It’s a sunny day in the Downtown Eastside. As I walk north along Main Street, private event space District 319 is bustling with people setting up for a function. A block further, a young bearded man stares out the window of Solder & Sons, a twee coffee shop and bookstore. I take a left at the No. 5 Orange strip club, and 30 paces later enter the sweet world of Cadeaux Bakery.
Inside, as the name suggests, there’s a world of presents. The counter is laden with fruit-filled danishes, pains au chocolat and croissants whose tips have been anointed with chocolate. A tall-tiered stand bears cookies and cupcakes; the bakery case contains cakes, tarts and inpidual desserts; and the white painted shelves display homemade jams, granola and truffles.
"It’s a reflection of our style — a home away from home," says Eleanor Chow Waterfall. She and co-founder Slavita Johnson are driven by one principle: they make what they like.
For their customers, that means getting used to a constantly changing menu. That’s standard practice at many restaurants, but many bakeries get stuck producing the same things, over and over — a prospect the pair wanted to avoid. "We keep our customers on their toes," says Chow Waterfall. "If the same stuff is there [every day] then they won’t try anything new and we won’t be able to keep being creative."
And there is plenty to try. I’m currently obsessed with the carrot cake and its five layers of moist cake, slightly sticky with plump raisins, nestled in cream cheese frosting. Another favourite is the fruit Danish, made with flaky, buttery croissant dough, vanilla-speckled pastry cream and precise cubes of fruit (often apple, but these days, pear or pineapple).
"I absolutely love the chocolate-covered cheesecake," says Chow Waterfall, "and I have a big love for the foret vert. It’s our take on the Black Forest cake: chocolate euphoria cake, pistachio mousse, sour cherries, chocolate mousse… it’s so decadent but so good."
Cadeaux’s open kitchen means you can watch the magic happen. "We’re making [everything] fresh. Every day you’ll see someone rolling and cutting croissants, or layering cakes." And in the summer, you can watch the Cadeaux team painstakingly construct elaborate wedding cakes in an alcove in the front of the shop, underneath a spangly chandelier.
Chow Waterfall honed her skills at Blue Water and Lumiere before joining Chambar as executive pastry chef in 2005. A few years later, she hired Johnson as her assistant. Together, they helped open Chambar’s sister businesses, Cafe Medina and the Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen, before striking out on their own.
Open since January 2012, Cadeaux Bakery is located in the 100-block of Powell Street, one block west of Gastown limits and two blocks north of Main and Hastings. "We’re obviously not in the best area at the moment," she says. (On being next to the infamous No. 5 Orange: "They’re the best neighbours ever.")
The bakery’s location hasn’t stopped Vancouver’s sweets seekers. "We have great clientele — there are lots of courthouses nearby so we get lawyers, police officers and residents. It’s nice that we see people driving here now… because to me, if you have to drive [here], it’s a destination."
As to Cadeaux’s role in the neighbourhood’s changing face: "Gastown’s changing… and I don’t think it’s a bad thing," says Chow Waterfall. "We see the changes and we want to help make the community a better one, a thriving one again. I live across the street. This is my ‘hood… this is where I want to be."
172 Powell St.