Celebrations are the bread and butter of many hospitality businesses. To Le Dolci, these moments aren’t just a line of business, but a personal point of pride. They say the secret ingredient to any good recipe is love and founder Lisa Sanguedolce sprinkles her affection into every creation coming out of her kitchens.
The operation of both a dedicated event space in the Junction and a corporate bakery on Castlefield attempts to satisfy that demand. Firstly, Lisa and her team of talented bakers crafted one of Toronto’s most creative cakes in addition to encouraging and teaching countless amateur bakers. From children holding their first whisk to seasoned bakers looking for that masterclass, Le Dolci has been certainly there every step of the way.
Naturally, it’s particularly gut-wrenching to watch her business go unused. Meanwhile, if that wasn’t bad enough, she had *just* opened a brand-spanking-new studio space prior to lockdown life. COVID has been unkind to most industries, but the hospitality industry, especially in Ontario has suffered more than its fair share. Rolling lockdowns, forced closures and anti-vaxxers running wild – there’s been no harder time to be an entrepreneur in the food sector than right now.
From unpaid bills from gourmet grocers to her Instagram account getting hacked, Lisa’s ‘eternally optimistic’ ethos has been put to the test. The hardest challenge, on the other hand, came closer to home. Lisa’s sister, Joy, who managed the busy class schedule at Le Dolci, suffered not one, but two heart-attacks last summer.
“I was having anxiety thinking I was going to have a heart attack like my sister. I cried so much these last two years. I meditate a lot. The Calm app is really helpful. I bought it all for my staff too. I went to therapy which helped a lot. I kept saying one day at a time, we have a three-year recovery plan, it’s a slow process. I keep saying ‘Be present, be in the now….’ really just trying to take it one day at a time.”Lisa Sanguedolce
As the mother of a young toddler, Lisa’s COVID journey has been a struggle on all fronts, acknowledging that time-off is not even an option.
“It’s hard when you have kids to take that time. It’s food, diapers and rinse and repeat,” says Lisa. So how does she keep going? Support from friends in the industry like Sarah Huggins of Mary Be Kitchen helps to blow off steam. Regular check-ins with competitors and rival bakeries to share tips, tricks and insights have also proven to be a powerful motivator.
“This city is full of amazing people. Small businesses are really sticking it out together,” Lisa adds.
A typical year in the books for one of Toronto’s best bakeries would be a bustling baking schedule, backed by holiday parties and corporate events. While last year was peppered with Zoom-based online classes, this year everything seemed to stall. They found themselves caught in the can-we-or-can’t-we protocols that are shifting every day.
Media tends to focus on that singular school closure or a protest bottle-necking the downtown core, something Lisa admits gets to her. The repeat sensationalizing of COVID cases has been downright soul-crushing, but she sees a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. “All our teachers are fully-vaccinated. You must be vaccinated to attend a class. People are slowly coming back to in-person lessons,” says Lisa.
This energy is what keeps her going and she’s so excited to see her students return to the space. After a super-successful summer camp, she’s delighted to offer more programming for March break. Additionally, there are advanced classes taught by Amanda Testani, a master Pastry Chef formerly of Bobette and Belle.
Partnerships with delivery outfits like Kitchen Hub add an edge to her bottom line but Lisa longs for the day when families drop back in to pick up cupcakes or for when classes and corporate bookings finally return to normal.
“I have such a wonderful team, and we were on such a great trajectory pre-pandemic. I treat them how I want to be treated. I started my business because I was treated so poorly before at a job. I love the care and attention that small business brings. It’ll be so nice to socialize and open the doors, getting that cake and having a chat, it was a great element to our business,” says Lisa.
Looking for a memorable cake or a gift that keeps giving? Le Dolci offers gift cards and classes, a perfect way to support and shop local this holiday season.
Stay tuned for our next #LadiesFirst where we chat with nutritionist and PEC/TO caterer Rachel Bies.
All images by Libby Roach. Interview may be edited for length/clarity.