Interview with Felix Yau of Fife Bakery

Felix opened his Fife Bakery almost 4 years ago in the Olympic Village neighborhood and it’s become one of the most popular bakeries in the area.

What is it that you have always loved about baking bread?

I think I just like the simplicity of it. I think the fact that it’s just flour and water and salt, then you can come up with something so delicious. I think that’s the part that intrigues me the most.

What was the first bread you came up with at Fife Bakery?

That would be the Country and it’s what we still make it today. Just kind of like our signature plain. It’s just some white flour, some whole grain flours and salt. And it’s just like a very mild, clean tasting sourdough bread.

Would you say for people that haven’t had your style of bread before, that would sort of be the best one to try?

Yeah, we always suggest if you’ve never had our bread before, just get the country it’s still our most popular. I think most of the bread we sell is actually the country, even though we have new ones but yeah, that’s definitely the one I would suggest trying If you’ve never tried our bread before, okay, good to know.

Do you feel your philosophy on baking bread is the same now as when you had started out years ago?

There is no difference. I mean, we’ve added some different varieties and stuff like that. But in terms of philosophy of our baking, not just the bread, but like everything else, it’s always just been, keeping it simple and just using great quality ingredients.

What were the differences of the type of challenges you had to overcome during the years before covid19 vs the ones you have faced between March and now?

I think the challenges of a business for us was pretty much the same as starting any business you know, it’s getting your name out there and getting people to know what kind of product you bake and, what kind of principles and why people should come to you.

The other challenge for us was that our bread is a little bit more kind of craft artisan, handmade. It was hard growing the business because it was just me baking all the bread that beginning and trying to train a baker and teach someone to bake the same style bread to the quality that I want. I think that’s the biggest struggle; versus now I think the biggest struggle is just a matter of how do you make it safe and convenient for people to come and get your product when, you know, during these times? At the beginning, it was a little more tricky, I think. Because everything was so foreign. But now after several months, I think it’s just become the new norm, we only have one person in the store at a time kind of thing.

I see you have a store online now where people can order. Do they just come by and pick it up at a certain time or do you guys deliver? How does that work?

Before COVID we’ve never had an online shop because we have always been kind of set up as like a come in grab and then leave kind of shop already because we you know, we just kind of do pastries and bread. One problem we face is that we don’t actually bake that much bread as a bread Baker, we don’t make that much bread just because we want to maintain the quality and just kind of maintain what we started the bakery for. We don’t make a lot just to kind of maintain integrity of the product. One problem we face is that, often we sell out and so people a lot of people reserve ahead of time in order to kind of get a loaf of bread. But with COVID people don’t want to come in beforehand to kind of reserve or because everybody wants to call, you know, not everybody gets through. So that’s why we set up the online shop. You just place an order online and then just schedule; whatever time in the future you want to come pick up and then we just come from the order and just prepay online, you come grab it and then you leave. It’s great.

What excites you when you read a menu at restaurants you dine at?

I think what excites me is just I think it’s the dishes are seasonal and simple. You know, it’s just how I see food and how you know, obviously that translated to the bakery as well. But you know, things are very simple just like when I go to see progression, like fish with something simple, maybe like a herb or like a vegetable. And then some very simple seasonings. I really enjoy dishes that just have simple ingredients.

What challenges you and your team running your bakery?

Trying to grow right now is probably the biggest challenge in terms of trying to bake more bread for the community. The demand for bread has gone up for the community in our area, especially during these times and I think the hardest part is just how do we make more bread without any more space kind of thing and I think that’s that’s the biggest challenge in terms of the team and how do we just formulas and our techniques and keep things in order to bake more bread.

Are your Summer bread sales as high as the Spring or do you feel people eat less carbs in the Summer?

Summer has always been slower for the bakery because, like you said, people just tend to like eating more refreshing things, like enjoying eating sushi. It’s always been like that. COVID was an interesting time because it was a very big unknown for us. And overnight, we lost all our restaurant business, right? And all that was kind of unknown. Then it just kind of skyrocketed. We just had a lineup down the block for bread. And that was a big challenge for us too, going from suddenly baking a certain amount of bread. And then, losing wholesale, we’re still baking, you know, twice the amount of bread than before. So suddenly, like, what did we do? It definitely was much busier at the beginning of COVID. Whereas now it’s kind of stabled out a little bit.

