Do you remember the old-style chocolate store?
They’re hard to come by these days, the traditional sweet shops were a feast for the eyes. Rows and rows of handmade chocolates would sit lined up in a beautiful glass display cabinet, waiting to be picked. It was an experience of all of the senses - the smell of rich chocolate, the intricate designs, the flourish of ribbon and packaging that you would then take home in excitement.
BjornBar Bakery in downtown Vancouver is the modern day chocolate store. With rows and rows of square dessert ‘bars’, it looks and smells unbelievable. For founder Tamera Clark, this was the goal: to give her local customers the experience of old-world sweets shopping.
A tribute to her brother, Gavin ‘Bjorn’ Clark, Tamera Clark founded the dessert bar and bistro in 2015 to thank for the support and kindness he’s always shown his little sister. Gavin must have quite the sweet tooth, because BjornBar is a dessert lover’s dream. There’s 35 new dessert bar flavours every day, with old favourites like crème brulee and cheesecake paired with new flavours like chilli-chocolate or banana cream pie.
Each ‘bar’ is the exact same size and shape. Pick and choose as many or as few as you like, and have them wrapped up in a gorgeous take-home box.
“We created all the bars to be the same size,” says Tamera. “We wanted to do that because we have these beautiful boxes (for the dozen or half dozen) that are long and quite dramatic looking in a dark burgundy. They look really great packaged up.”
The inspiration did in fact come from an old fashioned chocolate shop, says Tamera. Growing up in Vancouver, she was always impressed with the upmarket Purdy’s Chocolate Shop. They had meter-long chocolate boxes, a childhood fascination she incorporated into the BjornBar Bakery.
“I wanted to create somewhere that celebrated my roots and surrounded myself with reminders of where I’ve come from,” says Tamera. “There’s photos of my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother all on the walls.”
Tamera’s love for her family only grew stronger after twelve years travelling the world. From England to Australia and back again, she worked in hospitality roles, from bar work to waitressing. In fact, it wasn’t until she was working in Adelaide, Australia, that she had her first taste of cooking.
“In order to work for this particular catering company, you had to work in the kitchen during the day, and then you were able to work events in the evening,” explains Tamera. “Prior to that I had only ever worked as a bartender or front of house - so this was my first experience working with food.”
Needless to say, she was hooked. By the time she had moved onto her next destination, Wales, she was needling her bosses to let her work in the kitchen full time. It was here that two professional chefs took her under their wing and taught her the tricks of the trade.
“I worked in the kitchen with them for three years, and they taught me everything I needed to know,” says Tamera. “Following that, I went back to school in 2010 and studied a Baking and Pastry Arts degree at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.”
By now, Tamera was well and truly settled on a career in baking. With her travels now done, she settled in Montreal and opened up a boutique pie store called ‘Rustique Pie Kitchen’. Ever the sweet tooth, Tamera brushed off the traditional savoury pies in favour of sugary delights, such as key lime pie or lemon meringue.
Loved it as she did, something was missing: her sense of home. With all of her family and friends back home in Vancouver, Tamera made the decision once and for all to return to her hometown, and stay.
“I wanted to create a venue that could bring my family together,” says Tamera. “Somewhere they could come in, have a coffee, catch up, and eat something delicious.”
With her doting brother in mind, Tamera created BjornBar Bakery. Part sweets counter, part cafe, she expanded her concept to include sandwiches, soups, and even drinks. Now a fully functioning bistro, BjornBar Bakery has become a hive of activity not only for her family but for the locals who were drawn in by the scent of home cooking.
‘Elevated nostalgic baking’ is how Tamera describes her cuisine, with a commitment to the pillars of great home cooking: fresh ingredients, traditional flavours, and everything made from scratch. While this may seem like second nature to Tamera now, her family are quick to remind her that this wasn’t always the case.
“I was never interested in baking when I was younger!” laughs Tamera. “I was surrounded by amazing bakers - my mum and grandmother were always making incredible desserts.”
With crème caramel and chocolate soufflé considered standard mid-week fare in the Clark household, it’s little surprise that Tamera gravitated towards sweets and desserts. “I grew up around this type of food all the time as a kid,” says Tamera, “I didn’t know it wasn’t normal not to grow up with it!”
Passing on these family recipes to her customers has been all about simplifying and streamlining, so they don’t become overwhelmed with the thirty five (!) options on offer each day.
“I really feel from experience that we shop with our eyes first,” says Tamera. “If something looks beautiful and appealing, we want it. If you make everything easy to look at and streamlined with the same size but different flavours, it’s easier to choose.”
The concept was to replicate old-style chocolate stores, where you can select a variety of flavours to be bundled up and taken home. The element of surprise was important to her customer experience, so Tamera spends plenty of time choosing innovative and delicious new flavour combinations.
With such a large turnover of food each day, the design of BjornBar Bakery needed to be able to accommodate specific needs. Given that the site was an ‘empty shell’ when she first arrived, Tamera had her work cut out for her.
“I went to Silver Chef for just about everything,” she says. “I needed an oven, a mixer, the display fridges, everything...it ended up being around $30,000 worth of equipment.”
Originally put onto Silver Chef through her kitchen supplier, Tamera was impressed with how simple and easy it was. Before long, they had transformed the warehouse-style space into a homely yet modern destination. With subway tiling, wooden flooring, and a leafy outdoor area; BjornBar Bakery is all about feeling at home, with home style cooking.
Looking ahead, Tamera has big plans. She’s looking to open another two or three locations in Vancouver, and hopes to start catering for the sweet tooths out there with slightly more complicated dietary requirements.
“You have to listen to your customers,” says Tamera. “If they’re asking for something, I’ll adjust my product. Whether its gluten free or vegan, I won’t rule anything out!”
But for now, it’s all about dreaming up her next delicious dessert flavour, and enjoying an early morning coffee with Mr BjornBar himself - who is surely very chuffed to be the namesake of his very own sweet tooth paradise.