Breaking baking news Gimli’s Butter Tart Lady bringing her popular pastries to Winnipeg location
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Desserts have not deserted a former St. James bakery location.
The Butter Tart Lady is taking over 1850 Ness Ave., the spot La Belle Baguette vacated late last month.
“This is a dream,” said Michelle Wierda, a.k.a. the butter-tart lady. “It all happened so fast.”
The 1,650-square-foot bakery will be filled with, as the name suggests, a wide variety of butter tarts — coconut white chocolate, espresso, cookies and cream, and so on.
Wierda, 47, will also bring her most popular sellers from her other baked goods business, Sugar Me Cookie Boutique.
La Belle Baguette, the St. James site’s most recent tenant, sold its wares there for five years.
Owner Alix Loiselle said he’d like to see a new bakery take its place when he spoke to the Free Press in May. He couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
“(You have) a responsibility to the community to kind of not just drop everything and run,” he said May 25.
He was centralizing operations in La Belle Baguette’s St. Boniface location.
Before La Belle Baguette, the site was Mr. D’s Tart-N-Pie.
For Wierda, the new opening came somewhat unexpectedly — a common theme for her business. She started making butter tarts nearly 10 years ago to raise money for a mission trip.
Her daughter wanted to go to Ensenada, Mexico, with Youth With a Mission.
“I said, ‘Not without me, you’re not,’” Wierda said.
However, as a single mother of five, she couldn’t afford the trip. Her mom, Nelly Wierda, suggested selling butter tarts.
“I guess I just thought it was something that was easy enough to do,” Nelly said. “People like butter tarts.”
Nelly was known for circulating the decadent treats at the resort she owned in Gogama, Ont., Michelle Wierda said.
A babysitter of Nelly’s is to thank.
“She used to make the butter tarts for us and they were so good,” Nelly said.
She asked for the recipe, which she later passed on to her daughter.
“I tweaked my process, so even if you try hers and mine, they’re different,” Michelle Wierda said.
Wierda sold the desserts at craft sales and to churchgoers. She baked up to 500 dozen — 6,000 tarts — and raised roughly $6,000 for the trip. Another $21,000 of donations came as people heard the single mother wanted to take her children on the mission, Wierda said.
She later sold butter tarts to fundraise for other mission trips.
Her face — and products — became known at the Interlake markets she frequented.
“I’d go to the grocery store, I’d be walking down the street and have people be like, ‘Hey, butter-tart lady, how’s it going?’” Wierda said.
She originally called her small business Michelle’s Pasty Pastries.
“So many people were just calling me the butter-tart lady,” Wierda said. “I figured, ‘Well, they’re not remembering my original name, so I might as well change it.’”
“I’m just amazed that something that I never planned has a life of its own.”– Michelle Wierda, owner of The Butter Tart Lady
In the early days, Wierda would bake in her Sandy Hook home oven until 3 a.m. to prep for markets. She also worked at a Curves gym during the day — which she bought after her first mission trip — and raised her five children.
“It would take me, like, forever,” Wierda said. “I was trying to do 100 dozen at a time, and then my arms felt like they were going to fall off.”
She and her mother would roll the dough by hand.
Eventually, Wierda began renting Gimli Bible Camp’s kitchen. Fundraising for mission trips stopped, but attending markets and craft sales continued.
Staff came on. A sheeter was enlisted for dough. Now, Wierda can bake 14 dozen tarts at a time.
“It’s really the unexpected business,” Wierda said.
She sold Curves in Gimli two years ago and took time to grow the Butter Tart Lady brand at Winnipeg markets.
“The business exploded again because we had a new clientele,” she said.
She attended Scattered Seeds, her biggest market, last year. Wierda said she sold around 780 dozen tarts — 9,360 pastries — in three days.
In the meantime, she was keeping busy in Gimli: she opened a new gym and moved beside Sugar Me Cookie Boutique, which she bought. The Butter Tart Lady has space in the complex.
“When you have five hyper… kids, (you’re) used to chaos,” Wierda said of the busy lifestyle.
April flooding closed her bakery for eight days — crucial time to prepare for a busy season, Wierda said.
“That’s when it hit me: I need a second kitchen, because I can’t be shut down,” she said.
She mentioned to a friend she was looking for another bakery in May. That friend spoke to another friend, who reached out to Loiselle and learned his Ness Avenue site was up for rent.
Within 10 days, Wierda had the keys.
“I’m just amazed that something that I never planned has a life of its own,” Wierda said. “I feel like we’re just following where it’s going.”
She plans to open shop on June 22. It’ll operate seven days a week, she said.
There won’t be room to dine in. However, take-away meals, such as soups and sandwiches, will be available alongside the baked goods.
Family is on staff, but more — at least 10 people — are needed, Wierda said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.