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At Carroll: Mary Macleod's Shortbread



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Mary Macleod works on some shortbread at her Queen Street bakery at Carroll St., between Broadview Ave. and the Don River, where she has been for 14 years.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

 

Paul Hunter Feature Writer

Stand at the Carroll Street streetcar stop, breathe deep, and you can smell the neighbourhood changing. The sugary aroma of butter and chocolate, a treat for the olfactory wafting from the cookie factory, sweetens the air as the dust settles on the latest nearby condominium construction.

Mary Macleod didn't see herself as an urban pioneer when she hung up her shortbread shingle at Queen E. and Carroll 14 years ago. Her passion was baking and she promised homemade, all-butter treats in a quarter of the city that promised little else.

The rent at her previous Yonge and Eglinton location — the one where the previous shopkeeper took bets that she wouldn't last six weeks — had become, she says, "extortionary." After 16 years uptown, Macleod surveyed Queen from one end to the other seeking the perfect location, and purchased a 150-year-old brick beauty between Broadview Ave. and the Don River.

"When I decided to move here, I called up my son and I thought, he's going to have me committed," recalls Macleod.

"We were a little bit afraid," agrees daughter-in-law Sharon Macleod.

But the senior Macleod had been reared in Glasgow, the Scottish city known for its own hardscrabble pockets, and had long ago learned to see beyond the streetscape stereotypes to find the good in people.

"It was a rough area (but) I used to love to go out at night and walk up to Broadview," says the 77-year-old. "Nobody ever bothered you. Everybody was friendly. They'd say hello and pass on. I never felt threatened or frightened ever being down here.

"We were the first one to come in with sort of an upscale product. Since then it's grown, I'd say in the last five or six years. There's a lot of fine eateries that have emerged and a lot of nice little stores."

Mary Macleod's Shortbread has grown too. Initially, her store did the bulk of its sales in wholesale, distributing shortbread to other retailers. But with an increase in pedestrian traffic and the scent of her baking luring commuters from the streetcar stop at her door, storefront sales now account for about half of her business.

"Just over the last few years we've had the retail traffic really pick up," says Sharon. "There's condos going up, a lot of families moving into the houses."

The quaint, inviting store doesn't look as out of place as it once did, and the business is evolving too. Mary has just formally retired (leaving Sharon to run things), but you'll often still find her in the shop extolling the virtues of her signature chocolate crunch shortbread — "a magical little cookie," she calls it — or working with her bakers developing new products.

"Here I am 30 years later, so I think it's more than just the shortbread," she says. "It's about people. Everybody that comes in is happy and they go out happy. They just love coming in and smelling it. It's a great privilege to have done that as an immigrant.

"I was able to make a living, and a good living, at just making shortbread. I always enjoyed doing it. That to me has been the secret. If you find something that you love, you're blessed. You really are."

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Initially, Mary Macleod's Shortbread did the bulk of its sales in wholesale, but with the scent of her baking luring commuters from the streetcar stop at her door, storefront sales now account for about half of her business.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

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Mary has formally retired, but you'll often still find her in the shop extolling the virtues of her signature chocolate crunch shortbread — "a magical little cookie," she calls it.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

 

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I love her shortbreads! I'm so thrilled when I have to transfer streetcars at that point during the day, and can sneak in and buy some :-)

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