To start and develop a sustainable small business, it takes a considerable amount of effort and courage. The foundation of any successful small business is one’s passion for a particular topic or activity — along with a demand for said passion — and blending it with entrepreneurship.

At a young age, Joan Hepburn fell in love with butter tarts. She and her friend, Stephanie, would spend the money earned from their paper route on several butter tarts at the corner store. This childhood preoccupation would lead to Joan becoming a very talented cook and baker.

After discovering she is Celiac, Joan’s love of butter tarts — and her passion for baking in general — had to transform. The years following, Joan worked hard to perfect her pastries. Through persistent determination, involving several hours of trial and error, Joan had perfected her gluten-free pastry recipe.

“When I learned that I was Celiac, most gluten-free products were heavy and lacked flavour at the time,” Joan said. “My gluten-free pastry recipe initially had a base, but it needed some touch-ups. After putting in the work, I was excited to share my gluten-free pastries with my family and friends.”

Years later, after learning of her friend’s illness, Joan would visit Stephanie in the hospital and bring her homemade butter tarts. The two would recall memories of their childhood with their favourite dessert. On June 1, 2018, Stephanie passed away in peace. This date also happens to be National Butter Tart Day.

As a method of coping with her loss, Joan turned to her passion for baking. Feeling drawn to her inner entrepreneur, she decided to launch her own small business with her love of butter tarts. In doing so, Joan was able to honour and pay tribute to Stephanie.

To acknowledge her friend’s influence on this entrepreneurial endeavour, Joan created a hybrid of their names for the small business. By building upon childhood nostalgia and memories, Joanie’s Pastries was born and ready to share Joan and Stephanie’s mutual love.

The goal was not to make a good butter tart; it was to provide the best gluten-free butter tart so that no person with Celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities had to miss out on delicious desserts. The love of these pastries is shared by everyone, not only those with gluten allergies.

The perfection of her gluten-free pastry recipe has been evident at many festivals. In 2018, Joan’s maple bacon tart finished in third place at the All Canadian Butter Tart Festival in Paris, Ontario. The same butter tart won first place at the Markham Butter Tart Festival, with Joan also becoming the first gluten-free baker to win the top prize in the fancy tart category.

In 2019, Joanie’s Pastries finished in third place with her classic butter tart at the Hamilton Butter Tart Festival, followed by a first-place finish in the non-traditional tart category at the Fergus Butter Tart Festival. Joanie’s Pastries won its third prize of the year, which was for the best filling with her classic butter tart at the Burlington Butter Tart Festival.

Her attendance at numerous markets in Middlesex County and festivals across Ontario was proving well for Joanie’s Pastries. She enjoyed the atmosphere of markets, but demand was growing, and Joan knew her business needed to expand. With financial support, Joanie’s Pastries could grow by opening a storefront.

This desire to develop Joanie’s Pastries sparked her relationship with CFDC Middlesex, providing her with a loan through the Middlesex County Investment Fund (MCIF). These funds aided Joan with leasehold improvements, equipment purchases and working capital.

Aside from markets and festivals, Joan sold her pastries online, renting a commercial kitchen from a nearby church when she launched her business from home on July 7, 2018. Due to an increased demand for her pastries, opening a shop was the next logical step for Joan.

Joan received the keys to Joanie’s Pastries on June 1, 2019, which again is National Butter Tart Day. No coincidence there! She received the MCIF on August 16, subsequently opening the doors of Joanie’s Pastries on September 24. Within the first few months of Joan opening her pastry shop, the business was trending upward, and the sales were quickly raking in for Joanie’s Pastries.

“CFDC Middlesex was incredible to work with and truly helped me to get my business to the next step of opening a storefront,” Joan said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without the tremendous guidance and financial help I received from the organization.”

In addition to her prizes from many butter tart festivals, Joanie’s Pastries is the only bakeshop in London with verification under the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten-Free Certification Program. Located at 1444 Glenora Drive in North London, Joan is a prime example of an entrepreneur starting her business rurally and eventually shifting to an urban area.

While Joanie’s Pastries had a great group of loyal customers at the beginning of the shop’s opening, Joan would see multiple new customers come through her doors every day. Her social media following grew, receiving five-star ratings on Google Reviews and Facebook.

At the onset of her shop’s opening, Joan had three part-time employees and support from her husband, Andy, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced Joan to lay off her employees. She was recovering from hand surgery around this time, adding to the impact of the virus outbreak.

Joanie’s Pastries remained open for online orders, eventually reopening its shop in June 2020. Given how quickly it has expanded since its original launch in 2018, it would not be a surprise to see Joanie’s Pastries establish itself as a mainstay bakery in London.