By: Rebecca Feigelsohn
Carl Stryg’s shortbread has a wonderfully crisp and crumbly exterior and dissolves into a smooth and buttery texture the moment it rests on your tongue. Stryg is a practiced shortbread maker, baking his comforting sweet and savoury treats for over 25 years, which are now sold under the name of Coach House Shortbread Company. His recipe, developed from one his mother passed down from his Scottish great-grandmother, has undergone many transformations – Stryg is continually influenced by flavours and textures he encounters.
His business began in 1986 when Stryg, a homesick Opera student in New York City, made a batch of his delicious shortbread, a treat that was usually reserved as gifts for family and friends. His landlord, who was the owner of a store in Trump Towers, happened to try his cookies and adored them. He suggested that Stryg sell them, and a business was born. After moving back to Toronto, Stryg was able to get a prominent gourmet food storeowner, Dinah Koo (founder of Dinah’s Cupboard), as a retail client and began to expand his business. After gaining approximately ten retail clients, Stryg began to feel disconnected from his customers and sought out an avenue where he would be able to interact with his clients while continuing to make his shortbread by hand; the One of A Kind Show was such a place. Stryg describes the One of A Kind Show as “the perfect product, in the perfect marketplace,” he has been able to build and maintain a loyal following since he began to sell his shortbread there in 1994.
Stryg believes there is a magical aspect of his shortbread that would be lost if he mechanized the production, which is why he has turned down offers from Costco and President’s Choice in the past and has remained the sole baker of Coach House Shortbread Company. Stryg is proud of his business and is content with the twelve retail stores he sells to across Canada and his recently opened showroom on Carlaw. “I don’t want to be huge. I don’t want a conveyor belt or a million machines buzzing and kicking,” he says.
His commitment to a small-scale enterprise comes at a price; Stryg works 16-hour days in his kitchen this time of year, gearing up for the holiday season. Despite this, he is all smiles; his passion and enthusiasm for shortbread is evident as he gushes about his beloved products. Stryg has moved beyond classic shortbread, exploring flavours like Stilton & Rosemary (the second most popular biscuit behind his Original cookie), Almond & Sugared Rose, and Cheddar & Chipotle. Over the years, his savoury flavours have become wildly popular, a trend Stryg attributes to the “gourmet renaissance” we are currently living in, where customers are becoming more curious about complicated and unexpected flavour combinations.
Stryg’s adventurous palate and creativity is evident in not only his flavour and texture amalgamations, but also his serving ideas. He suggests that customers treat his savoury shortbread as crackers, serving them with red pepper jelly, ice wine jelly, or smoked trout as simple and instant hor d’ourves. His website also includes wine pairings from Sommelier Marlise Ponzo, ensuring that shortbread enthusiasts have plenty of options when consuming his unique product.
Coach House Shortbread Company’s showroom is located at 235 Carlaw Avenue (see www.shortbread.ca for hours of operation)
Rebecca Feigelsohn is the Dessert Correspondent for Good Food Revolution and is interested in food, culture and social justice. Visit her blog at email@example.com to read about her gastronomic adventures.