Edmonton's Bonjour Bakery has planned for a long future in Old Strathcona with the opening of a purpose-built space on Whyte Avenue.
Yvan Chartrand has been operating Bonjour Bakery since 2009, renting space in an 80-year-old building along the busy stretch of 99 Street and 87 Avenue NW. But after his son Kenny joined the company in 2017 in the role of head baker, Chartrand started exploring real estate options that would provide more stability.
"Looking at the future, I thought for him, if I wanted to retire, and he wanted to take over, I'm young enough that I can still make a move to help, so the timing was right," said Chartrand.
It was important for Chartrand to stay in the area, and when he exhausted the possibilities of finding an existing building in the neighbourhood that would suit the bakery's needs, he purchased land five blocks south at 99 Street and 82 Avenue NW.
"Being on Whyte Avenue is a dream," said Chartrand. "My mother is from the Peace River region in northern Alberta and when I was a kid, I would hear about Jasper Avenue and Whyte Avenue. So being able to build a new building on Whyte is quite special."
The land purchase went through in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic ground everything to a halt. For a time, Chartrand did not know if construction would move forward. "I put a foot on the brake pedal because I didn't know which way things were going to go," he said. "Restaurants were struggling and our wholesale business collapsed. So we would decide (whether to build) based on our sales."
Fortunately, bakeries were permitted to continue operating throughout the pandemic. "Surprisingly for us, our sales stayed quite stable," Chartrand said. "People still needed to eat."
Last year, when he could see the pandemic waning, Chartrand finally initiated plans for the building. The one-storey, nearly 3,000-square-foot bakery opened for business on Feb. 1. The exterior offers a European flair, but the red paint is a nod to the many brick buildings on the street.
While the amount of space is nearly identical to the space Bonjour used to rent, the configuration is better for customers and staff. The retail area has doubled to accommodate more people, and Chartrand will be travelling to Montreal in the spring to source more specialty crisps, olives, spreads, and mustards to stock on the shelves (being careful to not compete too directly with K & K Foodliner across the avenue). Chartrand is also excited about the open concept that allows customers a full view of the production area.
"You can see the mill where we mill the flour, you can see the oven, the mixing," said Chartrand. "People need to see how their food is made. I don't have any secrets. Some places put up a wall because they don't want you to see what's in the back, but I'm the complete opposite. Who is making it, how it is made, it's all part of the experience."
This extends to the lineage of the flour he uses for the pain paysanne, made from heritage red fife wheat. He sources the grain to grind in-house from a farm near Bonnyville. "I can tell them where the grain is from, which field, who harvested it," said Chartrand. "One day I hope to be able to say this for all of the flour I use."
The new bakery will enable Chartrand to enhance some of Bonjour's offerings over the next few months, but he intends to stay true to the bakery's roots. "We will still focus on what we like doing and what we're good at: bread, croissants, and that type of dough," said Chartrand. "We will go more into pastries with some tarts, but we are not a patisserie."
In early April, the bakery will also offer cold sandwiches. Some will be pre-made for people to grab and go, but the majority will be made to order at the cheese counter. "The sandwiches will be made from our bread and the cheeses we carry," said Chartrand. "We will have a daily sandwich. It will be very European, like sandwich shops in Paris."
Currently, Bonjour Bakery is open 8am to 4pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Soon, Chartrand will be extending hours, likely adding Tuesdays, opening later on Thursdays and Fridays, and in the summer, adding Sundays.
Even with minor shifts, Bonjour's longevity can be attributed to Chartrand's firm principles, which breed patron loyalty.
"Personally, I don't sell anything that I don't eat," said Chartrand. "I couldn't sell something that my heart is not in. Your customers will see it."