Daytripper: More Than a Little Magic
by Michelle Hauser
In the late 1960s my mother-in-law was raising a growing family: three busy boys who couldn’t get enough fresh bread, pies and sticky buns from Card’s Bakery. Scenic drives to Edith Card’s place in rural Kingston weren’t exactly day trips, but were more welcome than the average errand. Harriet was like many other Kingstonians back then: right at home in Edith Card’s kitchen where everyone was made to feel like a favourite customer.
As legend goes, Edith started baking bread out of her kitchen just to make a little extra money. Like many women she was raising a family and holding down the fort while her husband was busy building a lumber mill.
“She was a very warm person” says Jen Moon of her grandmother. Jen is a third-generation owner of what is one of the Limestone City’s great family business success stories. “I think hands down what she loved, and what the customers loved the most, was the visiting and the interaction.”
In the days before social media it was word-of-mouth that spread like wildfire. Before long Card’s Bakery became the bakery of choice for discerning housewives, foodies of all stripes as well as a special destination for cottage goers.
“The people who came in as little ones on the way to the cottage” says Jen “are now bringing their children to the store.” And many of her older customers routinely bend Jen’s ear, sharing stories about how Card’s was part of their life.
For my mother-in-law, who is now 93 years old, the memories of Card’s still call to her when she knows I’m Kingston-bound. “Will you pick up some sticky buns?” she asks. When age and chronic illness shrink a person’s world to a few rooms, and outings are few and far between, the joy of food is one of the last things to go.
Today Jen has taken her Grandmother’s legacy to new heights, employing upwards of twenty full-time staff, some of whom have baked for Card’s for twenty years or more. She oversees the bakery’s fourth and arguably finest location on Princess Street in downtown Kingston.
“When Grandma passed away I had just opened the Bagot Street store” says Jen, “She was so proud, her eyes would twinkle every time she walked into the store. It was such a big deal to her.” Of the current location, Jen says she wishes her Grandmother could have seen it, “This is beyond where she thought the bakery could have gone. It would have blown her socks off.”
In addition to varied and sublime traditional home baking, featuring Edith’s original recipes, Card’s offers specialty cakes (Cakes by Krista is a business within a business owned by Jen’s sister), special event catering, a wholesome lunch-to-go, and trend-setting hostess gifts and luxury kitchen and table ware.
Even with the elegance and sophistication, though, the staff at Card’s hold fast to the authenticity of a humble past of home-cooking and the art of making everybody feel like a favourite customer. “I always say to my staff, ‘It can’t just be a bakery. It has to be an experience that hits all the senses. It’s got to make people happy.’”
When she trains new staff, Jen puts Grandma’s magic before math, “We always joke with them, we say ‘Here’s a recipe, but you have to put a little love in it.’” Even the equipment benefits from a little sweet-talk, apparently. “If the mixer is acting up” Jen says “we talk to it, give it a little pat and say ‘Hey, come on girl!’”
In addition to running a hectic business Jen is raising a busy family of her own, taking three athletic boys between games and practices. She doesn’t dwell on whether or not Card’s will find itself in the hands of a fourth generation. “There was never any pressure or assumption that my mother or I would do this” she says, “If the bakery carries on, great, but it’s only going to happen if someone chooses and wants to do it.”
I ask Jen about the sticky buns, the ones that are still much-loved by mother-in-law and three generations of her family. Jen can’t reveal the secret in definite terms, “You have to look in the oven and you just have to kind of sense it.”
Grandma may have the final word on the inexplicable charm of that particular goodie, “We still use the same pans. We have changed nothing. There is an art to making those sticky buns. I definitely think of her when we make them.”