Canadian Pizza Magazine

Motivating and retaining staff

By Bakers Journal staff   

Features Business and Operations Staffing

Q-and-A with Forno Cultura of Toronto

At Bakery Showcase in April, a diverse and engaged industry panel considered how the baking industry is educating the next generation of bakers. Topics included what’s working and not working in baking apprenticeship programs, the staffing needs of large and small bakery businesses and how more short courses in specialized areas might serve bakery staff and employers alike. Naturally, talk turned to staffing challenges such as hiring and retention (watch next issue for more on the panel).

Following the session, panellist Andrea Mastrandrea shared his thoughts on staffing challenges and how to motivate and retain employees. 

Mastrandrea, a third-generation baker and professional architect, founded Forno Cultura in 2013, an Italian wholesale and retail artisan bakery and fine food emporium with six locations across Toronto that he runs with partner Laleh Larijani.

Which positions are most difficult to fill?
All positions. It’s not just a matter of finding enough good candidates. It’s a matter of finding enough candidates, period. 


There’s been a shift in the workplace and the availability of workers. They’re not coming back anytime soon. The pandemic was an editing of sorts. Those who were maybe not 100 per cent committed to the industry left, went back to school or went on to other industries. Those who remain, I think, are a concentrated, serious professional group. It’s a slower build-back but a better one. 

Have you raised your wages/salaries significantly?
We were always quite proactive – we were always one or two dollars above the minimum wage. When the minimum wage started going up, we were already there. It’s one of our most important values and it helps us attract and retain good staff. 

How do you reward or keep employees motivated?
I was a big proponent of R&D and of offering employees the chance to constantly work on new ideas. It took a while, but I found the opposite was happening. I realized not a lot of people were interested in that. They wanted a clear understanding of what their day, week and month will look like. 

I was basing this priority on what I would want in a workplace. Now I try to understand what they need. We try to support that with systems and structures. For example, four years ago we started taking out teams from our King Street location and putting them into more specialized production spaces. We gave them a specific bread lab space and a wood-fired oven. 

There are things we think are important – competitive salaries and good health plans – which staff don’t necessarily even know they need. Also, we’re quite interested in people who have interests outside of the business. We’re thinking long term and there is a balance there. 

We’ve always been supportive, taking key staff to food shows in Europe, supporting them to pursue professional programs in school such as MIT for business, for example. And we are flexible with schedules: they need to work with both parties to be sustainable.

I think people learned during the pandemic that they had very little security. We tried to instil some security in this unusual situation. We were quick to communicate with staff, open to ideas and we were able to retain a good core of our staff. 

What role does technology play in managing employees?
Over the years, we went from verbal to email communication to texting and group chats. We started adopting a lot of apps being used even outside of the work environment. 

We’re getting a workforce that does not retain info. We are relying more and more on upper management, who understand the pre-technology world and the science behind baking. 

It’s when technology fails and you have no access to information that you understand where your skill level is at. When you navigate and problem-solve, that’s when you find out what you’re able to do. That hasn’t changed. It’s more important than ever. | CP

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