We are celebrating 40 years. Explore the rich buttery history of Mary Macleod's Shortbread.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To celebrate our 2 Quart Jar of Assorted Shortbread are on special.