This Toronto pastry chef opened her own chocolate shop in a 120-year-old Simcoe County farmhouse
For five years, Emily Watson made her way through the pastry departments of Toronto kitchens, collecting different skills along the way. When the pandemic hit, the sweets shop she was working at shut down—accelerating her plan to become her own boss. She’s since moved home to Simcoe County where she opened Kindred Chocolates, a chocolate and pastry shop inside an old family farmhouse—and she’s not looking back.
—As told to Jacob Rutka
“I grew up in a family of bakers, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mother and my grandma. In our small town of Washago, about 90 minutes north of Toronto, my grandma was famous for her butter tarts, as well as the different types of cookies she’d bake around Christmas. And my mom used to make incredible birthday cakes—trains, teddy bears, clowns—for me and my brother every year until we got too old for them. Since then, food has been the main focus of my everyday life.
“I was also always into the arts, so when I graduated high school, I decided to study food photography at OCAD. It was a great way to pursue two of my passions at the same time. I’d noticed no one in my classes had professional kitchen experience and that inspired me to enrol in the culinary program at George Brown for night school. I figured it would make me more of an asset to potential employers.
“Once I finished school, I took on a few unpaid internships: one as a food photographer and the other helping produce headshots. I wanted to get my name out there, but I was pretty uninspired by the work. I also had to figure out how to make rent, so I applied to a few different kitchens.
“I started working at Barque Smokehouse in 2015, the same year I graduated. It was the perfect entrance into the food industry, because it was very casual and my job involved making pies, cakes and squares—the kind of stuff I was familiar with from my childhood. It wasn’t long before I realized working in a kitchen wasn’t just a viable career path, it was actually something I loved. The fast-paced environment, constant menu changes and teams that felt like family were so much fun. I knew then that I would never leave the industry.
“I wanted to keep learning, so I joined Colette, an upscale French restaurant that was part of the Chase Hospitality Group. That was my first experience making croissants and entremets, and I really enjoyed it. When Colette closed in 2018, I still wanted to work with pastry, but there weren’t any opportunities available within the Chase restaurant group, so I moved on to Sud Forno. I worked at their Temperance Street location for six months and learned a ton about Italian pastry.
“Then I applied for a job at CXBO in Kensington Market and I got it. They were known for making these really beautiful bonbons with artistic packaging. It was then that I knew I had found the combination of art and food that I had been looking for. I gained so much great experience in my two years there.
“CXBO closed down in early 2020. It was the second time in my short career that the place I was working at shuttered, and this was a particularly bad experience. My colleagues and I weren’t notified by the head office—we were just scrolling through Facebook and came across an article that said the company was filing for bankruptcy. I tried to see the end of time at CXBO as just another opportunity.
“Ever since I’d started working in restaurants, I knew I wanted to open up my own place. I thought it was attainable and something I could be successful at. Back in 2016, when I was 24, I set the goal of having my own business by the time I turned 30—it’s really the only goal I’ve ever truly followed through with. Around 2019, the idea for what would eventually become Kindred Chocolates started to form. When CXBO closed and the pandemic hit, that was the final straw.
“I knew it would be hard to open a business in Toronto without investors. Back in 2006, my parents purchased a 50-acre farm property in Washago with an old farmhouse that was actually built by my great-great uncle in 1900. It was around the corner from my childhood home and kitty-corner to my grandmother’s farm. My mom and dad had planned to retire there. Those plans changed, but they figured they would still turn the house into a workshop for my dad, who is a carpenter.
“I knew the house was just sitting there, so I sat my parents down to show them my business plan. My proposal: to open up my own chocolate and pastry shop in the old farmhouse. During my time at at CXBO, I’d learned that, other than a basic kitchen, you didn’t need much to make beautiful-looking chocolates on a small scale—just a compressor, hobby airbrushing gun, chocolate moulds and a garbage bag that could be used as a tent to protect the room and walls from backspray. I’d also realized that something like Kindred would be quite novel in Simcoe County, and I hoped that it would be easy enough to spread the word using social media. To my delight, my parents said yes. It also didn’t hurt that this plan meant I would have to move home, which they were ecstatic about.
“On March 16, 2020, I left Toronto and immediately started working on the farmhouse with my dad. We renovated everything together, while trying to keep as much of the original character as possible, preserving all the original moulding, hardwood floors, brick chimney, doors and hardwood bannister. I even framed a newspaper from the 1960s that we found stuffed in a wall.
“We were an unlikely duo, but he was patient with me and it was a very special experience that I’ll always be grateful for. I’d held a lot of flashlights for him in my life, helped rake leaves, piled firewood, did many school projects with him, but nothing on this scale of construction. The house had good bones, even though it was built more than 120 years ago. We insulated the walls, put up new drywall, painted, changed out the plumbing and built a whole new kitchen. I’d reached out to the health inspector before construction started, so I knew exactly what was expected.
“While the space was coming together, I set aside time to do some recipe testing and figure out what else I wanted to put on my menu. I made cookies, brownies and started perfecting croissants. The business was finally ready to open last June. It really felt like a family project, so that’s how I landed on Kindred Chocolates—riffing on the word ‘kin’ and taking into account my fellow chocolates lovers, or kindred spirits.
“So far it’s been an amazing experience. I knew as a small business owner, I was going to have to wear every single hat for a while. My food photography background has definitely come in handy—it’s been a really important aspect for marketing that I would have had to outsource if I didn’t already have the experience.
“The reception has also been great—there’s nothing else like Kindred in Washago, a quaint little town with a ton of space to roam and an awesome antique market. And I think it adds currency to the product that these chocolates and pastries are being made in a refurbished farmhouse, and that the packaging for them includes scans of the 16—yes, 16—different wallpaper designs we found in the farmhouse. I’ve tried to make everything as unique as possible. I have an online business so customers can pick up their orders at the farmhouse and I also have booths at farmers’ markets in Gravenhurst, Washago and Orillia. Croissants were the surprise hit at the markets—I’ve developed all kinds of arm muscles from all the laminating I’ve had to do with my rolling pin. I’ll have to buy a sheeter if this pace continues!
“Right now, I’m in a good position because I have control over every aspect of my business. But I also have to think about what direction I want to take it in. I have a dream to make the farm a bit of a destination, where people can come and get chocolates and pastries, but also fresh produce or even gelato.
“Leaving Toronto was tough. It was my home for a decade and it’s where I still have a ton of friends. But the last year has really solidified that I made the right move and I’m so lucky to be pursuing my passion.”