Brampton’s Organic Oven bakes up sweet allergy-free treats

A Brampton bakery is making sure there are plenty of baked goods, from pies to cupcakes, for celiacs and gluten-sensitive customers can enjoy.

Pilar “Peachy” Yutango-Daye founded Organic Oven 10 years ago. Years after immigrating from the Philippines and being laid off from her job as an engineering consultant, she opened the bakery in Brampton on Melanie Drive with only $500 in her pocket. But it was hearing about her customers’ allergies that convinced her to specialize.

Yutango-Daye said the market for her products is growing because more people are discovering allergies to things like cinnamon, eggs, dairy and wheat. “Sesame is now in the top 10,” she said. “Apparently we’re the only sesame free bakery in the Greater Toronto Area.”

Organic Oven’s products are also suitable for customers who are celiac or gluten-intolerant, conditions in which the body is unable to process proteins derived from wheat, barley or rye.

With many products organic and free of peanuts, soy, gluten, egg, dairy and preservatives, many health-conscious clients and parents have come to regularly rely on her for their allergy-free bagels, breads, muffins, cupcakes and cookies. She said cakes are also popular for birthday parties where parents don’t want to isolate or leave out a child that has allergies.

However, Yutango-Daye’s insistence on using alternatives to traditional refined white sugar has led her to often use agave syrup and coconut sugar. And while the latter has a lower glycemic index (making it great for diabetics), the product is very expensive to import from the Philippines and difficult to use.

“On a cake or a cupcake or muffins, it tends to dry up,” she explained. “It doesn’t have has as much moisture as cane sugar. It’s still not the same as sugar, but everyone loves our sugar-free products.”

Yutango-Daye’s willingness to develop recipes with fickle ingredients, not charge her customers for special requests and keep prices relatively low despite the high cost of specialty supplies has made it hard for her to earn a living. However, die-hard fans may soon be able to get to her wares in Toronto and far beyond.

Yutango-Daye said she’s had discussions with 10 prospective franchisees, including a lawyer from London, Ontario and interest from San Diego and the Philippines. “I would really love to open in the Financial District,” she said.

Her original popular café on Yonge and Lawrence was open for three years, but she closed due to concerns about the building’s asbestos and sewage problems.

However, Yutango-Daye said before she can start really working on the Organic Oven franchises she has to open a new café in Toronto. “I need to open a model for them to see and train in,” Yutango-Daye explained. “How am I going to train them on the espresso machine at a store?”

Small businesses like Organic Oven also have more difficulty borrowing money. Yutango-Daye said it’s hard convincing prospective landlords she’ll be able to pay rent on time, even with her past café experience and consistent wholesale business. “They want something that’s already popular,” she said. “We are popular, except we only have one location for now.”

For now, Yutango-Daye is busy dealing with an increasingly long list of wholesale orders from places like the Big Carrot, two Whole Foods locations in Yorkville and Oakville, health food chain Noah’s, specialty pizza restaurant Magic Oven, the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto, Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls and large cupcake orders from high-end caterers.

Even actress Katie Holmes is a fan. “She told my daughter, ‘Do you know I’m your regular customer?'” she said. “She sat down at the café for an hour, hour and a half. And I think she had a party during the film festival and bought a lot of cupcakes.”

Hollywood aside, Yutango-Daye’s attention to detail and quality has paid off on the retail side too. Customers regularly flock from as far away as Barrie to buy her products.

Katherine Burns now lives in Collingwood but she regularly drives to Brampton to stock up on wraps, bread, cakes, and other products due to her 13-year-old son’s allergies. She said she’s been a loyal customer of Yutango-Daye’s for 11 years. “She has such a following,” Burns said, after indicating she had just made the drive yesterday. “For people with allergies, this place is like gold.”

Burns said the best part about the food is that you often can’t tell it’s specially made for people with allergies. “Her cakes and cupcakes, all of our friends prefer them,” she said. “How amazing is that?”

And even though Organic Oven’s products cost more, Burns said for her it’s completely worth paying for. “We give up a lot to buy here, but it’s worth it for the health of your kids,” she said. “And we’ve gone through very tough economic times but we’ve never given up Peachy.”

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