It’s the stuff childhood memories are made of, looking inside Steveston Bakery’s glass display case and eagerly examining the selection of over sized cookies. The only hard part is deciding which to pick; will it be a Smartie, chocolate chip, or oatmeal raisin cookie?
Owner Hemant Rao and his wife Bimla Rao have been putting smiles on customer’s faces since 1989 when they opened the business. Hemant thanks his longtime friend Ray Martyniuk for giving him the idea to open a bakery in Steveston village.
The couple is originally from Fiji; they visit their homeland every three years. “I wish we could take a Christmas vacation but that is the busiest time at the bakery,” Hemant says.
Hemant started his career at Vancouver’s first Bread Garden location in Kitsilano. During his six years with the company he worked his way up to assume the position of head baker. He used to live in Richmond and enjoyed visiting Steveston on the weekends, so it made sense to locate his business here.
“I am an old school baker. I make everything from scratch.” Hemant Rao
The first shift begins at 3:00 a.m. Hemant arrives a little later and works alongside his baking team. In addition to working in the kitchen he also finds time to shop daily to ensure the freshest ingredients are on hand for soups, sandwiches and baked goods. He shops locally as much as possible and Richmond Country Farms is one of his favourite destinations for produce.
Some of Steveston Bakery’s treats include a long list of tasty pies with seasonal fruits that are labelled with their initials on top. A is for apple, B is for blueberry and in some cases you will find delicious combo pies such as an AB (apple blueberry). Using vegetable shortening rather than lard makes for a denser and more robust crust.
Hemant says, “We go through 100 pounds of apples a week. They are all hand peeled and we do not use any prepared fillings.”
Other popular fresh baked goods include bread, buns, croissants, cakes, cheesecakes, Danishes, flans, loaves, muffins, pastries and scones. The apple turnovers and all products containing apples are sure-fire hits.
“Tradition is important to me,” Hemant says. He refers to the old Woodward’s $1.49 day advertising campaign and says he decided to create a weekly special of his own.
Every Saturday you will find sourdough bread at the unbelievable price of .99¢ a loaf, which is the original price from 1989.
If cake is your weakness head to the display case to see what’s available or place a special order to suit the occasion. A few of the tantalizing options include Bailey’s Irish Cream, Black Forest, chocolate ganache, chocolate Grand Marnier, German chocolate, mango mousse and St. Honore cake. In addition, cheesecakes come in a variety of fruit loaded flavours and fruit flans are also on the menu.
There’s always a feeling of excitement when you special order a birthday cake and have it decorated for the birthday boy or girl. Hemant enjoys cake decorating and is known for his artistry.
Birthday cakes are one of the bakery’s top sellers and are popular with a number of local companies that order monthly to celebrate staff birthdays. As well, senior’s homes and churches place regular orders.
Open seven days a week, fresh baked goods are made daily, and any remaining day old items are sold at fifty per cent off.
A few years ago Hemant decided to introduce a breakfast and lunch menu. He says, “This has been really popular and good for business.” The reasonably priced breakfast menu features numerous choices such as bacon, ham and egg burrito, veggie and egg croissant, and bacon, scrambled eggs with toast or hash browns.
Lunch highlights include two homemade soups daily – one vegetarian and one with meat. Customers can count on seafood soup on Wednesdays and clam chowder every Saturday. Paninis, wraps, bagels and an assortment of sandwiches round out the menu.
The holiday season is synonymous with extra special baked goods that are eagerly anticipated as they are only seen once a year. You can expect to find shortbread cookies, mince pies and tarts, fruitcake and Yule logs.
Steveston Bakery’s clients are extremely loyal, some drop in seven days a week. Hemant says, “Some come in two or three times a day for breakfast, lunch and afternoon coffee.” He adds, “Some customers have come since the beginning. I know a lot of them by name.” His staff is known for their friendly natures. Hemant remarks, “We’ve got to be friendly, after all, this is Steveston!”
What does Hemant enjoy most about his business? He says, “It’s about people. Lots of locals have been coming here for years. I like hearing all the stories.”
12231 No. 1 Road
Richmond, BC V7E 1T6