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An Interview with Zoë Jordan of Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe

An Interview with Zoë Jordan of Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe

Zoë Jordan, of Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe, is a fixture in Ucluelet. The 37-year-old was born and raised in New Denver in B.C.’s West Kootenays, where she spent her childhood learning to forage for wild ingredients—a reluctant but early introduction that sowed the seeds of her career as a baker.

What prompted you to start the bakery?

Being able to create a job where I was happy with what I was doing. I had a really hard time with restaurants—just the lifestyle and also the waste that’s involved. I wanted to be able to create a job where I could do things my own way, plus it made me realize how much of a market there was for savoury food and lunch in town.

How did you come across the space?

It was an old bar in town from the ‘50s. There was still red shag carpet table covers inside, it was painted dark purple, it didn’t have windows and it smelled like stale Lucky Lager. It was a dank hole, but the realtor really sold me on it. It’s come a long way. We built it on a budget; my brothers made the signs, my dad built the cabinets, everything here was either donated or built by a friend or family member.

What was it like growing up in New Denver?

New Denver is a very small town of about 500 people on beautiful Slocan Lake in the Kootenays—it’s amazing. We spent a lot of time outside, doing the same kind of things I do now.

Tell us about your childhood.

We grew up foraging. Well, we didn’t call it foraging, though. I feel like a hoser calling it that. At a young age, I was picking pine mushrooms and huckleberries, and doing all these things that I hated at the time. I just wanted to open a jar of Skippy peanut butter instead. But I’ve definitely reverted back to my upbringing in a lot of ways; we had chickens growing up, I have chickens now.

It was an old bar in town from the ‘50s. There was still red shag carpet table covers inside, it was painted dark purple, it didn’t have windows and it smelled like stale Lucky Lager. It was a dank hole, but the realtor really sold me on it.

What drew you to Ucluelet?

I did my baking apprenticeship at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino and lived there throughout my twenties. Then, after five years of working on Langara Island in Haida Gwaii during the summers and at a heli-skiing lodge in the winters, I felt ready to settle down.

What’s the biggest challenge in running your own bakery?

Housing for our staff. We have always had amazing staff, but we struggle to find them long-term housing—a place to live that won’t turn into an Airbnb. The cost of living out here is so high and so many people are trying to make do with living in vehicles or other alternatives. Having a livable wage is hard—even at $20 an hour, it’s still a challenge for people to live and save money. I think that’s across the board for everybody [in Tofino and Ucluelet].

Do you apply your upbringing to how you run the bakery?

Absolutely. We try and make things out of local ingredients as much as possible. It’s trendy these days, but it’s something I’ve done my whole life. I’m not trying to exploit it; it’s just my lifestyle. I support buying local food as much as I can. People come to our back door with chanterelles, huckleberries, blackberries and more, and we buy them as ingredients for the bakery. We’re probably one of the TUCG’s (Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild) biggest clients in Ucluelet.

Where do you find inspiration for new things you make?

Inspiration usually finds me more than I find it; anything from patterns in fabrics and graphic design to textures in their natural element, such as rocks, moss or ferns. I usually come across inspiration on my daily dog walks and from spending time in nature.

How do you connect with other business owners in town?

Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do this without the other businesses in town. We end up relying on them for so many things, whether that’s borrowing coffee filters or signing orders for each other. We’re always helping each other out—it really does take a village. And overall, more businesses are just going to bring more people to the area, which is good for everyone.

And what about other cafes around town?

They’re great! It’s hard for me to see locals who poke their head in the door when it’s busy and they’re confronted with a long line—they have their mug in hand and they’re just trying to get their morning coffee. More options mean fewer lines for everyone. It’s even nice for me. It’s rare I have the time to go for coffee, but when I do, it’s nice to go somewhere else once in a while. 

A few things Zoë is loving

A meal you’ve recently discovered in Tofino or Ukee:

Yayu! I’m in love with Sharon’s food, especially her rose quartz latte. It’s so refreshing to have somewhere new to eat in town. 

Island spot outside of Tofino or Ukee:

I love beachcombing, so take me to any uninhabited beach and I’m in my happy place. I have jars and jars and jars of beach glass. Mostly from old Japanese glass fishing floats. I’ve found four intact floats in my time; they are the crème de la crème of beach treasures. I’ve found most of them in Haida Gwaii, and one big daddy right here in Ukee.

Someone you’re inspired by locally: 

Wow, there are so many amazing people out here on the West Coast, I could go on and on. I’m currently doing some knee-hab (knee rehab) with personal trainer Kat Rosene. She runs a handful of her own businesses and is always doing something rad in the community. I’m obsessed with the Torpedo Kids; Kat and her husband run this surf camp that provides an amazing experience for these West Coast kids. The tadpoles, aged five and under, are on boogie boards, while the older torpedo kids are learning to surf. They learn so much at such a young age. It’s just so nice to see so many positive things coming out of such a small community. 

A ritual:

So cliché, but coffee is my ritual. I get excited to go to bed at the thought of my morning brew. I typically like to drink my first cup in silence curled up with my dog, Denver, on the couch. It’s the only coffee I ever get to drink warm start to finish. I’m known at work for drinking a quarter hot, a quarter cold, and the rest sits there looking sad until I make another one. I usually bike with Denver in the mornings for a convenient and quick way to burn off some of his energy before I head into work. We often bike down to the bakery for round two, or make an Aeropress and take it to the skate park, where I inevitably end up drinking it cold. 

Favourite way to spend your downtime:

Hanging with my Ukee fam-jam, which usually consists of beach-fires, potlucks, silliness and our pack of dogs. You know it’s a good week when your bed and scalp are full of sand. No need for exfoliating around here. Gardening is also one of my favourite pastimes. I love being in my garden after a long day at the bakery. I’m growing lots of edible flowers; they can add so much visually to a dish. Sometimes I’ll just hang out with my animals. I find it super entertaining to watch my dog herding the chickens and my cat hunting cabbage moths. We call my yard “the compound,” and I will self-sentence myself to it for a few days a week to decompress. It’s fairly new to me and something I must have inherited from my parents. They are both phenomenal gardeners. Hopefully, one day I can green thumb as well as they can. I’ve also just taken up skateboarding and it might be my new favourite sport. It’s quick and dirty and the wave is always consistent. 

Check out some pastry eye-candy online, and follow Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe on Instagram.

Zoë’s Bakery and Cafe
250 Main St, Ucluelet

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