In an ever-changing and developing city like Vancouver, there is something to be said for tradition. Innovation is necessary, but so too is history.
Now run by Alan Notte, the third generation to take the helm, Notte’s Bon Ton is a place of nostalgia, of quality, of details. Here, in an unadorned space on West Broadway, dozens and dozens of colourful baked goods of all sizes line the shelves of two service counters. From diplomat cakes to jam thumbprint cookies, Notte’s makes everything in-house by hand, right down to the sugar flowers that sit atop the various treats.
“We get a lot of the community, and a lot of people that come from outside of downtown Vancouver who will make the trip,” Alan says of his customers, seated at a table in the bakery’s adjoining tea room, white apron still tied around his waist. “We have a lot of people from West Vancouver come in, Richmond, Burnaby—just to come here.” Why? Because this place kicks it delightedly old school.
It all started with Alan’s grandfather, who was born in Italy and trained to be a pastry chef throughout Europe. Upon moving to Canada, he and his brother set up a bakery in Victoria, but after a “falling out,” says Alan, his grandpa moved to Vancouver and set up shop here on lower Granville Street. The recipes that the current Bon Ton (which moved to West Broadway in 2000) still uses were created by Alan’s grandfather, written in Italian and translated to English by his wife. The notebooks holding the original Italian recipes still exist, and are housed safely at the bakery. “We use all natural products, all butter, no fats in here; we use quality flour,” explains Alan. “Nothing has changed since my grandfather started the business—everything is the same. It’s all quality, we don’t cheap out on stuff.” Indeed, the excellence of the delicate and decadent treats can be seen and tasted: it’s in the smooth creams, the rich chocolates, the buttery doughs; it’s in the intricate layers of mousse, the curved petals of an icing flower.
Alan, who learned the trade by watching his grandfather and father in the confectionery, did consider other careers, but soon figured out that he had inherited his patriarchs’ passions for pastry-making. “It’s not something I had to do, but it’s something I enjoyed doing and that’s why I’m here,” he says. “And I guess I still enjoy doing it, so I’m still carrying it on.” And while Alan and his business partner (a long-time employee who bought the Bon Ton with Alan when his father stepped down) both have their own children, he says they want to pursue other interests. “There’s no one behind us coming up to take over, which is sad,” he says. But for now, it’s still his bakery anyhow, and still his hands (along with those of his loyal staff) mixing doughs and icing cakes, the same way it has been done for decades—and hopefully, the same way it will be done for many more to come.
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