An Interview with Blair Muzzolini
Blair Muzzolini, co-owner of Christies Bakery, sits down to share a few stories and advice with us!
You grew up in the family business. Can you tell us a bit about what that was like? What are a couple of your best bakery moments from those days?
When you grow up in a small family business it’s always front and center and “all-hands-on-deck”. It’s the topic of almost all dinner conversations and everyone does their part. Both of my parents worked long hours in and out of the building. My brother, sister and I all did various jobs after school and on weekends. In the pre-digital days I had to amuse myself while at the bakery while my parents were working so I loved going to Crazy Leo’s, the arcade down the street, but I had to do some sort of work like washing the ingredient bins before my Mom would give me a roll of quarters to spend. Usually, I blew through the roll in half an hour, before spending the rest of the time watching other people play, and that was still when every arcade was 25 cents a play.
I also remember having to do deliveries with my brother on Saturdays, when he was old enough to drive and I wasn’t. We used to love tossing bags of buns from the van up to each other at the loading docks and onto delivery carts, especially at the Bessborough which had the coolest old loading dock.
The best part of my early days were family dinners after everybody worked all day on Saturday. The whole family, Ennio, Janet, Russ, Tracey and me would stop at the Mediterranean Inn on 33rd on the way home after a long, hard day and I’d get to have a Shirley Temple with a tiny plastic sword with the garnish. Despite spending all day together we still enjoyed being together and relaxing after the day.
What life lessons did you learn from your experience having entrepreneurial parents and growing up in this environment?
Similar to the above, it takes everyone supporting each other and contributing to make a small business work. Everyone has to contribute in whatever way they can. My parents worked very hard and put a lot of time in, so from early on I realized it took a lot of work to be self-employed. There is the day to day operational stuff, cleaning, repairs, accounting, marketing, growth, conflict…my parents figured out all this stuff by themselves and still managed to raise a family. Needless to say, work came home with you. My dad would pass out for a few hours once he got home before getting up and putting in another 12-14 hours.
My mom would decorate cakes all day, then bring all the bookwork home and spread it out all over the floor wall watching soap operas she recorded. Work and the bakery were always there. I learned there is no substitute for hard work and that as a business owner no time is off limits, when there is a problem to solve you have to figure it out yourself no matter what.
When did you take over the family business and why did you choose to do so?
My takeover of the business was a gradual thing, that didn’t really have an exact date. A lot of things happened around my later years of high school and early years of University. My brother was finishing his Phd in computer science, Tracey had moved to Australia and my mom had returned to school to become a registered psychiatric nurse (while still operating a business) so I started doing more things like payroll and accounting. All the time spent with my mom while she went to meetings with accountants or seeing her work at home had paved the way for me to be able to slide right in and do the business side of things. When Tracey came back from Australia and Toronto with a passion for bread and food I just helped facilitate the changes that were happening with our new direction. My dad had become too tired to really want to do new things with the company so Tracey and I pushed forward with new products and gradually a new identity for the bakery started to take shape. The irony is none of my siblings and I ever really envisioned taking over the bakery. It kind of just happened. Tracey and I discovered we complemented each other in a similar fashion to my parents, we each had skill sets that overlapped and when one of us wasn’t strong in a particular facet the other was.
What have been a few of your greatest successes or accomplishments over the years as an owner?
Definitely, opening a second location. That was a long standing goal of my mom’s and I am happy to have done that with Tracey and I steering the ship. Secondly, creating an online store and delivery system with the help of my brother during COVID, that helped us get through the struggles of the pandemic but also addressed something I felt we lacked in modern times. Lastly, the employees we have been fortunate enough to have had hired and met over the years. We truly are a family business and all these people that have contributed over the years have allowed us to persevere through all sorts of adversity and have made the business and ourselves who we are today.
You wear a lot of hats in this company but what is your favourite role? Where does your greatest passion lie?
Problem solving. All sorts of things arise and I love being able to figure out how to solve them. It works the analytical side of my brain that I feel is the strongest and allows me to apply the things I was passionate about in my University education in physics and mathematics. Although, I think I get just as upset when something stumps me, luckily I have a network of family and colleagues I can lean on when this happens. The other thing I enjoy the most is developing new products and product lines. My wife, Jen and I are passionate about food and cooking and I love bouncing ideas off of her to help tweak things and get inspiration.
What advice would you offer to someone about to take on their first business, especially in this field?
Know that you are getting yourself into a world of hurt. As I said earlier, there are no times that are off limits when you are self-employed and there is no substitute for hard work and dedication. Success in small business is a marathon and when you finish you just have to start another race. You need to have support. Whether it’s family or friends you are inevitably going to have to lean on them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Growing up in a small business and then running one has been the craziest roller coaster ever, but for all the ups and downs I feel proud to have conquered them and am still willing to go another lap. All the time and hard work has made my family stronger and has molded us each into the people that I am proud to work with and see everyday. I wouldn’t change any of it.