Lisa Lou's Chocolate Bar may be the new kid on the block, but the shop's owner and head chocolatier, Lisa Gardin, is no stranger to the kitchen: Gardin has known that she wanted to be involved in the culinary arts since she was 13.
"I was the kid in high school running around in a chef's jacket all day long," Garden tells the Straight in the kitchen of her brand new shop at 1007 Main Street.
Her first exposure to working with food in a professional sense began when she was in Grade 11, when she was given the opportunity to put her skills to the test at the Wedgewood Hotel and Bishop's restaurant through a co-op program.
Gardin was offered a job at the hotel before she even graduated high school, and began working in fine dining as an apprentice under renowned chef Robert Sulatycky.
When Sulatycky decided to rotate his apprentices through the various stations of the kitchen, Gardin found herself drawn to the role of pastry chef.
"I ended up loving it, the science and the precision of it, so I stayed and transferred my entire Red Seal apprenticeship over to baking and pastry," Gardin explains.
Shortly after, Gardin left the Wedgewood to work at the Metropolitan Hotel under Thomas Haas—arguably Vancouver's most well-known chocolatier. Gardin was just 19 when she became Haas' right hand, working alongside him at the hotel and assisting him in opening up his own business—even making chocolates out of Haas' home kitchen.
After two years of working 100-hour weeks with Haas, Gardin left Vancouver and spent time working in Calgary, before coming back and working at Chocolate Arts. In the span of 18 months, she went from an entry level chocolatier to the establishment's chef chocolatier and production manager.
A stint working at a chocolate shop in Tokyo followed, before Gardin relocated temporarily to Dubai, where she received an executive contract working for luxury chocolate shop, Choco'a.
"The coolest part of my job there was that it was the first time in my career I'd ever been able to completely design my own chocolate collection," Gardin says. "They are still making the chocolates I designed there six years ago."
Despite loads of experience in a variety of establishments around the world, Gardin still felt as though something was missing: "I felt creative enough that I could design what I wanted to, but how do you really learn about human resources, financing, margins, owning a business, and all of the things that come with that?"
In an effort to round out her skills, Gardin took a position at Whole Foods' pastry and dessert kitchen, where she worked for five years.
Fast-forward to 2016: After more than 15 years of industry experience, Gardin has opened a chocolate shop and café of her own. Located just a stone's throw from the Main Street-Science World SkyTrain station, Gardin says she is happy to finally be her own boss.
Among her delectable offerings are chocolate bars, truffles, caramels, ice cream, sorbet, ice cream sandwiches, pastries, cheesecakes, cookies, and whatever else Gardin feels like whipping up. Everything on the shelves is handmade from scratch.
"My dream was to open a chocolate shop, but when you're opening and it's not chocolate season, what do you do? The previous owner of the cafe did a lot of baked goods and coffee, and that was kind of his focus, so I wanted to make sure that all of the customers who were regulars here could still find what they were looking for," Gardin says.
"I also wanted to respect the neighbourhood, so I didn't increase the coffee prices."
Gardin keeps plenty of baked goods in stock, but she's looking forward to the chocolate gift-giving season so she can focus on creating a full line of specialty chocolates. Plans for individual bon bons, truffles, platters, chocolate boxes, and gift packages are in the works.
For the summer season, Gardin has focused on producing her own ice creams and vegan-friendly sorbets. She even makes her own ice cream sandwiches.
Using two homemade cookie varieties, a crispy chocolate shortbread and a waffle cookie, Gardin makes sandwiches using ice cream flavours that include mint chocolate, vanilla, and salted caramel.
She's recently taken one of her signature chocolate bars—the Marc, made with marcona almonds, bourbon caramel, and malt—and turned it into its own ice cream flavour.
With just three weeks as a chocolate shop owner under her belt, Gardin is excited to have reached her goal. The shop will celebrate its one-month anniversary on July 17, which happens to coincide with National Ice Cream day. A grand opening party is also in the works.
You can take a virtual tour of Lisa Lou's by scrolling through the images below, but we highly suggest you make your way down to Main Street to taste some of these delicious treats for yourself.