Origin Bakery: a gluten-free haven for over ten years

Origin Bakery: a gluten-free haven for over ten years

Origin Bakery

With a growing number of Vancouver Islander’s adopting gluten-free diets, we are seeing more and more gluten-free options available in local stores and eateries. But Origin Bakery was well ahead of the curve. Founded in 2009, they were one of the first to foresee the growing need for gluten-free products, and they continue to be on the cutting edge of the industry.

Tasting Victoria sat down with Origin owner and co-founder Tara Black to find out how she got her start in gluten-free baking, what she thinks of the current trends, and why Origin Bakery continues to stand out from the crowd. Whether you’re Celiac, you feel better on a gluten-free diet, or you just love delicious baked goods, you’ll want to hear what she has to say.

The origins of Origin

Origin owner Tara Black was destined for the food industry from an early age. While gluten-free baking came to her later in life, her passion for cooking and baking was clear right from the outset. “I started working in the industry at 13,” she says. “I did my chef’s apprenticeship through high school and just after.”

It didn’t take long before she transitioned to pastry and added a baking apprenticeship to her resume. “I enjoyed the sweet kitchen far more,” she explains.

Her career path took a turn as she noticed a rise in gluten-free diets. While most of us may have only spotted this trend in the past decade, Tara’s experience in the food industry led her to note the emerging market far earlier. She tells Tasting Victoria, “The interesting thing is that the knowledge of gluten-free diets has been around since the 70s. So I guess if you are inclined to pay attention to the fringe markets, you could see a swell forming.”

When Tasting Victoria spoke with Tara, she explained that she was drawn to gluten-free baking for the challenge – the very thing that would cause many to shy away. She loved understanding the science of how the protein gluten operates in conventional baking, and she was able to use that knowledge to find gluten-free alternatives that mimic those same protein interactions. 

It’s a common adage that cooking is an art while baking is a science. And gluten-free baking turns that up another notch. 

As one of few pastry chefs who embraced the nuances of gluten-free baking, Tara was increasingly given all the gluten-free order requests. Eventually, she decided to start her own business. “There was an obvious need for high-quality gluten-free products that was not being met,” she says. “I figured if that is all we did, we could service a market that was under-serviced.” She was right. In the first two weeks, she and her business partner were overwhelmed with orders and already hiring staff.

What makes Origin Bakery unique

Gluten-free diners have a growing array of options these days – Tasting Victoria even picked eight delicious ones just in the Westshore in a recent article – but Origin continues to be the gold standard among local bakeries. That’s not just because they’ve been around the longest; it’s because they’re doing something unique. 

Rather than using one or two master flour blends like most gluten-free establishments, they use different flours for different baked goods. 

You wouldn’t want a cookie, a cupcake, and a loaf of sourdough to have the same texture, but that’s what happens if you bake them all with the same gluten-free flour. Tara says that’s why so many gluten-free recipes are flops.

“In traditional baking,” she explains, “there is not just one flour. There are multiple different kinds of wheat varietals that we use for making traditional products. So my thinking is: why wouldn’t you look to provide the same diversity of texture, flavour, and nutrition in gluten-free products?”

This commitment to diverse flour blends doesn’t just stand out in Victoria or the Island. Tara says she has researched as far afield as Toronto, New York, and L.A., and no one can match the variety on offer at Origin Bakery.

Origin is also one of few places in Victoria that is 100% gluten-free, rather than having a few gluten-free options. For those with Celiac disease, this is a big deal. Tara says part of the joy of her work is knowing people can eat at Origin and feel safe in a way that they can’t anywhere else. But it definitely adds complexity to running the business. For example, she says, “all of our staff are trained in how to create a safe environment and product for our customers. It is a labour-intensive process, so you typically see more time allocated for training than in other businesses similar to Origin, especially on the customer service side.”

Plan your visit to Origin Bakery

Origin now has two locations, one downtown on Pandora Ave and a second in the new Belmont Market complex in Langford. Like all businesses that expanded during the pandemic, Origin has struggled with staffing. But as the world returns to a version of normal, the new location is thriving. It is well worth a visit, whether you’re avoiding gluten or not. Indeed, they cater to other specialty diets as well, and the staff has the expertise to answer any questions.

Case in point, several of the best-selling items – the chocolate cake, chocolate cupcake, and vegan bread – are vegan as well as gluten-free. Of course, you can’t go wrong with chocolate on chocolate, but you should also sample some under-the-radar hits on your visit. Tara’s personal favourites are the lemon tart, the eclair, and the milk and butter sponge cake.

Where does the future lead?

At the moment, Origin Bakery doesn’t have any plans for expansion, either in locations or menu items. The first priority is recovery from the pandemic, which hit them as hard as every other small business. “The pandemic has set us back substantially,” says Tara, when asked about future plans, “so the immediate plan is to recreate a solid base again. We would love to get our staffing back to a level where we can bring back key products. But the labour shortage is very real and it is challenging.”

Finding qualified staff is difficult. Tara explains that an added challenge comes from convincing experienced bakers to unlearn old habits when switching from traditional to gluten-free baking. She adds, “We are an artisan bakery. There is no automation in our baking, which presents challenges for consistency because there are anomalies depending on ingredients, staff knowledge and – believe it or not – weather.”

All that is not to say more expansion isn’t a possibility in the longer term. Tara leaves the option open, hinting that she has a gluten-free doughnut recipe that might knock your socks off…  

1525 Pandora Ave   
105 – 3039 Merchant Way

Written by

Julia Bobak

Guest Writer