WEATHER ALERT

As one bakery closes… another rises to the occasion Sleepy Owl Bread awakens with new ownership after six months in the oven

The Sleepy Owl is waking up.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.

The Sleepy Owl is waking up.

Michel Saltel is losing sleep, making bread and preparing for the Wall Street bakery’s re-opening next Tuesday.

“I feel all the feelings,” he said. “I feel nervous, I feel excited, scared, intimidated.”

On Thursday, he had Sleepy Owl Bread specials — pumpkin cranberry sourdough, and a potato and onion type — fermenting in the fridge.

Saltel is the bakery’s new manager. He and a handful of bakers have been practising the well-respected company’s recipes for the past month, trying to replicate the former Sleepy Owl Bread’s offerings.

“We have been non-stop, working around the clock… getting it to a quality where I think it’s presentable to the public,” Saltel said.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Michel Saltel, new manager of Sleepy Owl Bread, has not been getting much sleep lately as he gets ready for the grand re-opening of the much-missed bakery.

The original owners shuttered the West End business last May, after nearly eight years of operation. The couple wanted a change of pace. A typical workweek could be 50 to 70 hours, co-owner Joanne Toupin told the Free Press at the time.

She was not available for comment on Sleepy Owl Bread’s resurrection by print deadline.

“We want to do it justice — we want to make sure everything’s delicious,” said Kirsten Godbout, executive manager of operations at Diversity Food Services.

KUB Bakery attracts potential buyers

After a whirlwind day of media, Ross Einfeld is being bombarded with calls for KUB Bakery and its equipment.
“I’m taking these meetings one by one. The phone is… very busy,” Einfeld said.
Several news outlets, including the Free Press, reported Wednesday of the 99-year-old bakery’s closure.
“I didn’t want to shut,” Einfeld said Thursday, a day after KUB’s operations officially ceased. “I wanted to continue producing bread until a prospective buyer was found, and there’d be no mention of us closing.”

After a whirlwind day of media, Ross Einfeld is being bombarded with calls for KUB Bakery and its equipment.
“I’m taking these meetings one by one. The phone is… very busy,” Einfeld said.
Several news outlets, including the Free Press, reported Wednesday of the 99-year-old bakery’s closure.
“I didn’t want to shut,” Einfeld said Thursday, a day after KUB’s operations officially ceased. “I wanted to continue producing bread until a prospective buyer was found, and there’d be no mention of us closing.”
Einfeld said he missed around 27 calls yesterday. Some would be customers, wondering where their bread has gone.
KUB Bakery currently has interest from at least four legitimate potential buyers, Einfeld said.
“Then there’s the tire kickers, just asking questions,” he added. “(Or) it might be someone just wanting to buy the name and then contact a major bakery supplier and say, ‘Hey, make KUB bread for me’… I’ve had offers like that too.”
Sooner is better, in terms of inking a deal, Einfeld said.
“The clock is ticking, basically,” he said. “People move on. Stores (might) say, ‘Well, I haven’t had KUB here in a while, I don’t even know if I want to carry it.’”
Costco is one of the retailers that sold KUB bread. At one time, the Erin Street bakery’s annual revenues neared $4 million.
Einfeld said he’d like the brand to continue, and that pre-closure, he’d been in talks with a prospective buyer for a month. The company then pulled out, he said.
Einfeld’s family bought the bakery in 1982. He said he’d help new owners in their beginning days with KUB.
– Gabrielle Piché

Diversity Food Services bought Sleepy Owl Bread. It runs eateries in The University of Winnipeg and FortWhyte Alive.

“(Sleepy Owl Bread) created a great product, and they created a great reputation,” Godbout said. “We think it should continue.”

The bakery’s former owners worked for Diversity Food Services before launching their own venture, Godbout said. Toupin would deliver Sleepy Owl Bread croissants to the university.

Last spring’s closure came unexpectedly, Godbout noted. Once it did, she contacted Toupin about buying the business.

Diversity Food Services acquired the name, building, recipes and social media platforms. It paid Beau Burton, Toupin’s husband and Sleepy Owl Bread’s baker, to teach the bakery’s new staff his ways.

Before, it was just Burton. Now, Saltel will lead a team of up to seven bakers. They’ll ship loaves and pastries to The University of Winnipeg and FortWhyte Alive, along with opening their 751 Wall St. storefront to walk-ins.

“It’s absolutely a tough time,” Godbout said of being a bakery.

KUB Bakery, a nearly century-old Manitoban institution, officially ended its operations Wednesday amid rising input costs, declining sales and equipment breakdowns.

“KUB’s sort of a different beast than we are,” Godbout noted. “That’s a mass production, wholesale bakery, and this is an artisanal, smaller batch bakery.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ross Einfeld at KUB Bakery, which closed its doors on Wednesday, has been fielding offers to keep the 99-year-old brand alive.

The margins between the two aren’t the same, she said. And, Diversity Food Services has an increased need for baking — students love baking, Godbout said.

Cindy Armstrong is no pupil, but she’s counting the days until Sleepy Owl Bread’s return.

“Chances are pretty good, if I get there and they have the bread I’m looking for, it won’t make it past the front seat of the car,” she said.

In the past, Armstrong’s Saturday morning could involve ripping open a fresh loaf of sourdough right outside the bakery, munching it with her daughter.

She’s transformed leftover baguette into crostini and salivated over the shop’s chocolate babka.

“I’m hoping, fingers crossed, that the quality is the same,” said Tanner Davies, a former contestant on The Great Canadian Baking Show.

He’d frequent Sleepy Owl Bakery for its croissants and danishes.

“I’m very critical with local bakeries,” he said, adding this is a good one — he keeps coming back.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Test baking at Sleepy Owl Bread, which is re-opening under new management, in Winnipeg.

The response from past customers has been overwhelming, according to Saltel.

He’s navigated hundreds of online messages throughout the week, post-opening announcement. People have been curious about what the shop will carry, and they’ve expressed excitement.

“(It’s) very intimidating,” Saltel, Diversity Food Services’s former sous chef, said.

Still, he’s living “kind of a dream” at the bakery. During pandemic lockdowns, he’d bake loaf after loaf of sourdough in his apartment — it became a passion, he said.

Sleepy Owl Bread might soon produce 800 to 1,500 loaves weekly, Saltel said. He envisions the business expanding, selling to restaurants and in farmers markets.

Banana bread, brownies and other treats common at Diversity Food Services will be available in Sleepy Owl Bakery, which will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

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.

Report Error Submit a Tip