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Prairie Girl in the City

Cupcake business booming for lawyer turned baker

By Sarah Trefiak

When choosing a name for her new cupcake store in downtown Toronto, Jean Blacklock (LLB’85), looked back to her Saskatchewan roots. She had the name narrowed down to either Confetti Cupcakes or Prairie Girl Bakery but chose the latter because she said it just felt more like her.

“It’s weird in a way that I landed on that name because I moved from Saskatchewan right after law school, but I think most Saskatchewan people feel their roots forever. It’s a cool province,” said Blacklock, who completed a combined commerce/law degree in 1985, then articled in Calgary before becoming a partner at a major law firm.

She later moved east to Toronto where she joined BMO Financial Group as an executive in wealth management. When she left the corporate world in 2009, a business of her own was high on the list of possible new chapters. “My parents were business owners so I think the entrepreneurial drive was always there—plus I have always loved food, cooking and baking,” she said.

She pursued the idea of opening a cupcake store, and in 2011 Prairie Girl Bakery was born. “It struck me as odd that downtown Toronto did not have a cupcake store and I felt that if I really made a great product, it would be timeless and not just a fad.” By the way things are going, Blacklock was correct. After opening her first store in 2011, two more followed—one just seven months later and the other in the spring of 2013. She is now in the process of meeting with a number of possible franchisees to expand her empire even further. 

“I was so lucky with the initial and continued response to Prairie Girl in downtown Toronto,” said Blacklock, adding that the name has been a hit with customers. “People who have never been to the Prairies have very warm feelings about that part of Canada. As well, people who are visiting or who have moved here are eager to mention that they also have a prairie connection. It’s been amazing to see the warm reaction to the prairie reference.”

So if you’re walking in downtown Toronto and find yourself following your nose to the doors of Prairie Girl Bakery, what can you expect to find inside? “It’s 100 per cent cupcakes—17 flavours in two sizes: regular and mini,” said Blacklock, who also hopes that a visit to her store will be a unique experience. “Your visit to our bakeries should make you smile with our sparkling clean stores and our really friendly service.”

With 17 choices, one may be overwhelmed when deciding what to try. Blacklock said the red velvet with classic cream cheese icing is the most popular flavour, but also recommended the toasted coconut—her personal favourite. “It reminds me of a delicious cake my mom used to make.”

While the food service business may be entirely different than a law firm or a bank,

Blacklock said there are many lessons from the corporate and legal worlds that she has applied when running her small business.

“The main thing I have learned is that whether people are high earners or working for a basic hourly salary, it matters to them to be listened to and to know that their views are considered important.”

For students or alumni who may also have the entrepreneurial itch, Blacklock suggests thinking of everything you are doing now as part of a possible future business. “Just because the current reality is studying or practicing law, there is still lots of thinking, planning, mystery shopping and work related to your hobby that can be done while at the same time learning as much as possible from one’s current work.”