How have you pivoted since the start of covid?

I know you said your restaurant business dropped, but what did you have to do in your shop to kind of go forward and make changes. In terms of the shop, even though we lost our kind of wholesale business, because there was such a high demand for bread on the retail side. In terms of finances, it was fine, I think it was just the uncertainty. That was the thought is the hardest part because I always knew that it would skyrocket and then always come back down, you know, just like any other kind of, you know, sudden trend, right. It wasn’t really for as much of the financial side but like, what we what I started doing was just launching things that kind of helped build community. So we started just selling some groceries or flour, we’ll started you know, doing some meals and some soups that just come frozen where you can just reheat we kept the kind of cost on that relatively low for the community, just to kind of help out because there’s a lot of people you know, because everything shut down. You know, a lot of people aren’t used to cooking three meals, four meals a day, or, you know, every single day throughout the week. So what we wanted to do is offer something that kind of relieves that you know, where people don’t have to stress about that because it’s hard enough getting groceries and hard enough, you know, getting ingredients to cook for yourself. We just want offer like if you’re going to stand in line and wait for a shop that you can take home more things to provide for yourself. That’s where we kind of pivoted more so just to serve the community.

Are you still doing that?

We slimmed down the menu a little bit; when we first launched the kind of, you know, prep meals and the soup things. We had 7, 8, 9, 10 varieties here in there. But as the kind of settle, we just kind of kept it. Three, four kinds of more popular ones. Now that’s the way that’s probably the way to do it. Yeah, well, you bake bread, you bake buns and bread just splatter restaurants around the city.

Can you tell us some of the restaurants you’re currently supplying?

I think it’s really exciting working with other restaurants on the places because we’re really particular about our product. And we’re really particular about who worked with because I think because our product is more handmade and artists and sometimes it’s a little bit hard for some restaurants to to kind of jump on ship with our product because there’s that handmade inconsistency to it, which I totally under gain some some places just need that consistency to, you know, be successful. We usually work with a little bit smaller shops, a little bit more local shops, which is what makes it exciting. Our closest diner neighbor is Argo Cafe, they buy all their burger buns and sandwich buns from us. And we just walk across the street and I think that’s a really exciting one. We also supply Oddfish Restaurant in Kitsilano, Jaime is a really cool guy. And he really stands by the product and he loves just the simplicity of it.

You also have to find the right kind of partners too, right? You want people that are be around for a while. So that’s tricky.

I know you’re doing a lot of burger buns, What else are you supplying to Restaurants?

We don’t do anything else for wholesale. And I really love that because that’s what we started the bakery for. And it’s really great that the product that we set out to do, you know, there are people that are just like, I’m just going to buy that bread as that’s the product we want.

What breads are in your current lineup?

In terms of a bread shop, our variety is a little bit lower. That’s just the reality of it. And I stand by it, you know, like I said, I think I would rather focus on the quality of the bread. I think we’ve had the same for in the past three years. We opened up one and eventually expanded to four. So we do two plain, one sweet and one savory. Country would be one of the plain ones and then we do a porridge loaf. It’s called porch because we actually cooked porridge from cracked and rolled grains that change seasonally and monthly depending on what we have just kind of our mole whole grain option and then we have one with some dried fruits and some seeds in it. And then we have one with Kalamata olives and some olive oil and we do some like seasonal ones, like here and there depending on what kind of ingredients we have or like some new ideas we’ll play with. So like right now on Saturdays, we’re running a walnut lavender honey loaf. We just kind of play around a little bit on our on our fifth and six varietals. We really stand by these for right now.

I know you came up with pies recently because I saw on your Instagram you eating this apple pie which looked amazing. What drove the pie addition? And then are you making a bunch of different ones?

So actually this came about because of COVID. Because, you know, I was wanting to provide something sweet that people could take home and share with their family and in a bigger format. They didn’t always have to go out buy pastries, or look for small alternatives. We launched apple pie, simple apple pie as part of COVID, and we just, kept the cost really low. We used to do it seven days a week, but then, you know, we just kind of changed it to Friday and Saturday’s, now.

Fife Bakery is located at 64 E. 3rd Avenue in Vancouver and is open from Tuesday – Saturday 9am -5pm. You can follow them on Instagram @FifeBakery

By: Richard Wolak