we are pretty anal about not getting sidetracked with other ideas.”
It’s an observation that demonstrates Veit’s strong self-awareness—a trait she recently applied when deciding to change her own leadership duties. She says the smartest thing she’s done for Bäckerhaus Veit is to step out of the hybrid president-CEO role she’s occupied for years, and to hire company president Farhad Pochkhanawala to handle day-to-day operations. Veit is now able to focus the majority of her attention on what she excels at: pursuing innovation and growth. “We work really well together. [Pochkhanawala] considers a lot of different angles than I do as an entrepreneur,” she says. “You need somebody who can take your ideas and harness them into something manageable so you don’t kill yourself.”