“I always wonder if I’ve made that millionth butter horn yet?”
Leisel Quinton, behind Leisel’s Buns & More, often feels like she has. When you consider the fact that it takes at least five hours to complete a batch of five-dozen butter horns and that it isn’t uncommon to sell 60-dozen at an afternoon market, you can imagine how much time is spent in the kitchen.
“When my oldest son went on a mission, 9 years ago, I started baking buns from my home to help with that and it kind of snow balled. I said I’d never get a kitchen because I didn’t want to be that busy, but here I am,” said Quinton standing in the middle of her commercial home kitchen in Magrath where she currently bakes the sweet treats many southern Albertans enjoy.
Looking back, Leisel admits to a humble start and shared an example of an early learning experience with a smile and chuckle. She had just started making the buns on her own when Mrs. Coppieters, who knew Leisel from growing up in Raymond, asked her to bring some dough and buns for the students in her son’s class as part of the social studies curriculum.
“… Because I am my mother’s daughter, I think she automatically assumed I knew everything about baking and cooking, which I don’t. I had done a little bit of baking and my dough just wouldn’t work out, so I went back after a couple of years and looked at the recipe and realized I had been using only four-and-a-half teaspoons of yeast instead of four-and-a-half tablespoons like the recipe called for.”
While working alongside her mother, baking for the Cardston school’s hot lunch program for three years, she decided that baking would provide a flexible side income for her family while still doing something she loved.
Leisel is quick to give her mom, Deanna Hardy, credit for all of the recipes used to prepare her baked goods.
The business started small, doing individual bun orders out of her home and slowly grew to include selling baking downtown at the used bookstore in Magrath.
This required a business licence and the use of a certified kitchen. “That is when I rented the Senior Centre Monday nights and went in and baked for six or eight hours after work. It only took a few months for me to realize that packing up my kitchen to go bake in another kitchen away from home was a little much, so I stopped.”
Four years ago, when Leisel and her sister started doing the market in Cardston the business just took off.
“We started realizing that we were selling between 50 and 70-dozen (butterhorns) in 45-minutes to an hour and knew people were truly enjoying them … It started growing, it wasn’t just Magrath, Raymond and Cardston people anymore, but Lethbridge and Calgary too. I’ve even shipped a dozen butter horns to a missionary serving in California.”
It was clear that a more convenient and spacious work space was needed to fill orders, so when her youngest son went on a mission the basement bedroom was converted into a full commercial kitchen.
Two convection ovens, a large fridge, microwaves, dishwasher, industrial cooling racks and a big pantry to store all the baking supplies were added to make the kitchen productive and efficent.
The kitchen features a large island workspace where Leisel mixes, molds and shapes the thousands of butter horns she sells. And one day, the millionth will be carefully iced and garnished with pecans, coconuts or shaved almonds.
The most common things she bakes are the butter horns, cream puffs and cinnamon buns. “The pecan (butterhorns) are the most popular, we sell at least twice as many as we do anything else.”
Individuals can also special order cream pies, including coconut, banana, chocolate cream, “and my husband’s favourite the key lime chiffon in the graham cracker crust.”
Leisel’s had a hard time choosing, but her personal favourite item that she bakes is the coconut cream pie. “I don’t make it very often, but when I do, I always try to save me a piece.”
Every year the business and interest has continued to increase. This year spiked again after doing 20 markets over the summer alone between the Magrath Farmers Market on Tuesdays and the Cardston Summer Market on Thursdays.
Leisel estimates that she has made close to 10,000 butter horns this year.
“Dennis and I really enjoy going to the tradeshows. Everyone always asks us, because we do sell out more often than not, why we just sit down and stay. Number one, it is tradeshow etiquette to leave your booth set up and stay, but the fun part of it is, after we have sold out, we get to sit there and visit with the people that come by. That is the down time where we get to relax after all the hard work.
“But, like I tell my husband Dennis all the time, I don’t want to be remembered for my baking, I want to be remembered for the nice things I do for people … My favourite time to bake is when I bake and give it away. I grew up taking treats to friends and neighbours and I continued that with my children. My family learned to always ask ‘are any of these for us?’ before they had a bun or a cookie, because they knew that most likely they were for someone else.”
Leisel has always been willing to help out in the community, stepping forward to use her baking talents to make a positive difference in the community. For example, she has supplied butter horns for the Magrath Triathlon triathletes for over five years now.
Earlier this year she was mentioned on the news where “one team actually said that they come for the butter horns and that they are ‘better than Scottish shortbread.’
“It’s compliments like that, that keep me going. It makes me smile.”
Leisel doesn’t see an end point, but instead sees the business as a great opportunity for her and her husband to continue pursuing in their spare time after they retire.