When I moved to Ucluelet one of the first places I ever visited was Zoe's Bakery & Cafe and I have not stopped going back since. I think it's my favourite bakery/cafe in both Ucluelet and Tofino. Not just because of its delicious treats, lunches and coffees but more so because of the atmosphere of the cafe. After living in Ucluelet for almost a year now I have become used to recognizing people's friendly faces whether on the street or at The Studio and I began recognizing the people at Zoe's Bakery. Last week Dave and I attended a Chocolate Truffle course at Zoe's and got to know some of the staff even more and I finally worked up the courage to talk to Zoe about doing an interview. As you know by now baking is a big part of my life and I love speaking to other people who bake as well. After interviewing Zoe I got to know her but also her bakery a lot better which was a great experience.
Zoe is a kind hearted woman who has done so much for the community of Ucluelet and you can see it even if you just walk into her cafe. As I arrived and sat down to interview her she stopped to say hello to everyone that walked in the front door as if everyone was her closest friend or family. While interviewing Zoe I saw how hard working she is as she iced gingerbread cardinals, specially requested by someone in town. It was amazing just watching Zoe at work as she mastered icing these beautiful cookies but also found the time to engage with customers and answer my questions. If you have never been to her cafe then you are seriously missing out and I would suggest you bee line straight for it when you're in Ucluelet next. Check out their website and Instagram to see more about the bakery and get inspired by their delicious baked goods:
Where are you from originally?
I'm from New Denver, BC in the Kootenays. It's a small town with a community of about 500 people. My dog is named after the town: Denver, not the American city.
How did you end up on the West Coast?
After high school I moved to Vancouver, that's what people from the town I grew up typically did. I was really interested in Forestry and I loved being outside all the time so it seemed like the right fit. I began working for Lesley Stowe at her fine food and catering store. I worked at the front end helping customers. The shop isn't there anymore, Lesley decided to focus on her Raincoast Crisp Crackers. The staff really encouraged me, even forced me to go to pastry school since I was always making cakes for friends and family. Culinary school had always been in the back of my mind but I didn't want to deal with meat.
Where did you go to pastry school?
I went to Vancouver Community College for the Baking & Pastry program. When I had finished there I had to do a practicum which my professor suggested I do at the Wickanninish Inn in Tofino. I was offered to do my apprenticeship there with the pastry chef. I continued working at various restaurants in Tofino after that. However, being a pastry chef can be difficult and there was a struggle for me to find a job where I wanted to work. So I decided to go to Haida Gwaii where I worked at the Langara Island Lodge. I even ended up working at a Heli Skiing Private Lodge in BC where I could make pastries that were quite unique and fancy. However, I wanted to move back to the coast. The plan was to move to New Zealand. But then I was offered a job at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort here in Ucluelet and my love of exploring and the outdoors brought me back to the west coast. I worked there for a year and half and then decided to branch off and do my own thing.
Did you always want to open your own bakery?
No to be honest I didn't. I was selling bread and snacks at the market in the summer in Ucluelet and Tofino and started to get a serious following. People convinced me that I needed my own space and the bakery came to be. It opened May 1, 2014. Although it wasn't my dream to open my own bakery, it is equally amazing at times. I am able to balance my skills from pastry school with more practical food that we serve. I love being self-employed and I like the idea of being able to employ so many people. I really enjoy that my bakery is a hub in the community and can help the town of Ucluelet.
What were the biggest challenges when you opened the bakery?
The high turn over of staff in the first few years. I realized that you really need to pay your staff as well as possible because it isn't easy living here. I learned I needed to flexible and adaptable to anything happening. If something were to break down like my espresso machine, it may have taken days to fix it. However, now I know that and have people surrounding me that help out anywhere they can. The biggest problem that is still a challenge for my staff is accommodation. There isn't enough housing for the people who come to work in the summer and that's a problem not only I face but the town as a whole.
How do you come up with inspiration for new flavours and different baked goods?
I always look to nature and natural element as my inspiration. I also love scrolling through Instagram to see what's out there, it's a great source of inspiration for me. Living on the west coast has really influenced my style, I like that west coast rustic and simple vibe and I reflect it in my baked goods. However, in saying that, my style changes all the time. I remember when I went through a glitter phase. Everything had glitter on it! It was edible glitter though so it wasn't infecting the environment with little pieces of plastic like regular glitter does.
What is your favourite food or baked good?
Pie is my favourite baked good, especially for the sentimental feeling it holds for me. The best way to eat pie in my opinion is a day old and cold, preferably for breakfast. I do not have a big sweet tooth though. I am more of a steak over cake kind of girl. However, I do like a piece of dark chocolate once and awhile.
Now that you have made the new addition to Zoe's Bakery and Cafe, what's next for you and the bakery?
I would like to continue to have less of an environmental impact on the earth. We recycle and compost almost everything now! Once we began composting and recycling even more there was very little garbage being made. However, coffee cups make a huge environmental impact since we can't recycle them. We are trying to push everyone in the community to bring in your reusable cups and we give a discount to anyone who does. My goal is to start a garden out front of the bakery with the compost we make at the cafe to grow fruits and vegetables to use in our baking. I really enjoy teaching classes as well so hopefully we can continue doing that with some different cooking workshops on offer.
Since the holidays are getting into swing are there any special Christmas treats you're making at this time of year?
I love Christmas baking! Christmas cookies are my favourite and I love making a gingerbread house every year just for fun. We also do a cookie workshop for kids in town. My apprentice is actually hosting it this year, she's baked all the cookies and then the kids get to decorate them.
Thanks to Zoe for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down and talk to me about her bakery. Make sure you stop in sometime, you will be happy you did!