Steve Gibson (MBA 1995) still wonders why he only got an A- on his business plan to start an artisanal-bread bakery. Soon after graduating from U of T’s Rotman School of Management, Gibson took his 20-page school project to the bank and received financing to launch Fred’s Bread. Gibson and his spouse, pastry chef Andrea Damon Gibson, have since grown Fred’s Bread into a multimillion-dollar business. “I should have gotten an A+,” he quips.
The Toronto enterprise employs 35 workers, including a team of bakers who twist, shape and bake 30,000 loaves a week. Every morning, trucks deliver freshly baked bread to upscale restaurants, including Hart House’s Gallery Grill, and high-end grocery stores, such as Pusateri’s.
Several years ago, Fred’s Bread started flash-freezing bread so aficionados elsewhere in Ontario and in the northeastern U.S. can enjoy the loaves.
In the mid-1990s, when Damon Gibson lamented the lack of quality bread in Toronto, Gibson noted an opportunity and developed a business plan. In their tiny apartment kitchen, Damon Gibson wrapped Concord grapes in cheesecloth and, by adding flour and water, created a sourdough starter.
The plan’s marketing component emphasized all-natural, organic ingredients and the baking methods of yesteryear. “We take up to 24 hours to make a sourdough loaf, and almost no bakery will do that,” says Gibson.
Last summer, he hired a farmer to grow organic Red Fife wheat. “It’s called vertical integration,” says Gibson, tossing out a term he learned at Rotman. “It allows you to reduce costs and have more control over the process.” His wife created loaves that are rustic red and have a nutty flavour. And Gibson marketed the new line with a catchy new name: Red Fred Bread.