OK, maybe it’s true you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but what about a 71-year-old bakery?
Recently, City Bread, a North End institution located at 238 Dufferin Ave., toasted the beginning of its eighth decade in business by establishing a new website, updating its Facebook page and launching a spiffy new Instagram feed.
The social media splash is largely the handiwork of sales managers Kyle Watson and Derek Kostynuik, both of whom have been with the company a little over two years.
A few months after assuming their titles, the pair of 30-somethings realized none of the long-established, iconic Winnipeg bakeries, City Bread included, were doing much of anything in the way of social media, says Watson, pulling up a chair next to his sales partner in their 10-seat boardroom.
"Except it’s not like 18- and 20-year-olds, people who’ve grown up with Instagram and Snapchat, don’t eat bread, too," Kostynuik pipes in, noting they were inspired in part by Winnipegger Carew Duffy, the brains — and jaws — behind Sandwiches & Selfies, an Instagram account devoted to Duffy’s dogged pursuit of the perfect sammie.
"We thought why not tap into that market by making bread cool, per se, and posting pictures of different items made with our product, kind of the way (Duffy) does with sandwiches?"
Their plan seems to be working: responses to mouthwatering images of burgers and sandwiches — heck, even a Franken-dish dubbed reuben sandwich poutine — prepared with City Bread have ranged from "delish," to "Need this," to "Can I come work there? I’ll do it for free."
"The way you do business in 2019 is vastly different than it was 20 or 30 years ago," Watson says.
"If you’re a retiree’s age, you’re either still eating our bread because it’s your favourite or we’ve lost you. But when it comes to the younger generation, it’s not like bread still isn’t a grocery staple. It’s just we had to figure out a way to connect with them, too."
City Bread, the only certified pareve kosher bakery in Winnipeg, is owned by Harvey Goldman. Goldman’s father, the late Max Goldman, purchased the business, established in 1948, in the 1970s from brothers Hymie, Morris and Jack Perlmutter.
Harvey Goldman told his sales team a fair bit about his father and how the business evolved after he took over some 45 years ago, but most of what they know is thanks to a type-written memoir Max Goldman wrote a few years before he died in 1997, Watson says, handing over a 14-page, single-spaced document.
The elder Goldman was born in 1918 in Drohiczyn, a town bordering the Bug River in present-day Belarus. After serving as a training officer with the Russian and Polish armies during the Second World War, he married Regine Galpern, a concentration camp survivor, in June 1945, nine days after they met. (Max lost his parents, grandparents and two sisters during the war.)
After he was officially discharged from the army, Max and his new bride moved to Bavaria, where, according to his bio, he "eked out a living buying and selling different items."
Frustrated with his financial prospects, or lack thereof, he briefly considered joining the newly-formed Israeli military. Fearing for her husband’s life, Regine nixed that plan fairly quickly.
The two agreed to move to North America instead. Unable to choose between Milwaukee and Winnipeg, the two places where they had connections, they wrote both cities’ names on scraps of paper, and let their one-year-old son Irving decide their fate by reaching into a hat and pulling out the winner.
In 1949, Max landed a job as a delivery driver, dropping off freshly baked doughnuts to vendors across Winnipeg. In time, he taught himself how to make doughnuts as well, at which point he quit his delivery job and went into the doughnut trade for himself.
A few years later he bought an existing business, Northwest Bakery, which he later dissolved when he took over City Bread.
"It’s a little cleaned up now but our traditional logo, the one with the red and blue star, actually has an arrow through it, pointing northwest, kind of a hallmark to the heritage of Mr. Goldman’s moving from Northwest (Bakery) to City Bread," Watson says.
A former account manager for Coca-Cola, Watson chuckles and says, "Zero, zilch," when asked how much he knew about Winnipeggers’ devotion to City Bread, before stepping into his current role in January 2017. Sure, he did the bulk of the grocery shopping for his household, he admits, but to him, "bread was bread."
Given that, imagine his surprise a week or so into his tenure when he fielded a message from a person on his way to Arizona for a couple months who wanted to make sure there were enough fresh loaves on the shelves at the Dufferin Avenue site to fill up a few coolers.
"I was like, ‘Don’t they sell bread down there?’ and his answer was along the lines of yeah, but it’s not City Bread," he says.
"Just the other day I got a call from a woman from Ontario," Kostynuik adds. "She told me her sister lives in Kansas City and wants a few loaves shipped to her home… I told her there’s no way I could do that quickly and still make it affordable. She said her sister doesn’t care what it costs, that she has loads of money and ‘Just get her the bread.’"
“Just the other day I got a call from a woman from Ontario. She told me her sister lives in Kansas City and wants a few loaves shipped to her home… I told her there’s no way I could do that quickly and still make it affordable. She said her sister doesn’t care what it costs, that she has loads of money and ‘Just get her the bread.’” -Derek Kostynuik
Some of the crumbs of information Watson and Kostynuik hope to share through their various social media platforms are that City Bread, despite its local-sounding tag, is available in retail outlets from Thunder Bay to Vancouver Island.
Also, that the company employs close to 80 people, bakes in the neighbourhood of 20,000 loaves per week for one retail distributor alone, and, despite the "our breads" section of their website listing 20 available products including rye, multi-grain, Irish, and pumpernickel breads, that number is actually closer to 300.
"We produce a lot of things that are unique to a particular deli or restaurant. For instance, the folks at Rae and Jerry’s liked our buns, but wanted ones that were a little longer and a little crustier, so we custom-make one for them," he says.
"Or take a loaf of rye bread; a place like Oscar’s Deli might want a bit of a thicker cut while another commercial client prefers it a bit thinner. So now one loaf of rye bread becomes eight or 10 different products, depending upon where it’s headed."
Mike Del Bueno is the owner of King & Bannatyne, a gourmet sandwich shop at 100 King St. Although he didn’t use City Bread when he initially opened his establishment in November 2014, he made the switch after his original supplier changed hands.
"A staple with our old bakery was a classic Portuguese bun," Del Bueno says when reached at work.
"The crew over at City put in the effort to come up with something we were super proud to serve. We also use their classic deli rye, which we hand-slice ourselves daily. Our River City Brisket sandwich wouldn’t be the same without that bread."
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to ask two bread experts how they take their toast, first thing in the morning.
"I’m pretty flexible," Kostynuik says. "I like mine toasted very crispy with butter, or toasted gently with peanut butter. Or with honey or jam."
"I don’t like to admit this but I had a big slathering of Cheez Whiz on mine, just this morning," Watson says with a chuckle.
"In reality though I’m more of a sandwich guy; I have a sandwich — usually with corned beef from our neighbours down the street at European Meats — almost every day, either on rye or supreme seed."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.