Our History

We are celebrating 40 years. Explore the rich buttery history of Mary Macleod's Shortbread.

Mary silhouette

BRAVE

BRAVE

Close your eyes. Go ahead, don’t worry, we won’t put dough on your nose. But remember a moment you were Brave. For Mary, one moment was founding a Bakery on her own in 1981. You may know the story, but that bravery allowed her to run her business on her own for the first 25 years and is the bedrock on which our humble success stands today. It may not have been apparent immediately following high school when studying under a master baker in Edinburgh’s Atholl Crescent School, that this skill, along with a family recipe, would put a roof over the heads of her two sons decades later. But that’s what happened. Truth be told, in under a year her “Joy” would reach Australia, Yugoslavia and Hong Kong, and be crowned atop Holt Renfrew’s list where it has stayed ever since.

If you know our Maple Crunch, you may swear it’s magic, but the real magic came from that brave heart which set the groundwork for our business. As our world is now challenged like never before, we share her story of becoming a businesswoman, a leader, a creative force challenging the status quo. But before 1981 Mary’s occupation was raising her two sons. “I didn’t stop to think what might be involved, but then I never thought that I would fail.” This guides our actions as we strive for excellence in everything we do, while never compromising quality. Just as she did.

“I’m impulsive” said Mary. And she had to be when opening a tiny 13 by 12 foot bakeshop, during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. All the while claiming the first of its kind in the world, and defending her lifelong passion from traditionalists who prefer unadulterated shortbread. “Oh, no. All my stuff is quite perfect.” She had quipped. And we still vow to break rules gently and generously, and face every challenge with strength and sweetness, fortitude, and fun as we continue on in the spirit of Mary. Because if she could operate all on her own for two and half decades, moving from under the marquee of Toronto’s Capitol Theatre, to the Western edge of Leslieville then we believe that you have to be Brave to be the best.

Okay you can open your eyes now. Go bring someone joy. That’s in our DNA just as much as real creamery butter is.

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TIMELESS

TIMELESS

We humbly continue with our 40th anniversary celebrations and pay homage to our bread and butter… a timeless cookie, shortbread. It may have originated as far back as 12th century Scotland and popularized by Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century, shortbread eventually became a luxury item reserved for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay (Scottish new year) and weddings. At that time shortbread wasn't enjoyed with tea as tea wouldn't arrive in England for another 100 years.

We take you to March 1981 when Mary Macleod's Shortbread opened in Toronto becoming one of the first shortbread-only bakeries of its kind. The popularity of this famous cookie took off immediately with notable names such as Holt Renfrew placing orders and reviews in The Toronto Star and Readers Digest. "My basic recipe is an old Scottish one given to me by my mother. I've had to adapt it because Canadian flours are different from Scottish flours". And our success today is because she did. Our signature cookie - Chocolate Crunch - a unique creation of chocolate bits and a crowning chocolate chunk from Mary herself has remained the most popular flavour amongst our customers and if you've treated your senses to this bounty of butter, you'll know why.

We at Mary Macleod's Shortbread are continuing to bake shortbread cookies Mary's way. Armed with our recipe, and using her methods, we are continuously perfecting this timeless cookie. And we can't thank you, our loyal customers, enough for being a part of carrying on this tradition. A tradition which at this point is no longer just a Christmas treat reserved only for special occasions. You now gift our cookies, to yourselves and others, year-round which is just what Mary would have wanted.

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OPTIMISTIC

OPTIMISTIC

Our journey with you resumes as this next installment of our 40th anniversary celebrations focus on a character trait which Mary shared with us in abundance – optimism. We look to our past where Mary's unwavering optimism in her family's traditional shortbread recipe led her to starting our business. And it was unlike any other. From the very beginning she was driven by her passion for baking. Mary carried that positivity forward with a borderline obsession with doing things right for the next 25+ years. We followed her lead. Perfecting her craft and delighting customers to no end in the process.

Knowing that her family recipe was an instantaneous hit Mary built her legacy with careful expansion in the assortment of flavours she would offer. From her Almond apricot, to her Orange Ginger, Marzipan, and Pecan. Of course her signature Chocolate Crunch would further define Mary Macleod's Shortbread as a true pioneer in the art of shortbread making. Mary always believed in herself, and it showed as the business continued to grow. Word about our magical little shortbread shop in downtown Toronto continued to spread far beyond our rooted Riverside and Leslieville neighbourhoods. And still does long after Mary left us on September 27 2016.

