Before Jackie Kai Ellis opened the doors to Beaucoup Bakery, she had a backup plan. “I felt like, you know what, if this fails, I am very hireable. And Starbucks has a really good health plan.”
She needn’t have worried. Beaucoup Bakery (2150 Fir St.) has quickly established itself as one of the top pastry shops in the city. Not that you’d expect anything less from the former graphic designer who had the guts to do what many only dream of: quit her day job, go to Paris to study pastry and return to Vancouver to open a bakery.
“I wasn’t that interested in French pastries… I figured I’d got to Paris and I’d get a lot of great French techniques,” she says. “But when I went there, it was so inspiring to see the level to which they create their pastries. The respect that they treat it with.”
She came back with a cadre of French techniques, fondness for North American flavours and memories of growing up as a Chinese-Canadian. You can see all those influences at Beaucoup, whether the salty-sweet kouign amann, the elegant peanut-butter sandwich cookies or the black sesame religieuse: two creampuffs filled with pastry cream that are meant to resemble a nun (or, if you ask me, an unfinished snowman).
Your appreciation of Beaucoup can end there, with a straightforward appreciation of the food. But look a bit closer and you’ll notice the little details, like the local suppliers that are proudly highlighted on the menu. Or that the staff are genuinely friendly and happy.
Notably, the blackboard tucked around the corner invites you to answer a soul-baring question, like “What scares you?” or “What’s the one thing you would do if you couldn’t fail?” What’s surprising is how overwhelming positive the answers are. People comment on what others have written before them, offering support and encouragement. It’s refreshing, especially when Internet trolls have given anonymity a bad name.
“People are strangely intimate with their answers… when I read them it causes me to reflect and say yeah, that is scary. Or yeah, that is something that I want,” Kai Ellis says.
I posed that week’s question to her: “What inspires you?” She cites colour, nature, sunsets and flowers (“that’s why Beaucoup is so flowery,”) before arriving at her final answer — people. “When I see someone trying so hard to just do life well, with integrity and honesty, that to me is probably the most inspiring thing. Because Beaucoup is nothing without its heart. We’re just a business if we don’t have heart.”
Spoken by anyone else, that statement would send my cynic meter off the chart. But there’s something about Kai Ellis, how she manages to balance acute business sense with honest intentions, that makes the whole thing palatable.
Though Beaucoup Bakery opened on Dec. 21, 2012, this is arguably its first actual Christmas. To celebrate, they’re doing the12 days of Christmas, with the full line available by December 1.
Highlights include the highly addictive candied Marcona almonds; rich, creamy spiced pear cheesecakes; and butter tarts with an assertive kick of salt that will make you sit up straight. You might also consider squirreling away some of the packaged items — gift sets, homemade syrups and jams — for last-minute hostess gifts.
And how will Kai Ellis celebrate Christmas? She used to do a giant Christmas dinner for family and friends, but she knows things are different now. “It’s a matter of making new memories and new traditions.”