For a while, gluten-free diets were a hot topic in Vancouver. People with no health issues related to gluten consumption were turning against the food substance because it was the latest health trend. But those days seem to have faded away, and people in the city are embracing gluten more than ever. Want evidence? Just look at all the artisanal bakeries that have been popping up around town in recent years.
Aside from the “unbanishment” of gluten, local and artisanal bakeries are gaining momentum because there’s an increased appetite for freshly made bread and baked goods. More people are starting to understand the difference between grocery-bought loaves and a fresh multigrain sourdough from the bakery down the street—and we think that’s something to celebrate.
Livia Sweets (1399 Commercial Drive)
Claire Livia opened Livia Sweets on the Drive in January, after spending a couple years at farmers markets. She’s known for her house-made bread, which includes fan-favourite sourdoughs like whole-wheat sesame and fig-and-walnut. Baguettes, focaccia, Danishes, and fruit tarts are also in the lineup.
She thinks the growing trend of local bakeries is a response to the backlash against gluten. “There were people against grains, bread, and gluten, and now I guess there’s a swing back against those people with the resurfacing of local bakeries,” Livia told the Straight in a phone interview.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t inclusive of those with gluten-free diets at her popular establishment—guests will find several gluten-free options on the menu, such as Livia’s signature buckwheat chocolate cake.
Livia remembers a time when fresh bread wasn’t that easy to find. “I’ve lived in Vancouver for 12 to 13 years now, and you used to really have to go out of your way to find really good bread for a long time,” she said.
The increasing number of bakeries might lead some to be wary of competition, but not Livia. In fact, she thinks it’s a good thing for the industry. “It adds more diversity to the city, and with that comes the education of what really good bread tastes like, and I think that’s positive across the board,” explained Livia. “If all of us bakeries convert more people onto good bread, then everyone will eat more bread, and then there will be more business for everyone.”
Bonus Bakery (1185 West Georgia Street)
Just because gluten-free diets aren’t as popular in Vancouver now doesn’t mean city dwellers aren’t embracing other nutritional practices. Plant-based diets are a growing trend in the city, and some local bakeries understand that. Bonus Bakery is a fully plant-based establishment, preferring ingredients like nondairy butter and nut-based milks over classic milk and butter. Co-owner Pierrick Tanguy hopes customers will see his shop as a regular bakery that merely offers treats made differently.
“We don’t want it to scream ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’,” Tanguy explained to the Straight by phone. “By providing what we do, it allows more nonvegans to realize that they can have anything they want without any animal products.”
The Bonus cookie is one of the bakery’s best-selling items, featuring Oreo bits, corn flakes, and vegan marshmallows, topped with a pretzel. The cookie has become so popular that Bonus’s kitchen now produces three times as many as when it first opened.
According to Tanguy, the overall response to his 26-seat spot has been overwhelmingly positive. It doesn’t hurt that Bonus is in an accessible downtown location and can cater to the white-collar sweet tooths. He believes that local bakeries are going to become the norm in the city, thanks to a support system laid by counterparts in recent years. People are slowly getting used to the idea that fresh products can and will sell out early in the day, and that if they want certain items, they’ll have to get to the bakery early in the morning—unlike supermarkets, where shelves are always stocked.
“I think there’s a demand for local bakeries because people want to know where and how things are made, and they may not get that from grocery stores,” said Tanguy. “I feel like people really want to support this kind of business because their bread doesn’t come from another province.”
Bake49 (1066 Mainland Street)
Luckily for dessert lovers, this Japanese bakery’s cheese tarts no longer sell out instantly, as they did when it opened in Yaletown last November. With a buttery crust and creamy cheese filling, it’s not hard to imagine why this treat has become a cult-favourite item. Bake49 co-owner Iljin Kyung had no idea his offerings would be so popular; he and his team were overwhelmed by the demand. The cheese tarts are made from scratch, and customers have also taken a liking to the crunchy cream puffs and double-fromage cheesecakes.
“I think Vancouver people generally like Japanese food, and it was also something that wasn’t really here,” Kyung told the Straight. “We took what we liked from our trips in Korea and Japan, and adapted their concepts and brought it and its ingredients over here.”
Japanese bakeries have become more popular in Vancouver since Japan’s Uncle Tetsu dessert chain introduced its fluffy Japanese cheesecake to the city last year. Kyung thinks there’s more room for local bakeries with international flavours, because unique items that taste great are always appreciated.
“The quality of pastries and baked goods are picking up from what I’ve seen before, at local and artisanal places in comparison to the ones at grocery stores,” said Kyung. “You can really tell people are going for quality more than convenience.”