Monroe Webb’s mornings at Kitsilano’s Beyond Bread begin at 3:30 a.m. The baker-at-large’s passion for bread-making has become an intuitive language he speaks daily. “Anything we do can be taught, but are you ready for the hard work and the early mornings?” Webb says. “Half the battle is just showing up.”
The day is a “big ongoing circle” in which Webb assesses the viennoiseries and bread that have been rising overnight. He bakes off the pastries, divides and shapes the risen bread, and moves on to mixing dough that will be baked that afternoon. By day’s end, Webb and his team are already shaping loaves for the next cycle. On average, Beyond Bread produces 100 to 250 naturally leavened loaves per day.
Evident in both Webb and his colleague Scott Neale is a deep-seeded curiosity tempered by a relaxed, just-walked-in-from-a-wind-surf vibe. “The thing that is most gratifying for me is taking pride in the product I make and trying to always make it better,” Neale says. “Hopefully customers pick up on that.” Tucked near the corner of Alma and 4th Avenue, Beyond Bread certainly is a bakery dedicated to its community. Neale is modest; on many days the line is out the door.
While it is true that the 60-something man in chic navy Common Projects sneakers is a regular here, so is the first-year UBC student, the eccentric librarian, and the Portuguese water dog tethered outside. A long rustic table anchors the centre of the space, allowing everyone to gather around and sink into a steaming espresso or a flaky pastry.
“You can always take something from the bad days.”
Beyond Bread is not trying to be the hippest joint in Vancouver, favouring craft and quality over shiny surfaces. The bakery participates in wholesale and farmers’ markets, and works directly alongside Social Coffee. It also sells Phil & Sebastian coffee beans, Six Legs Good Apiaries honey from East Vancouver, and much more. It’s a way, Neale explains, “of reaching out to different communities and expanding our footprint.”
Beyond Bread is also a reminder of Canada’s multicultural roots. Perhaps when we settled here we brought with us blistering, tangy German Schwarzbrot or a recipe for the dense and moist Danish seeded Rugbrød. Maybe we were inspired by Lionel Polâine’s Miche loaf, big as a tambour drum at three-kilograms a piece. It could be that our Italian nonna travelled to Canada and hid a chewy, pearlescent ciabatta (which translates to a kind of slipper) in her suitcase.
Beyond Bread offers all of the above. Customers can check the online baking schedule to discover when their favourite loaves will emerge piping hot out of the electric deck oven.
Webb prefers his bread with a lot of crust and made from whole grains. “I enjoy a heavy rye and baked dark,” he says. “Those are the two things I really like that you may not see as much in the city.” Beyond Bread could very well be the most Canadian bakery in the city by virtue of all the distinct European traditions gathered under one roof.
It’s a diversity that offers something altogether modern for the increasingly sophisticated Vancouver gourmand. Bread becomes a luxury because of the skill and dedication that goes into each loaf. “The repetition part of our work is key to mastering the craft,” says Webb. “We can start fresh every day and make it better and better. You can always take something from the bad days, and it’s very gratifying to know that you always get another chance.”