One of the earliest and longest-lasting trends to come out of the COVID-19 lockdowns has been the Instagram-fuelled baking craze that gave sourdough bread a moment in pop culture’s spotlight and even turned making banana bread into a meme.
And out of this trend, some home bakers have turned their pandemic-inspired hobby into small businesses. Luckily for them, the Ontario government has recently relaxed the regulations around home-based food businesses that allows home bakers to sell to the public.
The Toronto Observer spoke with two Toronto-based bakers who learned how to bake to pass the time while in lockdown. Their casual hobby has now evolved into something much bigger than planned for both of them.
Kunal Khosla, Home Baker
Kunal Khosla, 32, was hanging out in his apartment with a friend in the early days of the pandemic. With nothing to do, and inspired by Instagram posts, they decided to make pizza from scratch.
So, they set off to the grocery store.
“It was like 50 bucks to buy seven ingredients,” Khosla said.
Not only was it expensive, but it was also hard for him to store all the supplies after they’d completed the recipe in his tiny apartment in downtown Toronto.
That’s when he and his friend-turned-business partner, Louay Dimassi, came up with Home Baker. The company sells baking subscription boxes that Khosla says lets the customers focus on the fun aspects of baking.
“We have this one apple crumble [kit]…that’s kind of what convinced me how easy baking actually is if you have everything pre-measured,” Khosla said.
Khosla has a full-time job with a Silicon Valley-based software company, so he and his business partner work on fulfilling orders overnight in his kitchen. They process 20 to 150 orders per week through their website, Home Baker.
Khosla says he did not expect the interest he’s received from corporations running online events or the loyal following they’ve amassed from grateful parents and grandparents looking for ways to entertain their kids in the pandemic.
“A lot of our customers just call us up after, just legit give us a call and be like, ‘Oh my God, we love the kits,’ Khosla said. “They send us photos of their kids’ birthdays.”
Although he is new to baking, this is not Khosla’s first experience with running a business. Before moving to Canada four years ago, he created a startup that sold men’s T-shirts and boxers in India that ended up on a Dragon’s Den style TV show there called The Vault.
Khosla then sold his business and moved to Canada to pursue an MBA at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
As for Home Baker’s future, Khosla says that they have a couple ideas in the works including gift kits tailored to kids, which will include aprons and crossword puzzles. But for now, he is just happy to be learning and growing with the business.
“We are just having a blast every day,” he said.
Morgan Amar, Sprinkles by Morgan
Having never baked before COVID-19, Morgan Amar, who works a full-time job in corporate management, decided to learn how to bake as a creative outlet during last spring’s first lockdown.
“I couldn’t even make you a cookie,” Amar, 25, said of her pre-pandemic self.
Her grandmother gave her a suggestion that started her on the journey.
“She’s like, ‘You should try making something French’ — because I’m French — like macarons,” Amar said.
She posted a picture of the results on her personal Instagram page. She got such a positive response from her followers that she kept experimenting.
She now sells flower-laced confection boxes through her business’s Instagram account, Sprinkles by Morgan.
Amar’s customizable boxes of treats typically include chocolate-covered strawberries, cakes, macarons, and freshly cut roses. Customers look at her menu saved on her Instagram stories and then place orders through direct messages on the app.
This is Amar’s first business but as a recent graduate from the Schulich School of Business, starting and running a business was something she had been interested in accomplishing.
She is now so busy with orders that she’s turned the den in her solo apartment into a room solely dedicated to her online business.
As a new baker Amar has been put to the test by some of the more advanced recipes requested by her customers, but she says it has taught her to believe in herself and her abilities.
“Every time I get an order, I will always say yes,” she said. “That’s a big takeaway for me, because I used to be really scared at the beginning, but the whole premise is to really keep challenging yourself.”
Amar has also posted her gift boxes on TikTok, where one of her videos of a cannabis-themed confection box went viral.
“It was a really cool experience. It brought me a ton of exposure,” the said.
Amar says that although she’s received a large increase in orders, a lot of the TikTok video’s viewers were in Europe and the United States, so the massive amounts of views didn’t directly translate to orders.
With this experience under her belt, Amar says her plans for the future of the business now include figuring out how to ship her goods internationally, setting up a professional website for the business and further down the road – a possible cocktail/bakery fusion shop.
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