East Van folk with a hankering for croissants, baguettes, and other buttery French pastries (plus some North American goodies, too) have a new place to make a beeline to. The Bench Bakehouse is now open on Commercial Drive.
Tucked next to the Super Valu in Il Mercato mall (1641 Commercial Drive), near the East 1st Avenue entrance, the bright spot is a passion project of wife-and-husband team Tracy and Matt Steele.
Tracy, who moved to the West Coast from Montreal 15 years ago, toyed with the idea of opening her own bakery in Whistler back then, but circumstances led her back to the world of finance. Over the years, Matt, whose career background is in mortgages, had become enthralled with baking bread at home, specifically sourdough.
Over a year ago, the couple decided to make the dream a reality.
It was off to Paris. The two attended the Ecole Gastronomique Boullet Conseil, where he did a short course in breadmaking and she studied pastry for four months before doing a stage for a bakery that supplies bread to various restaurants, including the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower. (She happened to be doing that training while Donald and Melania Trump were visiting France; the POTUS and FLOTUS had dinner with French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife at the famous eatery, so it’s possible that her baking made its way to the lips of the world leaders.)
Once the pair found their new digs on the Drive, they took down a wall to open up the space, so that natural light floods in through the rounded corner windows and customers can see where all the baking happens. The industrial-chic décor features reclaimed barn wood, shelves made of plumbing pipes and plywood slats, and finds from the Antique Market.
The Bench makes several types of naturally leavened sourdough bread, such as olive and caramelized onion. All are fermented for 18 hours and rest in banneton proofing baskets; the two don’t use any commercial yeast.
In addition to slender baguettes, there are croissants, croissants aux amandes, and pains au chocolat; look too for pastries such as kougi Amann, morning buns, and palmiers.
Then there are goodies like peanut butter-chocolate cake and passionfruit-shortbread sandwich cookies, thick brownies, cakes, sandwiches, and more.
The Bench pours espresso-based drinks made with beans from Pallet Coffee Roasters, while the Steeles hope to introduce other items like focaccia and seasonal pastries down the road.
The Bench Bakehouse is open Tuesday through Sunday. See below for more photos.