Huron Farms to Tables: Burdan's Red Cat takes on sourdough
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
With a yard populated by a menagerie of recycled metal animal sculptures and brightly painted doors, Burdan’s Red Cat Bakery has a very playful attitude. But when it comes to their baked goods, they don’t mess around. The custom-built cast iron and brick oven dominates the space and stacks of sourdough proofing baskets reach up towards the ceiling, and on a typically busy Friday, a steady stream of customers moves in and out of the space. Some people were coming to check out the week’s selection of gluten-free options to fill their freezers, and some were just looking for a sweet treat to snack on at the picnic table outside. This place’s business is bread, no question.
Christian and Sophie Burdan came to Goderich from Europe, cats and sourdough starter in tow, with a plan to bring their bread-making skills to the people of Ontario’s West Coast. Selling their signature sourdough was the plan when they opened in 2011, but that turned out to be just the beginning for the Burdan family; currently the bakery sells heavy rye bread, soft baguettes, burger buns, fruit squares, homemade pasta and more. “This is what we did in France,” explained Sophie. “We baked bread and we sold bread… we needed our own bread here in Canada, because we are not that much into the fluffy bread here,” she laughed.
It took them two years to get their operation up and running. In that time, the cat the bakery is named after passed away, but other felines picked up his mantle, and continue to amuse bakery patrons to this very day. Those early times were exciting for the Burdans, but they were also full of trepidation. “The first year was a lot of education for the customers… I remember being concerned - would people here want our special bread? But they were just waiting for it.” Sophie made sure people understood the health benefits of their sourdough, giving talks and distributing flyers to the community.
Accessibility is also key to their business. “We always try to keep the price reasonable. Right now we’re still cheaper than the average grocery store, which I don’t know if that’s good for us, but it’s good for the customer!” There is also a mobile unit the family uses to sell bread and pastries at local markets, if you don’t happen to be anywhere near home base.
Helping people identify allergies and food sensitivities is also a Red Cat specialty. Some people who think they can’t eat bread just need to limit themselves to certain types of bread or modern additives, and the tightly controlled production at Red Cat, and the short list of ingredients in each baked item can help customers narrow down the list of possible problem areas.
While Red Cat does grow wheat and rye on their farm, they bring their grains to the local miller, and don’t necessarily get their own product back. “We sell them grain and we buy back flour,” explained Sophie. Does the family have any plans to open their own mill? Not at the moment - the Burdans, their children, and their expanding staff are too busy baking for the time being!