It’s an old Brockville landmark with a new life. Tait’s Bakery, now officially known as Tait’s Fresh Start Bakery, has been baking bread and satisfying the sweet tooth of Leeds and Grenville Counties almost continuously since 1908. The local institution started when John Tait arrived from England and set up shop at 31 King Street East, where the bakery has remained ever since. Before moving to Canada, Tait worked as a baker for Queen Victoria. The ownership changed a couple of times in the first 50 years of the business until Bruce Mazurek took over in 1957. Bruce’s two sons, Steve and John ran the bakery until 2012 when they sold the business to Perry and Stacy Wenham. By the summer of 2015, Tait’s was in financial trouble and suddenly one day in August, employees showed up for work to find the doors locked and the old bakery suddenly out of business. Customers and employees alike were in shock. Then Jay Leroux, a Tait’s employee since 1989, stepped in. He and Melanie Day, his partner in both business and life, decided to reopen the business as Tait’s Fresh Start. Even though it’s been many decades since John Tait owned the bakery, his name has stayed as a symbol of tradition and quality. “Even if the name changed, people would still call it Tait’s anyway” said Leroux. Steve and John Mazurek still own the old stone building and continue to lend their expertise to the business.
The bakery and cafe now has about 20 employees, most of them full time, and many with more than a decade on the job. Leroux himself apprenticed as a baker at Tait’s, a two-year process in Ontario that involves a combination of practical experience and course work, usually at a community college. The selection of baked goods ranges from varieties of homemade bread through cookies, squares, pies, cakes, and donuts. Other non-bakery products are sold too, including cheddar cheese, maple syrup, honey, jams, and jellies by producers from the Brockville area and across Ontario.
The staff behind the counter talk with customers like they are old friends and family, and that’s because a stop by Tait’s is part of the daily routine for many Brockville residents.
On a past visit, I heard one of the friendly women behind the counter ask a man if he was having a nice day. His answer, with a smile, was “It’s always a nice day at Tait’s.” Customers of all ages line up for something to go or they sit and visit at the many tables. There’s a relaxed feeling about the place that reminds one of a slower, simpler time. Personally, my first time at Tait’s was over 30 years ago. My Dad had business in Brockville and my Mom took my sister and I there for a treat while he was at a meeting. A friend and I stocked up on cookies from Tait’s last summer before going camping at nearby Charleston Lake. He wanted to go back for more cookies before catching the train for home three days later.
The inside of Tait’s is full of reminders of its 108-year history. The ovens and much of the equipment are several decades old. The former freight elevator in the corner of the café now sits idle but is a reminder of how bread was once brought up from the basement to be sold. Old cash registers, documents, and photo albums of past owners and employees are on display. Two generations of the Mazurek family literally grew up in the bakery.
Tait’s Fresh Start does a thriving catering business too. The same lunches served in their café can be ordered for group events. Bakery products are also sold at four local grocery stores. Jay Leroux says since reopening, business has been good. The new Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing on Brockville’s waterfront has also helped. Tait’s products are on the menu at the attraction’s restaurant, and tourists visiting the Aquatarium have been heading up the street to get the full Tait’s experience too. Leroux is modest about the role of his business as a local institution and public service, attributing its success, charm, and longevity to the community: “Brockville owns it. I’m just the caretaker for the next 20 years or so.”