If you ask Hank Teav about his pastries, be prepared for a passionate answer. For our purposes, we shall forgoe the discourse on the technicalities of baking such delicious pastries (too complicated for most of us) and opt instead for a lively discussion on how it all started and, most importantly, how good it all tastes.
Teav, who co-owns the bakery with his wife and star baker of the shop, Yukiko Sekiya, knows just how to describe the 30 varieties of pastries and desserts to make your mouth water. And certainly, the constant smell of warm chocolate that punctuates the air of the 1,440-square-foot store helps a great deal. There’s the mousses, the classic Viennoiseries and his wife’s special green tea cookies.
“The most popular items are for sure the cheesecake and the chocolate mousse. And people also love Yuki’s banana chocolate loaf.” says Teav.
Neighbourhood resident David Soriano, one of the dozen of customers who walked into Yuki’s during my visit, says he can’t even choose a favourite. “I like the raspberry-chocolate tart… the rumball….They’re all good!” says Soriano, who comes in as many as five times a week for treats. And, when his doctor put him on a sugar-free diet, he switched to Yuki’s sugar-free cookies. He was pleasantly surprised.
“The sugar-free cookies had pretty much the same flavour as all the other ones!” he tells me as two women ponder over which pastry to choose from the dizzying array.
Teav and Sekiya first met in a coffee shop in San Francisco, where Teav, a Cambodian, was working and Sekiya, a Japan native was studying at the California Culinary Academy. They fell in love and, with dreams of running a bakery, moved to Montreal. They bought what was then a small Van Horne Bagels franchise, in 2003.
Since last year, the couple has been operating under the Yuki’s Bakery name.
The store still sells bagels but they’ve revamped the menu adding breads baked fresh in the store, paninis and most of all delicious pastries.
Sekiya takes pride in bringing her Japanese culture to the plate with ecclectic specialties such as her Green Tea Mousse and Sesame Cookies.
Teav says that some customers come specifically for her Japanese specialties.
“Every Saturday we make a special Japanese pastry, with red bean paste and custard in a bun. The Japanese love it!” he tells me on behalf of his wife who is hard at work on a special order in the back kitchen.
With an average of 200 customers a day, Teav says that most of the day’s clients come in for lunchtime and typically order a pastry and a sandwich, which they serve on ten varieties of breads, including nine grains and rye, not to mention the dozens of different cold cuts, including seven types of salamis.
The place has become a permanent neighborhood hangout for some, ever since people discovered they picked up free wireless access on the store-front terrace.
“Sometimes [people] spend their whole lunch hour here,” says 12 year-old Marycel Cabrera, Hank’s niece and volunteer part-time helper.
“I think it’s because Hank is nice and he’s funny.”
She says that her favourite thing to eat during her frequent visits to the store is the Strawberry Shortcake and Poke, a brand of Japanese candy.
Teav attributes the success of his bakery to his commitment in the quality of his products.
“Instead of selling commercial bread, we try to make artisanal bread. It’s more healthy and it tastes better. We are very proud of our product so we are very focused on offering good quality.”
The bakery also prices its baked good competitively, ranging from $1.00 to $3.50.
Marycel chimes in with another reason customers come back: service.
“Even though people order at the last minute, we still make it!” she says.
The busy bakery operates seven days a week in its small location at the crossroad of Sherbrooke West and Marlowe St., just up from Vendome Metro.
Even though they employ six people, Teav says he works everyday, often until nine o’clock at night, to keep up with the growing amount of customers.
“For now,” Cabrera says. “When I turn 16 I’m gonna take over the place.”
“Yeah, she’s the boss,” Teav said with a wink.