Fresh-baked entrepreneurship

A common concern for students is potential careers—not just the question of what career one wants to aim for, but also how likely one is to achieve that aim. Many turn to entrepreneurship, attempting to carve out their own niche rather than competing for existing jobs, but very few have what it takes to succeed.

In October 2003, Aaron Gillespie, vice-president of COBS Bread (BD Canada Ltd.) set out for a new Canadian market in Vancouver, looking to put his experience to work and truly test the potential of his business. After many years of working in his family bakery business in Australia, he had set himself a challenge to go global.

“We saw an opportunity to expand the business beyond Australia,” he recalls. “There are many similarities socially, politically, and economically between Canada and Australia.”

Since Canada is composed of many diverse cultural groups, it possesses a market full of diverse tastes and consumer demands. However, Vancouver’s large Asian population meant that rice often topped bread as the grain-based staple food in many households. Luckily, as eating behaviours continued to shift over the generations, the rising popularity of bread afforded COBS a great opportunity for growth and expansion.

After one COBS Bread store grew into 10 franchise stores in Vancouver, it was time to establish a presence on Vancouver Island. In October 2005, the first COBS bakery in Victoria opened. COBS now aspires to reach a store count of 100 across Canada, including locations in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ottawa, and possibly Montreal.

While Gillespie’s business has steadily grown in stature, COBS has also shown that it is not just about profits. In Victoria, the company regularly sponsors or supports local sports groups, schools, and charitable events, and donates to Big Brothers and Big Sisters annually, they raised over $50 000 last year.

COBS also takes an unorthodox approach towards leftover foods. COBS bread is made fresh every day and the stores do not sell day-old products like other bakeries. Employees get an allowance each day to take home $10 worth of leftover bread, and large amounts also go to organizations such as the Salvation Army, our local churches, and women’s shelters, thus minimizing waste while benefiting the community.

Notably, they donate bread to the Emmanuel Baptist Church on Cedar Hill Cross Road, which hosts weekly free dinners for students. In the absence of these dinners during the summer, the UVic Food Bank received the bread instead. Now that the dinners have started up again, concerned students can rest assured that the COBS donations are still reaching students by a method other than the Food Bank. Over 400 students attended the free dinner on Oct. 8, which is an average attendance for any given week.

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