THUNDER BAY -- If you don’t walk down Red River Road very often, you might not have noticed a tiny new shop open up across from the Sovereign Room. Tucked away between Curl Up and Dye and Backstage, Ellen Bright opened Milk and Water Baking Co. in September 2017 after a couple of years of running the business out of her home.
Although a little shop of 400 square feet with no eat-in space, Milk and Water Baking Co. occupies a lot of space on social media - photos of her beautiful confections have garnered her almost 100,000 followers. “Pretty, floral and colourful, that’s what I like to do,” says Bright.
Her business grew organically, she explains. Bright had been working as a medical secretary for 10 years, but she felt somewhat lukewarm about her career. (“Milk and water” might be an apt way to describe it.) What she cared about was baking and cooking, but making that into a career, let alone a business, seemed unrealistic.
She did bake for friends and colleagues, and always got very positive feedback along with unsolicited advice: “you should sell these.” She uses family recipes; her grandmother’s butter cream frosting recipe and her mother’s cake recipes. She alters both for a variety of flavours ranging from Persian, salted caramel to Nanaimo-bar flavoured cupcakes.
Eventually, the home business got overwhelming, and she decided to open a location on Red River Road. “It was way more people than I expected. In the beginning I was baking around the clock, not sleeping, trying to keep up with the demand,” she says. “It probably took that first full year to figure what what I’m able to do.”
Recognizing that one person can only bake so many cupcakes in a day and still have a life, she started setting limits. “My max is about 300 or 400 cupcakes a day.” That means she usually sells out, even though she is currently only open between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Bright usually has an assortment of three to six different flavours in her display case, as well as what she calls “cutie cakes.” These are like large flat cupcakes and feed about six people. She can do custom flavours if you order a minimum of four dozen. She goes through 24 pounds of butter a week. “Lots of butter, sugar, eggs, all the good stuff,” she says.
Although she has thought about expanding her business and opening a location with a sit-down cafe or expanding her offerings, she doesn’t think that’s the right direction to take her business. She likes being a one-woman show (with her husband helping at the till) and believes that specializing makes the most business sense. “We’ll stick with the cupcakes and cakes forever!”