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When it comes right down to it, most people don’t like change. Especially when it comes to your favourite food products, including your daily bread. But change was made none-the-less when Bill Marler of the Denman Bakery on Denman Island decided to pull up stakes and relocate in nearby downtown Courtenay. Today on Food Matters, I was back from a trip to the Comox Valley and reported that mostly everyone actually seems happy with the change.
You may have heard this expression before when people are complaining about BC Ferry rates…the tipping point. And Bill Marler reached it a little while ago. Although Bill had owned the Denman Bakery for the past 13 years, he had actually been living for a while in Courtenay. Going back and forth on the ferry every day just didn’t make financial sense anymore and was really eating into his time: “Ferry costs are astronomical these days,” he told me. “Add to that the time factor; not only do you have to be at the ferry to meet a particular deadline, but if you miss that ferry then you might be looking at another hour and half waiting. It just puts a lot more stress into the job, and you end up trying to nod off for a while sitting in vehicles on the ferry.”
So after some years of doing that suddenly everything tumbled together. Most of his wholesale business in bread was to Vancouver Island restaurants and shops. Bill’s lease on his building on Denman was up. Someone from his wife’s family had a space well-suited for a bakery that was available to rent literally just a short walk down the street from his house. So now there they are, just on the edge of downtown Courtenay on Fifth Street. [556-5th Street, Courtenay 250-871-0880]
He hasn’t left his loyal clientele on Denman Island in the lurch without his fresh bread, though. They still deliver breads and pizzas there four or five times a week. But it’s funny how different people have been affected in different ways by the change: “Fortunately for us most of our wholesale customers are over here on Vancouver Island anyway, and people from Denman who miss us will stop by when they are over here. You kind of feel like you’ve abandoned some people, though. The ones that probably miss us most are the summer residents, people from Vancouver or Victoria who spend their summers here and would go home with twenty loaves of bread to put into their freezers, but you know, all things must pass.”
This bakery has built up such a loyal following over the years with fairly ordinary sandwich breads and bread for toast, nothing too far outside the box, but really good quality handmade by someone you know, along with a bunch of his family members. There are a few specialties, though, including the ‘take and bake’ pizza, which Bill’s wife Erica explained to me: “Well, you just phone us and tell us what you want on your pizza. We build it for you from scratch, on its own baking sheet. You pick it up, it has baking instructions with it, you put it in the oven when you’re ready and then you never ever have cold pizza.”
Bill adds: “Then there are the triangles, our version of the granola bar. They’re chock full of goodness and we’re made them for a long, long time. I actually stopped making them a while ago because I totally got out of pastries, but then I had a request from a shop on Hornby Island that wanted to resell them so I started again and now they’re really popular. It’s just one of the things we do, and just like the bread, it’s all handmade and has to live up to my exacting standards, or it’s not going to go out the door.”
I do have to make one thing clear: You may now hear people talking about this bakery by two different names. The sign outside on Fifth Street says ‘Denman Bakery presents Vassili’s Bread Shop’. Bill loves Greece, Crete in particular…goes there almost every year for vacation. And the people there are like his extended family. His nickname there is Vassili, Greek for William, and he wanted to have a little fun with this new location, so Vassili’s it is. Not a lot of his Greek friends know about the new name though, he’s just afraid that when they find out they will want him to send bread over there…