Larry Harris (’99 MBA)

Jenna Marynowski, BAA Communications Committee Volunteer - 13 September 2021

From a career that spanned various industries to taking an interest in baking that’s led to TV and his own business (Bonne Vie Bakery), Larry Harris (’99 MBA) shares his inspirational story growing a passion into a business.

Larry Harris

BAA: Can you tell us about your journey since graduating from university?

Since graduating with an MBA, I have had the opportunity to advance my career in different industries, working with various organizations including ATB Financial, Edmonton Airports, KPMG and MacEwan University to name a few. My career has been in the area of strategic and business planning, in particular with modeling and understanding the risks of different options for the organization.    

BAA: Where does your love of baking come from, and what was the leap of starting Bonne Vie Bakery like?

I started baking when I was child, but really took an interest in baking after my wife and I spent our honeymoon in France. I just loved all the fresh baguettes and pastries, something you could not really find in Edmonton in the early 1990s. So, I started making them myself, and continued to grow as a baker since then.

I started Bonne Vie Bakery as a micro home bakery at the beginning of November 2020 with my wife and son. The thought was “let’s bake a dozen loaves of bread and see if there is an interest.” Well, there was an interest! In December we tripled what we were producing, along with several dozen cookies and other baking each bake day. It has continued to increase and now 10 months later we will typically bake 60-70 loaves along with dozens of cookies and other baking each bake day. When we started we were concerned with having bread leftover, now everything sells out in a couple of hours, once it is available on our website. We have tremendous support from the community that has been built around our sourdough and baking. We really did not expect this level of support.

Starting out I could not fathom how much we could produce out of our home kitchen, but we are now hitting the limit of the space, equipment and time we have.   

BAA: How did the opportunity to compete on the Great Canadian Baking Show come about? What was the experience like?

Being on the show has been a dream and goal for a number of years. I originally watched the Great British Bake Off and dreamed of being in the tent there one day. Then it was announced that there was going to be a Canadian version, and I knew that I had to be on it! So, I applied for every season, and auditioned too! I kept applying as I knew I could bake, I loved baking along with the show and did most of the technical challenges, and I wanted the opportunity to bake with other bakers.  

My family was supportive of me doing this, to keep going and achieve my dream! They encouraged me to apply again for Season 4, and I secured another audition. As it was in the midst of Covid, the audition was over Zoom. This actually gave me the opportunity to spend more time with the producers baking in front of them, talking with them and showing why I should be on the show. It seemed to work as I received the call a few weeks later that I was selected for the show!

It was an amazing experience being on the Great Canadian Baking Show, Season 4!!! I had such a wonderful time being on the show and meeting the other bakers, who are now dear friends. There are a couple of highlights of being on the show. The first is being Star Baker for bread week and being first in the technical the same episode. Bread is my thing and being star baker for bread week was a goal I had. The second is being at the finale and seeing Raufikat win, and then all of us giving her a massive group hug! I am so glad this happened and everyone was able to see what a supportive bunch of bakers we are!

All you see when you watch the show are us bakers, the hosts and the judges. What you don’t see are all the people behind the scenes that make it all happen. This is a pretty big production with dozens of people involved to bring our bakes to life! A huge part of this is the culinary team that makes sure we have everything we need from ingredients to pans, and everything in between at our workstations. Not only do they have us set up at the start, if we need anything during the bake, they are there to get it for us. At the end of the bake, they are there to clean up our workstations, and get them ready for the judging and next bake - some days our workstations looked like a tornado went through!


BAA: How has the transition from having a 9 - 5 job to running your own business been? Have there been any surprises along the way?

Like many people in the last year, I was laid off in June 2020. There have not been too many opportunities, so being unemployed was an impetus for starting Bonne Vie Bakery. Something that I could do to keep busy while looking for full time work. Now, it is looking like being an entrepreneur and making Bonne Vie Bakery a full-time passion is in the cards.

The transition from working a typical 9-5 job to my own business has been great but also with challenges. You are doing everything (not quite everything as I have lots of help from my wife and son, too) — producing what you sell, marketing, finance and accounting, and everything else. You soon discover the limits to what you can do with your current resources and need to figure out how to grow the business within these constraints, or what needs to be done to change the constraints for more growth.

There have been many surprises along the way. A wonderful surprise is the tremendous support from the community for what we are doing and related to this is the developing of a new network of other entrepreneurs in similar businesses, including other alumni, that are so willing to help with advice on how they addressed challenges and to provide connections.  

BAA: How has your Alberta School of Business education influenced your career and life post-graduation?

My Alberta School of Business education has been a tremendous influence on my career and life. My decision to go to the Alberta School of Business for my MBA was to change my career direction which it certainly did. It provided me with new knowledge, but also how to take my past experiences and apply them in my future career. Aside from the knowledge that I have acquired while at the School, the network of my fellow classmates and other alumni has helped me progress with my career, and also with my new journey as an entrepreneur.

BAA: What advice do you have for those thinking about taking the next step in their journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

Taking the next step and becoming an entrepreneur can be scary, but don't let your fears stop you. If you don't take that first step, you will never know what you can achieve. I am naturally risk averse and can be anxious, so getting out of my comfort zone and taking risks is hard. Getting on the Great Canadian Baking Show and then starting a micro bakery were definitely outside my comfort zone, but I went ahead with the support and encouragement of my family.  

If you can start small, test the market for your idea and product, so you can gauge the level of interest. With that knowledge you can take bigger steps to grow. You also need to know that you are not alone, there are others that have been down the same path, and they are usually more than willing to provide advice and help you. 

So, my advice to other people is to do it. It may be uncomfortable, but you will regret not taking that first step. Surround yourself with your family and friends, so they can provide you with the support to make your dream happen!

BAA: Where can alumni find out more about — or try the wares from — Bonne Vie Bakery?

The best place to find out more and try our baking is through our website, and also through our social media presence (Instagram @bonneviebc, Twitter @bonneviebc, and Facebook Bonne Vie Bakery). We post what and when we are baking each week with a rotating menu of items that typically includes 2-3 sourdough breads, and several other baked items, for pick up or delivery. Going forward we are looking at developing a commercial kitchen to offer more products, which will either be in our house or in a commercial space when we find the right location.

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