Sunday 10 March 2013

Stories from Behind the Beach: Love Comes to Town

"We'll fulfill our dreams, and we'll be free..."
                          -Mumford and Sons

   On the Dock, I think it is fair to say that we Docksters tend to buck convention.  We're small boaters in a big boat world.  We are usually left alone but never lonely, and we're not bothered that we're not bothered.  We're power-free but not powerless.  We are self-sufficient but interdependent. We root for the underdogs, because the underdogs is us.

   We're a little crazy.  We're okay with that.

   If you were thinking about starting a small business and being your own boss, would you start a business from scratch in an untested market, work long hours for little pay, in an industry where the failures outnumber successes, in a small town with a historically seasonal clientele?

That would be crazy.

That would be Urban Parisian .

This is our kind of place.

                                                                                                              -image courtesy of

   Brad Lewis likes to bake.

   A lot.

   He began baking as a kid, and got his hands floured professionally at the Ancaster Old Mill, which led to baking his way into a slot at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa .  Somewhere somehow along the way he ended up in the kitchen at Callahan's Beach House, now known as simply The Beach House.

   Where he met Melanie Atkins.

   Melanie is as passionate about wine as Brad is about baking.  She has a background in social service, but a love of wine that led to her becoming a Certified Sommelier through Niagara College .

 Pastries and wine.  I told you these were our kind of folks.

  When David's, Port Dover's first lakefront fine dining restaurant opened, Brad and Melanie were on board.    Typically, the dessert "get" at a fine dining establishment is about 20%. At David's, Brad tells me, the number was above 80%.  Clearly, something was working.

   The success of David's showed the pair that you could successfully sell food in Port Dover that wasn't fried.  It got Brad and Melanie thinking about the future.


   It sounds like the cover blurb for a Nicholas Sparks novel,
   "She loves wine.  He loves pastry.  Where will the relationship go?"

    Backpacking through France, apparently.

    Brad and Melanie knew they wanted to build a life and a business together, but it took trekking through France to fully realize their common goal.

    They wanted to open a French bakery.

    In Port Dover.


    Thus, Urban Parisian was born.

   Success was not guaranteed.  Every business start up is a risk, the food industry is riskier than most, and in a town known for hot dogs, french fries and fried fish, any joint without a flat top and a fryer has traditionally caused the locals shake their heads and start a pool on when, not if, the new place will fall flat on it's face.

  Yeah, it's crazy, risky, fraught with danger and likely to fail.

   Why would anyone do it?


     Brad and Melanie opened the doors at 401 Main Street in March, 2011. From jump, the place was jumping.  Immediately they reached out to  friends in the business, recruiting help to meet the demand.  Today they have four employees and run Tuesday through Sunday, 7:00- 5:00.

   Also from jump, the French bakery concept changed slightly.  Customers wanted more than just bread and rolls, they wanted something in between them.  Quick to grasp the opportunity, Brad and Melanie stretched the  Urban Parisian concept to encompass a soup, salad, sandwich and quiche breakfast and lunch menu.  The menu is fresh every day, and to meet customer demands to know what's on, the menu is posted on facebook daily.

The menu is some of the best culinary marketing I have ever read.  Most restaurants advertise their soup of the day as, for example, "Chicken Noodle"
  "Soup du Jour; Chicken Cacciatore (rich stewed tomatoes, chicken thighs, peppers, onions, olives, garlic, fresh herbs and house made chicken stock)"

The love, the passion, for what they do comes right off the page.

This is some serious food porn.

  How about salads like this:

 "Mushroom Quinoa Salad; Garlic sautéed local mushrooms with balsamic onions, green beans and slivered almonds in organic quinoa drizzled with our french vinaigrette served over mixed greens"

Feeling vegetarian?
 "Crunchy Cauliflower Wrap; Steamed cauliflower in a lemon/dill dressing with slices of crunchy dill pickles wrapped up and warmed in a flour tortilla"

  Are you freakin' kidding me?  Cauliflower.  COLL. EE. FLOW. ER.  Didn't like it when I was 7.  Don't like it damn near two score years later.
  Yet, I'm drooling on my keyboard.

  Anybody who doubts the power of the well-written word, doubt no more.

  Okay, here's the money shot:

"Beef Baguette au Jus; Sliced slow roast beef with garlic sautéed onions on our famous baguette served au jus."

C'mon, you know you're with me.

Along with the menu every day?


You're welcome.

   A different variety of fresh breads every day, including ale buns:


Pecan butter tarts:

  This, by the way, is a lie.  These are not tarts.  They are damn near pies.  Handfuls of heaven.

 For breakfast, how about a cup of coffee and an apple-filled cinnamon bun?

  I need a cigarette.

Melanie and Brad believe in keeping it real and keeping it local.  They source almost all ingredients locally, follow the seasons, and support local farmers through their membership in a food co-op as well as hosting a farmer's market on their patio every Thursday during the summer.  Everything is made in house and from scratch.  Real butter, real cream, real cocoa.  Brad and Melanie even blend the iced tea in house.

 Coming in from a drab grey March, you feel the love.  Light wood trim and subtle colours invite you to slow down for a while.

What is missing isn't missing at all- it adds value.

There is no wi-fi.

The pair of proprietors wanted to create an environment where as Melanie says, "you could get away from work, not bring it with you."

There's also no pop.  It  wasn't until Brad pointed it out that I realized what was really different behind the counter- no hulking, brightly lit, glass front cooler.  You can have your choice of coffees, espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, teas and smoothies.  Want a can of Coke?  You're out of luck.

  Brad and Melanie wanted to create a place that feels like home, and they succeeded.

    As food service veterans, the couple knew that the long hours could take a toll on friendships with those outside the industry, so they started a "Sunday Dinner" tradition.  After close on Sunday nights, invited folks  would arrive and the kitchen would transform from work to play, as Brad and Melanie whipped up dinner for their friends and family. That's what this place is all about- love, passion, that extends beyond the food.

     In the future, Melanie sees a liquor license, allowing her and Brad to offer a light pairings menu in the early evening, with Brad's small plates paired with wines Melanie has selected.

     The bakery reflects the couple who started it- comfortable, professional, inviting and fun.

     Hope to see you here soon.

    "Talk the Dock!"

1 comment:

  1. Brian, This story makes me want to travel. Port Dover sounds like a great place and this bakery sounds like another reason to visit. Steve Z.