Sure, our packaging is all kinds of premium with its lovely gold lettering and patterns, but it is her passion, dedication to perfection and optimistic attitude that defines the next generation of Macleod's. Planetblueadventure.com once called us "Iconic. Traditional Shortbreads in all shapes and flavours...and countless other delights". Mary's determination has become part of our DNA as we strive for excellence in everything we do. You know, just as Mary would. It’s not just an underlying backbone. We truly bake our best in every batch of cookies we make, with joy. All the while opening minds and mouths one delectable cookie at a time, all around the globe.

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Resilient

Resilient

You may want to sit down for this next installment of our 40th Anniversary celebration series. And maybe grab some cookies while you’re at it because things are about to get more intense than our darkest Dutch cocoa. You see, Mary may have been one of the sweetest women ever, but she was also a fighter and a survivor. In the 1980s, she overcame mounting financial burdens—even suffering the loss of her home—in order to keep her business alive. All the while, this brave pioneer battled and beat cancer. If that’s not resilience, we don’t know what is.

Mary was a strong and tenacious woman who triumphed over bumps in the road (and lumps in her dough) with hard work and delicious dedication. She was determined to see her shortbread shop succeed come hell or high interest rates, and it’s Mary’s awe-inspiring adaptability, remarkable resilience and gritty yet graceful fight to survive that continue to guide how Mary Macleod’s Shortbread is managed today.

You may notice from our previous 40th Anniversary installments that we strive to live many of Mary’s most admirable character traits in our bakery every day. Mary's resilience and capacity to push forever forward is an essential ingredient of our company recipe. Whether it’s navigating COVID or expanding into highly competitive new markets, we are resilient in the face of adversity and see roadblocks as nothing more than chances for positive change. And in sharing her story—our story—we hope that you will too.

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GENEROUS

Generous

What do you call a woman who offers a free cookie to everyone who enters her shop? You call her Mary, because that’s exactly the kind of person that Mary Macleod was. For decades, Mary’s shortbread shop famously filled Toronto’s air (and your senses) with an abundance of buttery bliss. From her first location on Yonge Street to the bigger bakery on Queen, even just a stroll past the open door would draw you inside, giving Mary the chance to offer you a taste of her famous generosity. She knew that a life lived fully is one that overflows with joy, delicious experiences and the most remarkable shortbread you’ve every laid your lips on.

But Mary’s bigheartedness didn’t stop after the ovens cooled. That’s just the tip of the dough mixer. Over the decades, Mary donated thousands of dollars worth of handcrafted shortbread to charities close to her heart. She gave generously to schools, libraries and nonprofits that support women, children and the arts—a tradition we still uphold today by contributing to organizations loved by our staff, like Covenant House, Humane Society, The 519 and The Red Door. Mary also shined as a philanthropic business owner by giving to our Business Improvement Area (an association of local business owners who work to create positive change in their community).

Mary often put others before herself, and we believe that’s a tradition worth savouring—kind of like the chocolate chunk on our signature Chocolate Crunch shortbread. Whether it’s donating to initiatives for COVID first responders, healthcare workers, culinary schools and food banks or handing out free samples (just like Mary), we love giving back to the communities that have given us so much over the years. That’s the thing about generosity. What goes around comes around, and that sure is sweet.

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Family

Family

Wait…it’s December already? The holiday season sure has a way of sneaking up on you when you’re busy baking the best shortbread on the planet. But we’re going to take a short break to give you a little present: the latest installment of our 40th anniversary celebration! From our family to yours, this month’s story is about…well…family. In fact, the whole idea of Mary Macleod’s Shortbread was born from a family recipe passed down for generations. Mary’s cup of tea runneth over with pride for her Scottish family heritage (and of course her clan tartan as you can see in these photos). And it was this love for family that kept Mary inspired — routinely bringing her granddaughters to the bakery to see the magic in action.

Traditionally, shortbread was considered a special cookie made for family gatherings during certain times of year. But Mary was nothing if not a maverick, and she wanted to make her all-butter cookies an everyday occasion for every type of family. After boldly building her company from the ground up, Mary retired in 2011 and handed the reigns to her son Gary and daughter-in-law Sharon. Sharon left her senior-level banking career to focus solely on the family business, and her courage, passion and hard work have helped our little Toronto bakery continue to grow and reach more shortbread lovers all over the world. To this day, Sharon still does things Mary’s way, allowing staff to prioritize family over all else. Just as it should be.

