As we crossed the US-Canada border en route to Vancouver, British Columbia, the border security officer asked the purpose of our trip. “I’m a bakery magazine editor, and we are visiting Small Victory Bakery and Terra Breads in Vancouver,” I replied, imagining my response would require further explanation. “Those are great places for bread,” the security officer said with a smile. “Have a good trip.”
The beauty of the bread world is that it is, indeed, a global community of passionate enthusiasts. I’ve encountered this time and again during my decades of travels, so I should not have been surprised that these two bakeries on our bucket list would have achieved such notoriety.
Upon arrival at Small Victory, which is run by the Nathoo family who have been running wholesale bakeries for nearly 30 years, general manager Jordan Castillo explains that Small Victory is Qasim Nathoo’s first retail project. After he completed business school in 2013, Nathoo worked with his father and investors to create a unique retail concept that combined the beauty of bakery and coffee under one roof.
Small Victory opened in November 2014 and has grown steadily ever since.
“One of the exciting things about this place is we have greater freedom to do what we want and push ourselves to find what we can do to bring the customers even more excitement,” says Castillo, who previously managed retail shops in the coffee and music sectors. “We are definitely known for our croissants, and it never gets old to hear that we have among the best croissants in the city.”
Customers salivate at the sight of elegant glass cases filled with butter croissants, bacon cheese scones, beef turnovers, chicken rolls, and mushroom onion gruyere tarts. The croissants are double-baked, and they’ve been perfecting the croissant recipe for 30 years. “We just perfected a mini croissant tossed in cinnamon sugar,” Castillo says. “It’s almost like a churro.”
Bread offerings include classic French baguettes and country loaves made with white and whole wheat flour blends. They are working on porridge bread.
In pastries, Small Victory’s salted caramel cheesecake is a crowd favorite, as well as the tiramisu. Pastry chef Emiddio Isernia grew up in Italy and trained in classic French pastries. “We do a lot of classics with a twist. We want to offer something nostalgic that’s a bit more fancy.”
On the coffee side, the store design incorporates a dramatic cold brew tower, and baristas serve pour-over coffee in single glasses to the busy crowds throughout the day. Small Victory, of course, works with local coffee roasters. “Local is very important to us,” Castillo says. “We will do anything we can to help the community.”
In an online interview with thehappenstanceproject.com, Nathoo shares their central idea for the Small Victory experience: “The idea started with coming into a space and knowing that you’re in a bakery. It really was that bakery feeling that drove our entire vision. We wanted to harness a lot of education back and forth and that’s how the bar concept happened. We wanted baristas to be able to talk to the customers while they were doing a pour over or brewing tea. From a marketing or branding perspective, that allows the customer to have so much more of a relationship with the store.”
The latter part of our day in Vancouver took us to Granville Island Public Market, a popular tourist hangout in the city where thousands of visitors come every week to enjoy the best local foods around.
Terra Breads, the well-established bakery café with four locations including one at Granville Island, offers multiple varieties of focaccia (tomato and pesto, cheese and herb, potato and dill, salted caramel apple) here, as well as breads and sweets for all to enjoy.
This innovative retail/wholesale bakery started in 1993 as a small artisan bakery in Vancouver. Today, each and every loaf is scored by hand with its signature mark. In fact, the bakery can tell which baker scored each loaf, “as it’s a little like signing their work.”
Our experience in Vancouver comes to an end as night begins to fall, and we reflect on a day of wonderful flavors and experiences. My first trip here proves better than even expected. For certain, we will come back again.