They had me at the cookies. It was this past spring when I discovered them, as coworkers and I were wandering through the booths at the Fort McMurray Tourism Spring Show and Market. This show attracts vendors from across the province, and when I saw their little booth, loaded with baked goods and granola cereal, I figured it was just another one of those places you see twice a year, bringing their goods to town. I had a bag of cookies in my hand, chocolate chip oatmeal ones, when they revealed they are not from out of town. They are from here in Fort McMurray, and "they" are Bearstone Bakehouse.
I grew up, you see, in a house with a stay at home mom who baked all her own bread and buns, pies and cookies. Store bought baked goods just didn't cut it in my house, and so my mom, who grew up during the depression and had learned a thing or two about baking and cooking in those years, would bake every week. And as I grew older and my friends learned when baking day was it was pretty much guaranteed that every week on that day they would suggest we go study at my house after school, anxious to get their hands on fresh cinnamon buns and cookies. I suppose I am a baking aficionado, and I know good baking when I find it - and I found it with Bearstone.
I took that bag of cookies home, and I showed it to the Intrepid Junior Blogger. Now, she is fairly picky, and often things I love she will disdain, turning up her nose and proclaiming it not to her liking. I left the cookie bag on the counter, told her to help herself - and a couple of hours later went looking for the bag, which had disappeared. I finally tracked it down in the family room, now an empty plastic bag holding nothing but a few crumbs. And the IJB? With a smile she proclaimed them perhaps the best cookies ever, or certainly in recent memory. It was a good thing I had snuck one of the cookies for myself earlier, because I was able to agree with her (although I was chagrined I had missed out by not hiding several cookies for myself).
Then, just a couple of weeks ago at the inaugural City Centre Urban Market, I found them again - the bakery. This time I snatched up a loaf of strawberry crumble, from which I cut thin slices to share with my coworkers (who all announced it marvelous). And once again I took it home and to the IJB, this time fairly certain it would not pass muster as she tends to be quite disinterested in loaves like this. I gave her a tiny taste, a corner of the remaining piece in the bag - and she promptly snatched it out of my hands and disappeared downstairs, where once again I would later find an empty plastic bag.
Since then I have talked to others who have purchased baked goods from Bearstone Bakehouse, and the comments are always the same. The baking is high quality, of the home made kind you rarely see any more and that is often absurdly priced in specialty stores, but that somehow the people behind Bearstone have made affordable. And it is delicious, enough so that the contents of bags disappear rapidly.
Bearstone is now adding to their repertoire by opening a mobile coffee bar, an enterprise that will see them bringing the coffee shop experience of barista-pulled lattes and espressos plus their delectable baking to special events. And some day, hopefully in the near future as the city centre redevelopment ramps up, they hope to open a store front bakery where they can showcase their baked goods, and no doubt create a true coffee house experience of the kind our little city is desperately lacking (and while I love our local chain coffee shops how I hunger for options of this kind).
The two women behind Bearstone Bakehouse are, in my mind, not only geniuses but true artisans. They are practicing an art that has enchanted people for thousands of years, and one I know well from a childhood spent in a kitchen where I watched my mother, with flour on her hands, take simple ingredients and perform a kind of alchemy, turning them into edible gold. That their business will be a success is indisputable, as they have everything in place - passion, business sense, common sense, proper licensing and best practices - they need to succeed. That they will add to this community through this burgeoning enterprise is guaranteed, as they are bringing something here that we desperately need and want. And they bring too their vision and drive, taking a simple idea of a business to make baked goods and turning it into a mobile coffee bar, and eventually a storefront, growing their business in a sustainable way.
Now, where can you find them? I have a secret - they will be at the Fall Show and Market this weekend at MacDonald Island Park. When I began planning a party recently I contacted them and asked if they could provide the baked goods for the party, so I could share with my friends what I had discovered. And you see while my mother is gone and I will never again be able to eat cinnamon buns fresh from the oven while watching her knead bread I can share with my friends one of the things she shared with me as a child - a love of baked goods, created by someone who knows how to make them, and who bakes them with love.