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Rising to the challenge: Ottawa bread maker continues to grow

Midweek Mugging: Natali Harea turned passion into a small business in 2012 and it's paying off.
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First learning in her grandma's kitchen many moons ago, Natali Harea has always loved baking bread.

Harea, owner of Nat's Bread Company, has consistently had a passion for the kitchen in general, including training as a Chef, but the sourdough has always been her true love.

"I have memories...eating warm bread right out of the oven, so that was really inspiring to me and think that's what really drew me to wanting to do it," Harea said in an interview with OttawaMatters.com 

"At every restuarant I ended up working at, I would somehow fall into to taking over the bread," she said, adding she finds the whole baking experience "therapeutic." 

Harea always wanted to open her own bakery but didn't find the restaurant business itself attractive because of the long hours she had seen restaurant owners put in over the years. 

"I've seen my bosses working dinner services, nights, all the time, lunch, dinner everyday," she said. "I just didn't want that."

Eventually Harea had an employer, local entreprenuer Stephen Beckta, offer up restaurant basement space to bake her bread wholesale and decided to make a go of it on her own. 

"Timing was everything, she said. "That he was there to help me, that he offered both emotional support, mental support and a space. I couldn't say no to that." 

Launching in 2012 with just her on staff, Harea began feeding Beckta's restaurants before she began to grow to a number of clients in the food industry, including restaurants, while also offering up her products at farmers markets in the Byward Market and Kanata. 

Word of mouth began to spread, natural growth as Harea puts it, meaning their product line has grown from just a few different breads to more than 20. 

"What I offer is more than just the product, it's being open to working with these food businesses," she said, calling it a niche that sets her apart. 

"We're not prioritizing a retail shop, we're prioritizing wholesale, making sure your restaurant is going to get their bread, consistently everyday and if you want a product we don't make, we'll develop it for you."

Business has grown to roughly 50 clients with the vast majority restaurants or other food service businesses, like breweries or coffee shops. 

The support from the small business community has helped the growth as well, according to Harea, noting many of the local business like to support other entrepreneurs. 

"That's Ottawa, I think," she said, drawing on her own experience in the restaurant industry. 

"We all understand the grind and the business."

Harea's family has been incredibly supportive, too, including her husband and other relatives who may have been tapped to become de facto part-time workers at times. 

Despite being a devoted planner, Harea expected challenges in opening and maintaing a small business, "everything" has been a surprise. The bread was the easy part, she said. 

"It's everything else, like 'oh,' I didn't know that's what commercial leases cost and we use a lot of hydro and we need a truck,'" she said with a laugh. 

"You just learn enough as you go to figure it out." 

The business just moved to custom made kitchen in Carlington in January and employs about 10 people at the moment, with summer being a busy time for part-time seasonal workers. 

Relying only on word of mouth for marketing, Harea thinks it important to maintain the public presence at local farmers markets like in Kanata on Saturdays and in the Byward Market six days per-week in the summer. 

"It's an extra way for us to really connect and grow the brand to make sure we really tell people about it," she said, with the hope customers will search the product out come winter time. 

While Harea doesn't do custom orders generally, customers can find her bread at a number of different restaurants and business, with more information posted on the bakery's website. 




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