Within our bakery walls, our family continues to grow. We live and bake with the same family values that Mary held so dear. And while the business has grown by leaps and bounds, jars and tins, we are still very much family owned and operated. We cherish our internal bonds and consider it a great strength to still have the Macleod family at our helm. So, to all of you — our extended family — we wish you a joyous holiday season filled with the ones you love (and plenty of handcrafted shortbread).

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Dynamic

Dynamic

Oh hey, 2022. You certainly didn’t waste any time making an impression. The world is…interesting right now, but we’re facing the future with open hearts, open minds and open mouths (perfect for filling with cookies). That’s what being dynamic is all about, and Mary Macleod was as dynamic as it gets. Right from the get-go, Mary’s approach was unique and progressive. Her business was woman-owned. Her bakery was shortbread-only. Even the unique signature scoop mark on each cookie was a symbol of Mary’s special way of bringing joy to the world.

Mary ran her business bravely and dynamically—constantly adapting to new challenges, reimagining solutions and keeping her dream alive through good times and bad. So, naturally, that’s the way we run Mary Macleod’s Shortbread today. We embrace active leadership and focus on teamwork over bureaucracy. In fact, most of us wear multiple metaphorical hats (and sometimes multiple real hats when it’s really cold outside), which has empowered us to help our sweet business grow. Talk about tasty progress, right?

So, as we and our ovens fire up for 2022, we promise to uphold this tradition of dynamism. We will continue growing our team, making things better, creating happiness, and finding new fans far and wide for our famous all-butter bakes. Our diverse and vibrant cookie-loving community is ready for whatever 2022 brings our way, and we’re very thankful that you, our loyal patrons, are a part of it. Now let’s start the new year right: with a tall glass of milk or champagne and plenty of handcrafted shortbread.

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Community

Community

Location, location, location is one thing (well, three of the same thing). But community? That’s what really matters. We resume our 40th anniversary celebration with a focus on the communities that have welcomed, nurtured and inspired us throughout the years. Mary always had a strong desire to help the communities close to her. Whether she was spreading shortbread joy around the neighborhood that her bakery called home or supporting local organizations that help those in need, Mary believed in the power of connection. She also believed that cookie cutters were a crime, but that’s a story for another day.

In 1997 , Mary Macleod’s Shortbread moved from Yonge Street to an up-and-coming area in Toronto called Riverside. It was there that our community spirit really started to flourish. Our bakery was a proud and active member of this thriving neighborhood where we formed strong bonds with local residents and businesses, many of whom made our cookies a weekly (or for some, daily) tradition. After 20 years in Riverside, we outgrew our space and the shortbread winds drew us to our current location. We’ve loved putting down delicious new roots here without ever forgetting where we came from. Many of our fans were very vocal about our departure from Riverside, and their passion was an unexpected compliment to us. It meant that Mary, our cookies and our brand had made a large and lasting emotional impact in that community, and it’s a place we will always cherish.

For years, Mary was known for giving a free cookie to anyone who visited her shop, and get this: some people would resell those cookies to faraway shortbread fans! It may sound crazy, but who are we to question people’s need for a piece of pure buttery heaven? Once we realized our potential to expand, we began partnering with wholesalers to help us reach a larger community. The first of many partners was iconic Canadian department store Holt Renfrow. Since then, we have continued growing across Canada and the U.S., and we are so grateful to our cookie-craving community for 40 amazing years. After all, any neighbor can lend you a cup of sugar. But only Mary Macleod’s Shortbread can create connections this sweet.

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Diversity

Diversity

When you hear the word “shortbread,” it doesn’t necessarily scream the idea of diversity. It’s just a simple butter cookie, right? Not in our world, it’s not. Mary Macleod’s Shortbread has been a sweet beacon of inclusion and diversity since Mary first opened her shop, and it all started with her signature Chocolate Crunch Cookie. By using diverse ingredients — specifically chocolate — in her recipe, Mary really shook up the shortbread norm like nobody’s business. The Scottish Society of Canada even told her that her cookies were not technically shortbread…that is until she sent them a full tin and they responded with a written apology.

