By Joanne Sasvari
Think of it as a fragrant invitation.
When Paul Hanley opens the oven door, the mouthwatering aroma of fresh-baked bread wafts through his South Surrey neighbourhood. Within minutes, locals are lining up for his baguettes and scones, quiches and artisanal country breads.
And not just locals – increasingly, Fieldstone Artisan Breads is drawing customers from all over the Lower Mainland.
“It’s worth the trek,” says Hanley, who co-owns the shop with his wife Nicola Erasmus.
“It’s designed as a destination and not just a location. It’s beautiful to look at and it’s beautiful inside and there’s French music playing. And I can honestly say I use the most local ingredients – I actually have a farm that grows stuff for us.”
Fieldstone was a second act career for Hanley. But he also provided Fieldstone with its own successful second act.
It opened in 1998, one of the trio of bakeries – along with Terra Breads and Ecco Il Pane – to introduce artisan breads to Greater Vancouver. “We started the whole artisan bread movement,” Hanley says.
Back then, though, he wasn’t a baker. Originally from Langley, and the son of a local restaurateur, he was a food and beverage manager at a resort in Japan, which is where he met his wife. But he was becoming more and more unhappy at work. Then he befriended a pastry chef and realized what he was actually meant to do.
The couple returned to Vancouver, and he enrolled at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, graduating in 2000 and apprenticing at Patisserie Bordeaux. Then Fieldstone came calling, looking for a head baker.
It was an exciting challenge because, Hanley says with a laugh, “I was really lousy at bread.” Not for long, though. In 2005, he bought the bakery and says, “We took it to a completely different level.”
Back then, Fieldstone was producing a limited number of baked goods. Today, it produces 350 different items throughout the year and everything, from the croissants to the naturally fermented breads, is made from scratch.
“Every time you come in, there’s something new and something different and the customers just love it,” Hanley says.
The bakery, which has a staff of 20, no longer sells wholesale, except to a handful of friends within the community, but rakes in nearly $1.5 million in retail sales a year.
“I think we’re the busiest retail bakery in Greater Vancouver,” Hanley says. “At Christmas, we have hour-and-a-half lineups just to get to the till.”
In large part, that’s because of the exceptional ingredients he uses: organic flour, natural starters and as much fresh, local produce as possible, including Canadian butter, whenever it’s available. In fact, he uses a whopping $97,000 worth of butter a year.
What he doesn’t use? Treated or bleached flours, emulsifiers, dough improvers, hydrogenated fats, genetically modified ingredients, prepared doughs, mixes, preservatives and artificial flavouring or colouring.
“It all goes back to how we made bread 300 years ago. It’s simple,” he says, pointing out that the flour he uses is low in gluten and the slow overnight rise eats up the proteins that can cause digestive issues. “If you’re sensitive, you can eat our bread. I don’t want to make fluffy bread. It’s not supposed to be like that.”
He also works closely with nearby Hazelmere Organic Farm; indeed, he often helps out on the farm, and brings back farm-fresh goodies for his efforts. “Our customers don’t only get fresh baked goods, but I’ll bring in fresh blueberries and asparagus,” he says. “We use the best quality and it shows.”
People are always asking him if he’d ever expand or open a new location. The answer, at least for now, is no.
“I am happy with the way things are. It’s a pretty nice place to work because the customers are so nice,” he says, adding, “I have seven-year-old twins who are at the bakery all the time and I just don’t want to work that hard. And the products wouldn’t be the same.”
So if you don’t live in South Surrey and you have a craving for dense, chewy 13-grain miller’s bread or the famous raspberry and white chocolate scones, you’ll just have hit the highway to Fieldstone Artisan Breads.
We hear it’s worth the trek.
Fieldstone Artisan Breads is located at 12823 Crescent Rd. in South Surrey, 604-531-7880. For info, visit their website.