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Last year, she worked a corporate job. Now, this Toronto entrepreneur is watching her wildest dreams come true, one unique treat at a time

While DIY banana bread was trending at the beginning of the pandemic, Shiela Labao had a different baked good on the brain.

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This story is part of our Empowered Entrepreneurs series, which profiles some of the inspiring businesses taking part in Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses from American Express which provides mentorship and grants to support the advancement of 100 BIPOC entrepreneurs across Canada.

“Pies were the first thing I learned how to bake in high school home ec class,” the Toronto entrepreneur says, “And when I see a pie on a menu, I forget everything else. I go for it no matter what flavour it is.”

An avid baker in her off-duty hours, Labao has turned her passion for pie into a full-time pursuit with New Pie Co., a buzzy, Instagram-friendly purveyor of sweet treats with a twist.

Think Caramel Pop pie, a caramel custard filling topped with a shiny glaze of bitter caramel, crowned with a handful of homemade caramel corn, which has been a bestseller since day one. Buko Pie, a coconut pie inspired by Labao’s Filipino roots, is another hit.

It all began when she offered a series of virtual baking workshops, which were enough of a hit for her to make the leap into selling her pies in person. Initially, that meant a monthly pop-up where her confections, a savvy mix between hand-made, all-butter crust deliciousness and ‘grammable aesthetics, would sell out within minutes of the online ordering system opening up.

“It’s been wonderful to see Toronto be so open and very loving when it comes to a new business like mine,” she says.

The pie sales soon became weekly events, and, in the summer of 2021, Labao quit her day job as an HR and office manager for a venture capital firm in downtown Toronto to focus on her small business. “My office job was wonderful, and I loved the team, but I felt like it wasn’t enough,” she says. “I’m not the only one who realized that life is short, that you should not be doing something where you’re waiting for your next vacation.”

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Adamant about starting a business without going into personal debt, Labao was actively applying for grants earlier this year when she came across American Express Canada’s Blueprint program. Designed to support one hundred Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) business owners across the country, the initiative provides each recipient with a combination of a 15-week comprehensive mentorship program and a $10,000 grant to support the growth of their business.

While juggling expansion plans and an on-going virtual teaching schedule, the news that she was a recipient was timely. “It was a complete shock, an amazing surprise, and I felt so much relief,” Labao says. “At that time there were a lot of pain points going on in my kitchen. I didn’t have the fridge space, I wanted to hire more people and I didn’t have the space capacity for that. It felt like light at the end of the tunnel, and that there was a future for New Pie Co.”

Labao has since been able to move into a new space which has facilitated her ability to expand her operation. “I did not know I would be salivating over the thought of a walk-in fridge,” she says. While her previous kitchen could only turn out and store fifty pies at a time, she has now more than tripled production. “It’s been very life-changing just having storage,” Labao says, adding that she’s in the process of hiring a baker to help her bake all those treats she now has capacity for.

She also found a vital sense of stability through the mentorship element. A study commissioned by Amex Canada last year found BIPOC business owners face barriers to running their business at a higher rate than their white counterparts, specifically when it comes to accessing capital and mentorship.

“The money was wonderful, but the mentorship was more valuable,” she says.

A natural problem solver, Labao had overcome past hurdles by asking for advice from friends who were entrepreneurs in other industries and becoming proficient in Googling. Now she’s becoming equipped with insider knowledge and critical thinking skills.

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“You need to really have someone telling you the right questions to ask, answering those questions, and even giving you a sort of tough love because this industry is really difficult,” she says. With support from her mentor Cyrus Cooper, a professor at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Labao has received pointers on topics ranging from product cost analysis to how to purchase equipment and what to look for when signing a lease.

Labao is also finding encouragement to pursue her dreams through increased BIPOC representation in the food industry. “During the pandemic we’ve seen all of these Filipino chefs and home cooks that have started their own businesses,” she says. “You don’t know that you’re missing it until you see it in front of you.”

Now that she knows it’s possible to make a living doing something she loves, Labao is stepping into her power as a business owner. “I think it never really occurred to me that I needed and wanted to learn how to run a business properly. But I really don’t want to be someone who’s just passionate about baking,” she says, “I want to transcend just being a pie shop.”

While upcoming plans do include a store front, she won’t be stopping there. “Blueprint has not just given the business a future, but it’s given me, and my career in the industry, a future,” she says. You can expect to hear – and taste – more from Labao soon.

You can learn more about New Pie Co. by visiting their site and Instagram page.

To view the full list of 100 businesses taking part in the Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses mentorship and grant program, visit

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with American Express. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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