The lineups tell it all at Bonjour Brioche, the French bakery and brunch institution in Toronto's east end. Wafts of delicate sweetness permeate the sidewalk outside and transport passersby to Paris. Show up after 10 on the weekends and there's a crowd around the block willing to wait — even on a sub-zero winter morning — for a buttery pastry fix of flaky croissants, warm baguettes and quiche du jours. This is testament to the expertise, passion, detail and je ne sais quoi transpiring in the charming patisserie in which owners Henri and Lori Feasson have been wooing locals and visitors for 20 years.
We checked in with Lori about running Bonjour Brioche for the last two decades, the evolution of the neighbourhood and what goes on behind the scenes to make fresh pastries a reality for 8 a.m.
HOW DID BONJOUR BRIOCHE COME TO BE?
My husband Henri Feasson and I opened our little bakery 20 years ago in July — we both funnily enough don't remember the exact date, just that it was mid-July 1997 and it was hot as hell. Henri and I are very proud to live and work in the Riverside-Leslieville area. We opened our little mom-and-pop operation and within a week we were written up in the Globe and Mail with glowing reviews; one of them stating there was now a reason to go to the east side. Now we are just one of many shops and amazing restaurants in this wonderful 'hood we call home. What a pleasure it has been to see families grow up and what a pleasure it has been to be a part of this of this changing neighbourhood from the very start. Hopefully we will be baking for a few more years to come.
BONJOUR BRIOCHE IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST BRUNCH DRAWS IN TORONTO — HOW DID IT BECOME SUCH A SUCCESS?
I believe the success of the bakery is that after all these years we have always stayed so consistent with quality. We use the best produce, meat, eggs, butter — all our ingredients are top-notch to start the basis of our quiches, tarts, sandwiches and, of course, our breads and pastries.
HOW DO YOUR BLISSFUL PASTRIES ARRIVE FRESH EVERY MORNING?
The bakery business is difficult. Our bakers are there at 4 a.m. during the week and at midnight on weekends. The rest of the staff start at 6:30 to make quiches and basket all the pastries so we are ready to open at 8 a.m.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST POPULAR DISHES?
The most popular dishes are croque madam, rosti with smoked salmon and our French toast, which is made with all our pastries.
HOW HAS THE RESTAURANT CHANGED OVER TWO DECADES?
The restaurant has not really changed much over the years. I think that is why I still have customers that have been placing orders since Day 1. The menu has not changed much over the years either. We cook all our eggs on induction plates — our space is limited. We are proud to say that we make or bake everything in-house — always have, always will.
HOW HAS THE NEIGHBOURHOOD CHANGED?
The neighbourhood has changed dramatically. Everyone thought we were crazy to open up the on the east side. I overheard the contractor saying I give the place 6 months. There was almost non-existent foot traffic unless you were a prostitute or a drug dealer. I had a buzzer under the cash register so my husband could run up stairs if I was in any sort of danger.
There have been so many funny moments over the years. One year early on a old lady came into the bakery with a black garbage bag and asked me if I wanted to buy a live chicken. I politely declined. Years ago, there was a sting operation that went down right in the bakery unbeknownst to me. We would frequently have to call the police to let them know of the drugs and crimes in the area. I have so many stories that I tell my staff and they are in shock; keep in mind a lot of my staff were not even born when we opened. They only know the 'hood as it is today.