Wow! Factor Desserts cements its status as a Canadian industry icon

Wow! Factor Desserts Cheesecakes

By Jenny Febbraro

A little sweetness goes a long way considering that Wow! Factor Desserts has not only continued to operate, but grow. Currently, the company is building a new “freezing” warehouse in Mississauaga, Ont., close to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport to better service Eastern Canada and the U.S.

“I’m so proud that we’ve come this far,” says Debbie Gust, president of Wow! Factor Desserts and second-generation owner. “Our footprint here in Ontario has had to expand, so this new warehouse is so exciting. It’s essentially a giant freezer.” While Wow! Factor doesn’t sell direct to consumers — chances are you’ve tried one of its desserts. 

Working with distributors, Wow! Factor is sourced by multiple hospitality vendors — everything from hotels and restaurants (such as Boston Pizza) to colleges and universities (such as Western University) and major hotel chains. That said, Gust demures when asked specifically about where you can find Wow! Factor. “We service a lot of restaurants and customers don’t necessarily know that their desserts are not made in-house,” she says. Gust admitted even she didn’t know the breadth of the company’s expansion — she was even surprised to sample one of Wow! Factors cheesecakes in a small restaurant in the Muskoka, Ont. region. 

Founded in 1982, Wow! Factor was originally known as the European Cheesecake Factory, though it sold the name early on in the company’s history. Gust grew up eating the desserts as her father owned the company. Formerly a senior VP in the oil-and-gas industries, Gust’s father happened to meet a couple at a Toastmasters International gathering (the organization helps train people in public speaking) who had just lost their jobs in the oil-and-gas industry and were passionate about baking. The couple began selling quiche and cheesecake out of their basement when Gust’s father offered to help the couple expand. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Fast forward 40 years and Wow! Desserts is still manufactured in Alberta’s Sherwood Park. “Our mantra, so to speak, is that we don’t have to be the biggest at all. I just want us to be the best at what we do and to serve people with excellence,” says Gust. “There are companies that are bigger than us, but sometimes to be the biggest, you have to sacrifice quality.” 

While Wow! Factor Desserts still makes its original hits, such as carrot cake or key-lime pie, it is always innovating. One unexpected hit was the salted-caramel cold-brew cake launched just last year. “This was probably the best cake right out of the gate in terms of sales,” she says. The cake features a base of rich chocolate espresso cake topped with espresso and salted-caramel cream-cheese mousse, capped with another layer of fluffy espresso icing. 

But Wow! Factor also catered to dietary needs before it was trendy. It was one of the first 10 companies in Canada to provide gluten-free certified options. “This wasn’t even a thing in previous years,” says Gust. “But I had a friend with celiac disease and she literally couldn’t try any of my cakes.” So, Gust went on to develop gluten-free options, in addition to vegan options for the vegan/vegetarian segment who could not have gluten. 

Today, Wow! Factor stays ahead of the curve by developing halal recipes. The company is working to service the Muslim community (who cannot have traditional gelatin as it is made with pork). In fact, Gust says that most Wow! desserts are halal-certified. 

But the product Wow! Factor cannot seem to keep in stock is its rainbow-layered cake — each layer coloured with natural ingredients. “This rainbow cake has sold out across North America,” gushes Gust. “It’s a huge hit and a beautiful cake, too.” 

Gust says she’s most proud of her company’s support of the Robin Hood Association, whose members with intellectual disabilities hand-fold each and every box that the desserts are packaged in. “This is a process we could easily animate,” says Gust. “But this is one way we can contribute to our community and that matters to us. Providing jobs to people with disabilities is at the core of who we are.” 

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