There’s bread, and then there’s old-school bread made with natural levain that creates fluffy and airy interiors and beautiful crispy crusts.
As you’re reading this article, there’s a humble space in Vancouver that’s working away to prepare for the launch of a retro-bakery—one that is striving to create the highest quality of heavenly loaves using traditional baking techniques.
Fife Bakery (64 East 3rd Avenue) has been capturing the attention of Vancouver bread-lovers for the past few months. Its small and fuss-free storefront has stopped many passerbys—presumably eager to get a glimpse of the new food establishment that is in a district of mostly warehouses.
Behind all of it is Felix Yau—the 22-year-old owner and baker at Fife. Being first and foremost a bread-lover (which is an understatement), he has been baking since he was a child.
“I baked my first loaf of bread when I was nine. It was in a toaster oven, and it was one small loaf of bread,” Yau tells the Straight in an interview at his new bakery. “I remember using way too much salt and a whole pack of yeast, so it was way too yeasty and way too salty. But it just felt very satisfying baking my first loaf of bread in a tiny, tiny toaster oven.”
Despite his young age, Yau has never strayed too far from the kitchen. From cooking scrambled eggs at home when he was four-years-old, to working as a sous chef at Earls and then at Joey Restaurants at the ripe old-age of 17, Yau knew that food was something he thoroughly enjoyed.
He didn’t realize that bread and baking was his passion until watching one specific episode of a cooking show on the Food Network.
“I remember I really started wanting to bake my own loaves of bread after watching an episode of Good Eats,” explained Yau. “It became a hobby and then an addiction and I baked bread throughout middle school. I’ve been baking for like ten years now.”
Before the budding baker decided to open his own bakery, he had to ask himself if he could let go of the restaurant industry. After attending an entrepreneurship class and speaking to several members who are veterans in the Vancouver food scene, Yau decided that he would dedicate all his time to his passion: baking bread.
The young baker told us that his bakery’s name derives from a type of wheat: red fife. “It’s the first large-scale farmed wheat that’s special to Canada. When they came out with red fife wheat, it was mainly used to make bread,” said Yau. “It’s a simple name, it’s minimalistic and easy, and it connects everything. It’s about bread, sourcing local ingredients, and it’s Canadian…so that’s how the name Fife came along.”
When the bakery opens, customers will find themselves looking at an elegant and rustic space. The front-of-house is 550-square-feet, which is lined with wooden countertops, a wooden bar, and wooden stools with metal legs. Sleek black tiles and minimalistic light bulbs hang from the ceiling, giving off a premium but warm and welcoming vibe. There’s a warehouse area at the back that is much larger.
“These countertops actually used to be bowling alley floors,” said Yau with an amused look. “They’re recycled and local…it was from a family-owned bowling alley in New Westminster that was open for a few decades. I try to keep everything as local as we can.”
When asked about the star of the show—the bread—Yau explains with enthusiasm as to what makes his bread so unique in the city. From sourcing ingredients (flour, olive oil, honey, etc.) to his retro-style baking methods of using natural levain, you can tell that this bakery won’t be some short-term joint that doesn’t live up to its hype.
“These loaves of bread took three days to make, from start to finish,” said Yau as he pointed to the freshly baked loaves on the counter. “Not all bakeries can spend that much time making and baking bread. Ultimately, yes you’re opening a business to make money, but sometimes the scale is too tipped to the money-making side, so you cut corners on where you can push your boundaries and the quality of how you bake.”
Guests will be able to find staple items like baguettes and country loaves at Fife Bakery. The shop’s signature item will be an oat porridge and fife bread. Its menu will change depending on season, so don’t expect the same kinds of loaves every time you step into the bakery.
Other baked goods that will be offered include chocolate chip cookies, muffins, and coffee.
When we asked Yau why Vancouverites should be excited about the opening of his bakery, he replied with a short and simple answer. “Because nobody else is doing what we’re doing!”
Fife Bakery is scheduled to open in two weeks.
Scroll through the photos below for a sneak peek inside the soon-to-open bakery.