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July 10, 2012
Bigsby the Bakehouse

In the photo: Standing behind their product, Earl Morris and his wife Erika Kato.

Bigsby the Bakehouse may be only a month-old fixture in Vancouver's Mackenzie Heights neighbourhood, but proprietors Earl and Ellen Morris (a brother and sister team) have been on the local food scene since ... well, forever.

The Morris family operated the iconic Red Onion restaurant in Kerrisdale for 26 years before they decided it was time to change direction, sell the Onion, and start cooking the kind of food that they themselves preferred to eat: organic, health conscious fare served up in a casual, community-welcoming environment. After taking a year off to clear their heads, they settled on a space in a sleepy corner of MacKenzie and 33rd, brightened it up with a few colourful quirky touches, and then lured in the neighbourhood with a simple but effective bait - ridiculously good bread.

You can get other good things at the Bakehouse, such as cinnamon buns, lattice-topped fruit pies, cookies ... even homemade pop tarts, but it's their signature Country Style bread, baked in a steam-injected oven and piled up along the counter in wicker baskets, that has customers hooked. The plump, rustic loaves made with unbleached white flour (with a small percentage of whole wheat), filtered water, sea salt and ambient yeast, are appropriately soft and spongy inside but have a sharp ridged crust you can knock on -- technically they're a sourdough, minus the sourdough tang. Other loaves are variations on the theme, rye with caraway seeds, honey walnut or olive/cheese fougasse -- all of them perfect for sandwiches, which the cafe portion of the bakery is happy to make up fresh to order.

At present, the cafe serves lunch only, however the Morrises hope to commence family style dinners further down the road.

"We'd also like to make the place available for budding chefs and avid amateur cooks to try out their cooking chops in a 'pop up restaurant' situation," says Earl Morris. "They would cook for our customers, while we do the serving".

This is an idea that two of Ellen Morris' three children could be test driving this summer - and much to the benefit of the city's dining community. While youngest daughter Jules is still in school and helping out in the family business, her elder siblings Jake and Noe Bagshaw are currently employed at Montreal's white hot Joe Beef restaurant, working under owners Fred Morin and Dave McMillan. The Quebec restaurateurs have become so much a part of the Morrises' extended family they're even responsible for the Bakehouse's moniker. As the story goes: unable to recall Jake Bagshaw's surname, they gave him the easier to remember nickname of "Bigsby", and the name has stuck.

Apparently young "Bigsby" is eager to host a few Joe Beef-inspired dinners at the Bakehouse this August when the Montreal restaurant closes for its annual summer vacation. And if things are really clicking along, his uncle Earl may have realized plans to turn a narrow alley off the back door into an intimate, lantern-strewn alfresco dining spot behind the shop. (For now if you'd prefer to eat outside, there's a tiny table on the sidewalk out front that was once an antique ironing board.)

"Things will take shape depending on how the community responds to our ideas," says Ellen Morris. "We want this place to be a gathering place where the neighbourhood can meet, relax and just hang out."

Breaking bread and putting the emphasis on face time over FaceBook may seems like an old-fashioned ideal, yet it's probably just the balm for our technically driven yet socially alienated lives.

"A Twitter account?", says Earl. "We'll get around to having one ... at some point. Right now we'd prefer to actually get to know our customers."

Bigsby the Bakehouse
4894 MacKenzie St.
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