by Tracy Hanes
Armed with the recipes her Scottish and French grandmothers passed down and a fierce determination, Scottish-born Mary Macleod opened Canada’s first artisan shortbread bakery in Toronto in 1981.
In a tiny shop under the marquee of the Capitol Theatre in the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood, Mary Macleod’s Shortbread sold two flavors of shortbread: Classic and Mary’s signature Chocolate Crunch containing bits of Belgian chocolate. The cookies, made using pure creamery butter and other premium ingredients, were an immediate hit.
From that humble beginning, Mary, who had survived breast cancer and the demise of her marriage, created a legacy that has endured for nearly 40 years.
The bakery changed locations several times, including many years at 639 Queen St. E., Toronto, Mary retired in 2010 and her daughter-in-law Sharon Grewal-Macleod took over as Chief Cookie Officer. In 2018, the retail shop closed and the business moved to Galaxy Blvd. close to Pearson International Airport so the company could scale up and become more efficient at production. The business also switched to an on-line model; customers can buy from the website, do curbside pick-up from the Galaxy Blvd. production facility, or purchase them at gourmet stores (such as Pusateri’s, McEwan’s and Whole Foods), gift shops and at retailers such as Holt Renfrew and Indigo. Other customers include Baskits, and seasonally, Loblaw’s and Costco.
Grewal-Macleod met Mary in 1996, the year before she married Mary’s son Gary. Grewal-Macleod was working for RBC Financial Markets and started helping Mary make the dough before she went to her bank job. Still, “it took two grandchildren and 10 years before I got the secret recipe,” says Grewal-Macleod. Though Grewal-Macleod took over the company a decade ago, Mary lived upstairs and remained a fixture in the Queen St. bakery until her death in 2016.
“We never changed the recipe. My goal was to get more business with the same cookie with new packaging,” says Grewal-Macleod.
The original Classic and Chocolate Crunch flavours remain, along with Dutch Cocoa and Maple Crunch (Grewal-Macleod’s first flavour). Gluten-free versions of Classic and Chocolate Crunch have been developed, along with butterscotch bars. The dough is still made and rolled by hand. The company employs about 20 people, including one that has been with Mary Macleod’s Shortbread for 27 years.
The company, like many others, has been impacted by the pandemic.
“We had fortunately developed an online business but our plans to rebuild the website in the new year are on pause for now,” says Grewal-Macleod. “It’s been a challenging time.” Deals with major U.S. retailers were paused due to Covid-19 and the border closing. Supply chains disrupted by the pandemic have been another issue, such as bringing in tins from the U.S. and ribbons and bows from overseas. Gift and trade shows were cancelled, which are key to business as Grewal-Macleod shares her mother-in-law’s belief that the best way to sell the cookies to have people taste them. “It’s hard to sell delicious