After moving from Scotland to Toronto, Mary Macleod found herself craving the traditional buttery shortbread of her home country. But she couldn’t find it anywhere in the city. So she started her namesake operation in 1981 – the first shortbread-only bakery in all of Canada.
The recipe, which was passed down from Macleod’s grandmother, proved so popular that the bakery at Yonge and Eglinton frequently had lineups out the door. In 1997, Macleod made the decision to move the bakery to its current location in Riverside.
While Macleod passed away last year following a six-year retirement from the business, her traditions continue through her daughter-in-law Sharon Macleod, the bakery’s “Chief Cookie Officer.” Sharon Macleod explains their product’s success: “Other cookies don’t taste as buttery. It is a handmade, all butter, all natural cookie.“
Mary Macleod’s Shortbread now retails at stores across the country including Holt Renfrew, Pusateri’s and Whole Foods. Incredibly, all the baking for Mary Macleod’s happens in a tiny 400-square-foot kitchen behind the storefront on Queen East.
Production begins to ramp up at the end of the summer when bakery staff doubles to meet the coming holiday demand. The Macleod family pitches in during peak season – Sharon’s daughters will come in to help price tins or dust cookies with icing sugar while her husband (and Mary’s son) Gary assists with deliveries.
A fresh batch of dough is made every day, and bakers form each portion into a cookie using a small scoop. “They get very perfect cookies,” Sharon proudly explains. “They’re handmade – they all look the same but they’re slightly different, like a snowflake.”
Some of Mary Macleod’s Shortbread varieties are topped with nuts or a chunk of Belgian chocolate before heading to the oven. “By the end of Christmas, everyone’s going a little googly-eyed,” Sharon says.