What do beans, grape skins, chia seeds and activated charcoal have in common? For Giovanni Angelucci, HBA‘11, founder and CEO of Queen Street Bakery, these items are ingredients in his unique recipes for gluten-free bread products.
These uncommon groupings came from hundreds of trial-and-error experiments.
“We ate a lot of bread,” said Angelucci. “Once we found one that would hold up and the nutritional label was one we were happy with – that’s when we knew we had a winner.”
In the past, gluten-free products were a niche market, catering to those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but now the market has opened up to anyone searching for high-quality, nutritious bread.
“People are more aware and want to know what’s in their food and how to pronounce the ingredients. After water, we have six or seven ingredients that people can pronounce. They know fibre and protein and like that there is no sugar added,” said Angelucci.
Finding the perfect bread recipe was just the beginning. At the time, Queen Street was a business investment for Angelucci so he was less involved in the day-to-day business. After purchasing ovens and leasing space, he hired someone to handle the business operations. In 2018 things took a turn and he realized he needed to play a larger role in the business.
In February 2019, he started with a clean slate. Not only was the business starting from scratch again, but he had to rebuild some bridges that were burned.
“It didn’t start off so rosy,” said Angelucci. “It took a dive and then came back from the brink but that’s the way businesses go sometimes. That’s why you need to have people you trust working with you.”
Enter Queen Street’s president, Tony Ayala, BA 15, Angelucci’s friend and fellow Western alumnus.
The pair met in fourth year through a mutual friend, Andrew Forgione, BA‘12, the University Students’ Council president at the time.
They both credit Western with helping them build a foundation for knowledge and connecting them with like-minded people.
“Western was the time of our lives. It’s one of those things that you can only do for the first time once and those four years are going to be forever special. We always look back and talk about our experiences,” said Angelucci.
With the help of Ayala and the rest of the team, Queen Street Bakery has seen major growth over the past year. Their distribution has grown from just 50 stores in the GTA to more than 1,000 stores Canada-wide, including Loblaws, Sobeys, Whole Foods, Farm Boy and Choices Markets.
Recently, they secured a new strategic equity partner with District Ventures Capital led by Canadian investor and entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson.
“We are super excited about it. Queen Street has always been a family business but I recognized marketing isn’t a strength of mine. Lots of really great products don’t make it because other products have a bigger budget,” said Angelucci. “We met with them and they liked the product, they believed in the product and they believed in us.”
It’s all about getting more bread on tables and the right mix of people.
“We are in a position now to grow quickly,” said Ayala. “We want to double the number of Canadian stores we are in and get into the U.S. in 2021. We are looking for the next place that makes sense to grow.”