A venerable Kamloops bakery could be yours for the price of a well-written essay — and $1,000.
Robyn and Shawn Haley, owners of Erwin’s Fine Baking & Delicatessen on Mount Paul Way on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc reserve, are staging a contest as they prepare to retire.
Rather than simply erect a for sale sign, the Haleys have decided to try to transfer the business via the essay contest.
It is an idea that Robyn got when reading about Alla Wagner, who in 2019 decided to offer her $1.7-million home outside of Calgary to the winner of a contest that included a $25 fee and a letter explaining why they wanted the home. Wagner herself was inspired by the 1996 film The Spitfire Grill, in which a restaurant is sold in a similar manner, and a 2015 essay contest involving a historic inn in Maine.
(Alas, Wagner’s contest was cancelled when she received only about 4,000 of 60,000 entries she was expecting).
The Erwin’s contest is predicated on at least 500 entries being received by July 20. If the minimum number of entries is not received by that date, the contest may be extended until Oct. 20. If the minimum number of entries are not eventually received, those who entered will have their fee refunded.
As of May 25, Robyn told KTW, a number of entries had been received, but she did not have a precise number, noting she expects more as the idea is spread through the media.
Erwin’s was started in 1971 by Erwin and Elisabeth Nykelfer, downtown at St. Paul Street and Fourth Avenue.
In 2008, the Nykelfers sold the business to the Haleys, who in 2017 moved it to its current Mount Paul location in 2017.
“We bought it in September of 2008, one month before the economy crashed,” Robyn said, citing the onset of the Great Recession.
Robyn said they started the essay contest process in 2019, after she read the story of the Alberta homeowner’s contest.
“We did our research, hired a law firm, and were getting close to launching, then COVID hit,” Robyn said.
“Our sense of timing has always been spectacular,” she quipped.
Robyn said she has always been “pretty militant” with what she eats, a standard she said Erwin’s embraces.
“More important to me are the core values of quality. We strive to maintain the highest standards of quality, the highest standard of ingredients we can source in the face of inflation and everything else,” she said. “It’s important that our customers know they are getting the same ingredients they would get at home, as natural as can be, with no shelf life extenders and any of the chemicals.”
While a many products have been priced out due to post-pandemic inflation, Robyn said Erwin’s narrowed its roster of products and is “truly fortunate” baker Darrell Ranger is still with the company, having started decades ago with the Nykelfers.
“He trained at a time when you made everything. He has Red Seal certification,” Robyn said.
Erwin’s is known for its handcrafted bread, pastries and desserts and, Robyn said, is the last bakery in the B.C. Interior that makes its own puff pastry.
“It’s terribly sad because, again, chemicals,” she said.”And we’re losing skillsets.”
Erwin’s leases space in a building at 419 Mount Paul Way and is locked into a longtime lease with what Robyn called a “very supportive landlord.”
Robyn said the “very conservative valuation” of the company is $395,000, but noted she and Shawn would list it for $500,000 if engaged in a traditional sale, based on book value, name and training and experience offered.
Robyn and Shawn will grade all essays received and narrow the competition down to a top 10. From there, their chartered accountant and bookkeeper will decide on a winner. If there is a tie, Izzy Hampton-Stone, a mental performance coach and friend of the Haleys, will choose the successful entry.
“I am firmly convinced there are an amazing number of entrepreneurs out the talent and drive, but who simply don’t have the resources needed to buy a business like ours,” Robyn said.
“I want the next people to thrive.”
How to enter the contest
To participate, individuals must meet the following criteria: be Canadian residents (with the exception of Quebec residents) and be age 19 or older. To enter, qualified candidates are required to write an essay that explains why they would be the best fit and include details about their baking, business and management experience. The submission must be made online through the website ownabakerycontest.ca. Additionally, participants are required to pay a $1,000 entry fee, which is to be paid directly through the contest website with submission.
The contest will evaluate applicants based on their skills, passion, creativity and commitment to upholding the highest standards of baking excellence. The selected candidate or candidates will also gain access to mentorship and guidance from the current Erwin’s team.
The initial contest duration is three months, closing on July 22, with the possibility of an extension to a maximum of six months. Once the contest is closed, 10 finalists will be selected and their essays will be reviewed by two independent judges, who will determine the winner, along with three runners-up.