This holiday will be an auspicious one for Laura MacLeod. It will be mark her first-year anniversary as a graduate of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and her first yuletide as owner of The Old Apothecary Bakery & Cafe in Halifax.
By donalee Moulton
The mood and the food, she says, will be festive.
An inveterate traveller, MacLeod has celebrated Noël in New Zealand, Germany and the southern US. Those international culinary traditions will infuse her fresh-from-the-oven pastries and breads over the holidays. Expect stollen, a traditional fruit cake that originated in Dresden, for example, to grace display shelves and diners’ plates. Also expect the unexpected. “I want to incorporate the classic flavours of Christmas but in a way that fits our unique approach. We might, for instance, have eggnog éclairs,” says MacLeod.
There will be one other novel and aromatic addition to the breads and sweets. “We’re going to offer bags of roasted chestnuts to our customers,” says the 44-year-old restaurant owner. “It will be a way for them to remember the season and our café.”
A former interior designer, MacLeod has artwork, knickknacks, and other jolly pieces at hand to spruce up her two-storey pastry shop, built as a drugstore in 1910 in the heart of the capital city. “It’s about saying this is a special time of year,” says the pastry chef and owner. “It’s also the one time of year I let my inner tacky out.”
MacLeod opened The Old Apothecary Bakery & Cafe last spring after graduating from culinary school a year after her son completed the same program. Sourdough bread and baguettes are prepared daily along with additional loaves to tempt the taste buds. A weekly bread schedule, often including potato onion and focaccia, appears on the cafe’s website. Customers can also indulge daily in classic éclairs, lemon tarts and salted caramel brownies. Additional pastries are also served up throughout the week, including croissant bread pudding and rhubarb strawberry short cake.
“It depends on the season, my mood or what people are asking for,” laughs MacLeod. “I don’t necessarily like making the same things every day, but I keep the staples because they are in demand.” Whatever is on the menu, she adds, is made from scratch.
Customers can purchase their breads and pastries to go or meander upstairs and indulge in a leisurely cup of tea – served in Royal Doulton cup and saucers – in one of the comfy sofas or chairs in the 40-seat dining area. “We want our café to make people feel like they’re among friends,” says MacLeod. “What better way to enjoy good food.”
The Old Apothecary Bakery & Café’s Top Tips
- Plan ahead. Laura MacLeod, who converted an apothecary/clothing store/vacant storefront into a booming bakery and café, knows that working in a kitchen means long hours in a hot, crowded room. Make the work as comfortable and convenient as possible, she says.
- Don’t pinch pennies. New restaurant owners, in particular, need to watch their budget. But pinching pennies at the expense of quality or customer satisfaction is money ill spent.
- Make people feel at home. MacLeod adds homey touches, like real English china, and encourages diners to spend some time.