Tayler Book, 27, is a co-owner of Beechwood Doughnuts, Niagara Region’s only 100-per-cent vegan doughnut shop. In downtown St. Catharines, Ont., its maximum output is 4,000 doughnuts a day.
First, a big thank you from etymologists for using “doughnuts” instead of the Americanized “donuts.”
For sure! It flows better. Beechwood is the same length so we keep it symmetrical.
I met my partner Shane [Belanger], a baker with commercial experience, when I was in third-year university. Imagine your 20-year-old kid saying, “I’m going to open a bakery” [especially since] I was a terrible baker. You know those cookies with egg, sugar, peanut butter? Being a hungry vegan at 11 p.m., what replaces eggs? The internet said “oil.” When my mom came in the kitchen, her laugh was a shrieking scream. Now I know peanut butter is oil. My brother posted a photo of that blob I had made. We opened within the year.
When you were young, did you have ideas of what work you might pursue?
No idea. I started working young – Canview Drive-In, McDonalds, a restaurant. I learned about everything, including HR, paperwork, working with staff and customers. I was born in St. Catharines. By high school, I thought I’d be a lawyer so I went to Brock [University] for political science. The first month I absolutely hated it. In first year, there’s not much flexibility what you take, but it is an introduction. I had to take a social sciences course, which I enjoyed, so I ended up in sociology. When Shane said he wanted to open his own place it clicked. I’d be an entrepreneur.
Best advice then?
Nobody wanted us to open. We’d be done in three months, we’re too young – that was the tone the entire time. Although we did research, people brushed us off. I talked to contractors, all older men, but was never taken seriously. Talking to students now who want to open businesses, I ask what jobs they’ve had. None. I don’t care if it’s fast food – I tell them to get experience! Experience outside a classroom enriches what you learn and you get paid to figure out what to do.
What was your plan?
I’d do the front end and Shane would do the recipes and anything in the back with his sister [Leah], who is also a baker. The display case held 120 doughnuts. If we sold that each day, [Shane would have been completely fine with that]. We opened to a non-stop line, selling out within the hour. We locked the door and asked ourselves, “I guess we make more?” Four hours later, we opened, posted on social media and sold out in another hour. It was absolutely absurd.
I said, “This can’t happen forever,” working from three in the morning to be open two hours. It was absolutely absurd. Shane and Leah’s roommates [joined us], most are still with us.
“A chain store sells 450 a day,” I said. “One day, I think we can make more.” Everyone said it was never going to happen. Within days, we sold that each day. What we expected to do in five years took a month.
Besides delighted customers, your staff also seem happy. Tell me about your living wages policy.
We have 25 staff and haven’t lost one since we started paying above minimum wage years ago. Also, Shane and I are here all the time working, not owners who go to Hawaii for a month. We didn’t get into business to be moguls, which blows people’s minds. I did it to be my own boss and have control over my life, not have my business control me. I have no desire to get less sleep than I do. I do love to inspire others to open businesses and to help them realize that jobs considered unskilled are skilled in different ways.
What are some of the complexities with your job?
People underestimate how complex it is. People come at closing, upset we’re sold out. “Can’t you make more?” No, that takes four hours. Or they ask, “This is all you have?” There are 20 flavours, but the two they want aren’t there. They don’t understand that they want the convenience of [thaw-and-sell] frozen doughnuts but don’t want the quality of a frozen doughnut. Food went downhill when people wanted convenience, sacrificing quality, wanting what they want when they want. Staff start at 5 a.m., and by 7 a.m. I have to decide how many doughnuts to make. For example, today it’s 1,700.
How do you rein in work?
I set boundaries and turn off notifications on devices. Any messages, I see when I want. If somebody wants a response in two minutes, they should’ve thought of that before – don’t get mad at me. It’s a lack of respect. It’s like what university professors often say: “If you ask a question the night before your assignment’s due – when you’ve had it two months – I’m not responding.” And if Shane talks flavours, I say I’m off the clock.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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