But our spirit of diversity doesn’t stop with what’s in our ovens. For many years, our company was entirely staffed by women. And while we are proud of that legacy and are still a women-owned business, our team has organically grown to include people of all colours, creeds, races, genders, religions and sexual orientations. Our differences make us stronger. Better. More joyful. Like a good shortbread, all the different ingredients working together is what makes it so delicious.

And now, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we can’t help but reflect on how much our fans, markets and occasions have diversified over the decades too. We’ve reached across borders from Canada into the U.S. We’ve created all kinds of assortments, boxes and hand-packed cookie jars to give as gifts for any occasion. We’ve seen food bloggers feature us, shortbread traditionalists question and then accept us, and parents hide us from their kids (true story). And with Mary’s daughter-in-law Sharon at the shortbread helm, we continue forward with a courageous commitment to making everyone feel welcome with us. It’s Sharon’s vision to realize our greatest potential and bring Mary’s artisanal shortbread to the most diverse market of all: the world. Because all people are our people. And all people can be cookie people.

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Authentic

Authentic

Authenticity was Mary Macleod’s middle name. Well, actually she didn't even have a middle name, but you catch our drift. Mary was a genuine original, always living the truest version of herself even when she faced opposition and adversity. She was tender yet tenacious. Humble yet outspoken. Honest, down-to-earth and dependable. And perhaps more than anything, she was legit — as a baker and as a human being. She never compromised on the things that mattered to her, like crafting all-butter shortbread by hand…inspired by her mother’s original Scottish recipe…with the finest real-food ingredients…and time-tested artisan methods...and a smile on her face. Talking about keeping it real.

This tradition of authenticity is one we carry on in our bakery today, doing things much the same ways Mary did. We still go straight to the source for our ingredients, including real creamery butter, pure Canadian maple, our exclusive secret flour blend and authentic Belgian chocolate. We still hand-form every cookie and finish it with Mary’s trademark scoop mark. We always bake happy because our cookies wouldn’t be the same without the joyful bakers behind them. And we still hand-pack every box and jar to ensure each and every experience you have with us is undeniably worth it. Bonus: you may not have known, but the bows you see on some of our packages are placed there by our bakers. Because machines just don’t have the same touch, wouldn’t you agree?

Everything we do is with a sincere and heartfelt commitment to give you our best. Whether you enjoy our shortbread as a personal indulgence at the end (or start) of each day or give it as a gift, we want you to “feel the real” coming through. We stay true to ourselves so that you can do the same and appreciate authentic all-butter shortbread moments unlike any other. That’s the real deal, and it’s something you’ll always get from Mary Macleod’s Shortbread.

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Joy

Joy

“If you don’t bake happy, it won’t turn out.” –Mary Macleod

We’d end this installment right there if we weren’t so delighted by this month’s topic: joy. For 40 years, joy has ruled our bakery, and we’d bet our last stick of butter that that’s never going to change. No matter what was going on in her life, Mary never viewed cookie-making as a chore. Even during the most stressful time of year when she worked long hours to keep up with holiday demand, Mary baked happy. She would invite her grandchildren to join in the fun and greeted each customer with a free cookie as they lined up before Christmas. She also had a tradition of giving her youngest cookie fans a special gift when they came to the shop: small toy bears complete with instructions for how to care for them. If that doesn’t make you smile, we don’t know what will.

Today we follow Mary’s recipe for success by sweetening our work and lives with plenty of pleasure, playfulness and pure Canadian maple syrup. Sharon Macleod—our fearless leader and Mary’s daughter-in-law—does this through her title of Chief Cookie Officer. And no, we’re not joking. It says that on her business card. As a team, we bake good vibes daily and let the heavenly aroma of our cookies fill the air for our neighbours to enjoy. We participate in charities and social events to help give the gift of joy to others. And we look for joy in the simple things, like sharing a stack of handcrafted shortbread cookies or reading the kind reviews our customers leave us online—sometimes over and over again.

Nothing makes us merrier (or Mary-er, for that matter) than knowing that we made even one person’s day better. Whether we’re chatting with friends at a store or tradeshow, reading an email from a satisfied shopper or watching our customer service team brighten someone’s day, there is one common ingredient in all of our favorite stories: joy. So, as we look to the next 40 years, it’s our goal to keep the good times going by following Mary’s legendary advice. As long as we do that, we feel pretty great about the future. Now, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, take a bite of shortbread, and let’s make this moment live happily ever after.

To celebrate our 'Butterscotch Bars' are on special.

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