From its own experience, ACE Bakery knows well the difficulties of starting up an artisan food business. So management decided to offer a hand to similar businesses. On the occasion of the company’s 20th year in business, it selected 20 Canadian food artisans for a ­special Artisan Incubator event held June 20-22 in the bakery’s home city, Toronto.

It proved a resounding hit.

“A large part of ACE Bakery’s success in its infancy was due to mentorship my husband and I received from an owner of an artisan bakery in New York,” explained Linda Haynes, co-founder of ACE Bakery and author of “The ACE Bakery Cookbook” and “More from ACE Bakery.”

“ACE is now paying it forward,” she said. At the Artisan Incubator event, the company announced an extended mentorship program for two of the participants. “I know firsthand that this type of mentorship can make all the difference,” she added.

One of North America’s leading artisan bakeries, ACE Bakery opened in 1993 creating hand-made, European-style rustic breads. Maintaining this legacy, the company produces its baked foods without preservatives and using long fermentation periods and stone-deck ovens in its three high-capacity bakeries at North York and Vaughn, ON, and Gaffney, SC. ACE’s baguettes and artisan breads grace the tables of hundreds of restaurants, hotels and caterers and the shelves of grocery and ­gourmet food shops across Canada, throughout the US and the Caribbean. In 2010, ACE became part of George Weston Ltd., Toronto.

Guided by Tastemakers

To help guide the Artisan Incubator and provide the artisans with expertise in a variety of areas, ACE assembled a panel it calls the Tastemakers and invited culinary activists, experts, educators, authors, chefs, food entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, food publishers and food columnists throughout Canada to participate. The nine members of the Tastemakers group guided the selection of the 20 artisans showcased at the Incubator event’s workshops. The foods and topics were as varied as the artisans themselves — distilling, foraging, fermentation, cheese-, sausage-, chocolate-making and more. Locations included some of the city’s top culinary venues. As part of the program, ACE Bakery offered two workshops on artisan bread given by its master baker, Marcus Mariathas.

ACE Bakery President Lee Andrews explained why the company chose to celebrate its anniversary with an event honoring up-and-coming artisan food makers. “We hope that this national public showcase will help these artisans achieve the ­success they want while also drawing attention to the thousands of talented and hard-working artisans who put their heart and soul into ­everything they make,” he said.

More than 300 chefs, retailers, critics and others in the food business attended the Artisan Showcase held at the Daniels Spectrum in the Regents Park community of Toronto. Each of the 20 invited artisans presented their signature products in special recipes created just for the showcase.

Mentoring assistance offered

At the event, Ms. Haynes recognized the Tastemakers panel and announced the two artisans selected for additional mentoring support, representing Seed to Sausage, Tichborne, ON, and Les Jardins Sauvages, Montreal. Criteria behind their selection included adherence to artisan methods and the quality and uniqueness of their products. ACE noted that ­special attention was also paid to the artisans’ vision for the future and its impression of their capacity to grow as a business.

“Michael McKenzie from Seed to Sausage has an undeniable love and commitment to the artisan craft and his product — this comes through in everything he does and every bite of his cured and smoked meats,” Ms. Haynes explained. “Nancy Hinton and Francois Brouillard from Les Jardins Sauvages are dedicated to reviving lost tastes and traditions, developing approaches to their craft and sharing their knowledge with their community — they truly love what they do.”

Each artisan will receive two days of consultation with ACE Bakery or advisers selected by ACE in their choice of the following areas: business finances, product development, retail relations, foodservice relations, distribution, branding, marketing, public relations and human resources.

A video recap of the event is available.                     

Editor’s note: A profile of ACE Bakery and the grand opening of its new Gaffney, SC, bakery can be read in the digital edition of July 2013 Baking & Snack.