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How is Aussie bakery chain COBS – now in Ottawa – making such an impact in Canada?

G’day mate. Care for a loaf? How the heck does an Australian bread franchise (500 locations and counting in Australia and New Zealand) make it to Ottawa?

Turns out  began its foray into Canada way back in 2003 in North Vancouver when the son and daughter of the Aussie owners came for a visit, fell in love with the country, and settled in Canada. That one store has now ballooned to 102 Canadian locations as COBS Bread moves steadily east.

COBS Barrhaven (at the Strandherd Crossing mini-mall) is the first Ottawa location. Open since just before Christmas, it’s helmed by husband-and-wife team Emily Mirsky and Craig Cochrane. As for that name, we’ve heard rumours that COBS is an acronym, standing for Canada’s Own Bread Store. But it could also simply be named after one of the company’s top products, a crusty bread called a COB loaf.

How has an Aussie bread chain made such an impact in Canada? Are we really that bereft of good bakeries?

Turns out there’s nothing particularly Aussie about COBS. Just as the Seattle-based Starbucks delivered great coffee but in no way offered anything distinctly Seattle, COBS too is merely a very successful Australian franchise where people enjoy the recipes. And unlike coffee, there are few – if any – national chain bakeries in Canada. Moreover, because the franchise buys ingredients in bulk, customers get fresh-baked goods for cheaper, say, than you might at local, artisan bakeries.

City Bites caught up with Mirksy to find out why they moved to Ottawa and what’s on offer:

Ottawa’s first COBS Bread is in the Strandherd Crossing mini-mall in Barrhaven

Why Ottawa?

Craig and I ran a COBS Bread in Toronto for close to 10 years, but I’m Ottawa born and raised so I always wanted to bring the brand home. Barrhaven was the perfect opportunity — it’s a growing community with lots of families.

The Hot List

Multigrain and sourdough are our huge sellers on the bread side. Cinnamon buns and chocolate croissants also fly off the shelves. Our mini vegetarian pizzas are really popular — we sell about 50 a day — and so are our double chocolate scones at about 90 per day. That’s really interesting to us because neither of those were popular for us at our Toronto bakery. It must be all the kids around Barrhaven!

Recipe Testing

We have about 500 recipes to choose from, with a percentage of those called ‘365’. Those are the recipes — like sourdough loaves and cinnamon buns — that every COBS is guaranteed to make. But we have a lot of freedom to choose from the other recipes based on our market and what sells well.

We can also develop our own recipes and have them approved through head office. If we develop a recipe that does well after a trial period, it might be rolled out across all the stores. A good example is our cape seed loaf. It’s an amazing multigrain that was developed by a baker originally from South Africa. He named it after where he came from.

Along with breads, the bakery makes scones, mini pizzas, cinnamon buns and other sweet treats

Along with breads, the bakery makes scones, mini pizzas, cinnamon buns and other sweet treats

Easter Bun Watch

Hot cross buns are huge for us. It’s one of our biggest campaigns — we actually sell more hot cross buns in the eight weeks ahead of Easter than any other single product throughout the year. It’s wild. For hot cross bun fans, our flavours are: traditional, with raisins and currants; cranberry and peel; cinnamon and apple; and chocolate chip.

Expansion Plans

We’re just getting our feet here, but Ottawa is an amazing market so we’re definitely scoping the area. I think you’ll definitely be seeing more COBS Bread’s popping up in the near future.

Charity Link

We bake fresh every day and anything not sold is given to local charities. Customers can actually see the bakers doing their work in the back part of each store. We currently donate to eight charities, which include food banks.

Eating & Drinking