When Polish immigrants Morris and Florence Gunn opened a small bakery on Selkirk Avenue in 1937, they were just trying to earn a living. Surely, they could not have imagined that their business would evolve into a Winnipeg landmark, and that 70 years later, it would still be growing and attracting to its counters bakery connoisseurs from all corners of the city.
Morris Gunn arrived in Winnipeg in the mid 1920s. He left his sweetheart, Florence Grodzenczik, back in Poland, promising that he would send for her as soon as he earned enough money. By working at Buchwald's Bakery, he was able to save enough to bring her over in 1930. They married immediately upon her arrival.
Their daughter Betty (Reisch) was born two years later. While Morris continued to work at Buchwald's, Florence stayed at home, dreaming of the day that they would be able to open their own business. She scouted their neighbourhood for an available building and eventually found one on Selkirk Avenue. The owner, a sign painter who lived next door, agreed to rent her the building, which had previously been a deli. In 1937 the Gunn family moved into the back of the building and opened up Gunn's Bakery in the front.
Their son Bernie was born that same year. By the time their youngest, Fivie (Arthur), arrived five years later, their business had outgrown the small space in front and the family had outgrown the living quarters in back. They relocated to a new house on the same block. Shortly afterwards, with the business thriving, they purchased the building at 247 Selkirk Avenue, where the bakery is currently located. After several expansions, they completely renovated the space in 1979.
When they first opened their bakery, Morris and Florence determined that it would be kosher so that observant Jews, like themselves, could shop there. As a result, the bakery has consistently been under Rabbinic supervision. At the same time, they determined that they would produce the European style of baking that was familiar to most of the neighbourhood residents — apple, cherry, blueberry and prune filled buns; poppy seed roll; white strudel; bagels; and of course, rye and pumpernickel bread, 'the bread of the common people.' Theirs was the first kosher bakery of this style in Western Canada.
Florence and Morris also recognized that the two most important guarantees they could offer their customers were top quality ingredients and a clean environment. For many years their logo included the words "Quality and Cleanliness Guaranteed," a catchphrase that still appears on all of Gunn's printed materials.
From early on, Fivie showed a lot of interest in the business. Morris taught him everything he knew about baking, and Fivie also experimented with the art on his own. In 1987 Fivie received his Master Baker certificate from the Retail Bakers of America Association (RBA). He then became active with the RBA Board of Directors and the Board of Directors of the Baking Association of Canada.
Bernie became an accountant, working at various firms before becoming the business administrator for the Museum of Man and Nature. Throughout his career, however, he worked part-time for the family business, looking after the payroll and other financial aspects. When Morris passed away in 1973, Bernie joined the bakery full time.
Although Betty had moved away from Winnipeg, she continued to keep her brothers aware of new products and ideas. A fine baker and cook in her own right, her special recipe, which of course is called Betty's Chocolate Almond Commish, has been a customer favorite for a long time
Over the years Gunn's developed a large wholesale market, and also began a catering service. Its success is due strictly to word of mouth and, according to Bernie, to his younger brother's adventurous and inquisitive approach to new trends and suggestions.
Fivie and Bernie are proud that they have been able to sustain what their parents began. While they have obviously had to change somewhat with the times, and have introduced computers into their office and some modern equipment into their kitchen, the basic bakery work has remained unchanged.
Gunn's produces 24 hours a day with a staff of about 80 people, and nothing is mass produced. It still offers many of Morris and Florence's original recipes, including the one for rye bread, yet it also wisely regularly introduces new products like apple jacks, biscotti and croissants. Often the old and new are merged, resulting in innovative creations like spinach and feta cheese knishes and spinach and mozzarella flavoured bagels, just one of 25 bagel varieties the bakery now sells.
No doubt, Florence and Morris never envisioned gourmet flavoured bagels. By opening Gunn's Bakery, they simply hoped to support their family and serve their community by offering old-fashioned European style baked goods. Seven decades later, it is clear that they managed to accomplish much more than that - what they did, in fact, was build a Winnipeg institution!