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When Jos. Louis pastries almost became American

Vachon, the maker of Passion Flakie and May West pastries, was in danger of being swallowed up by foreign ownership 20 years ago.

Quebec cheese giant Saputo stepped in to buy Vachon company in 1999

Jos Louis and Passion Flake will stay safe in the province they call home after a Quebec company staved off an American ownership bid. 2:31

Not many snacks have their own museum.

But Vachon was a company so venerated in Quebec that the home of the company's founders in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Que., had become a place of pilgrimage.

'Legend of Quebec baking'

"Some legends of Quebec baking have been saved from the threat of U.S. ownership," said Peter Mansbridge of CBC's The National, introducing the story on Aug. 4, 1999.  

A United States-based company had been looking to take over the maker of snack pastry brands like the venerable Jos. Louis, which was created in 1932 and named for two sons of the Vachon family.

The home of Vachon founder Rose-Anna Giroux is a museum featuring the original wood stove where she baked the treats that made the company a Quebec institution. (The National/CBC Archives)

But instead, reported the CBC's Tom Kennedy, the Vachon company was bought up for $283 million by the Saputo company, a cheese maker.

"We said, 'hey, maybe we should look at it,'" said the Saputo Group's Camillo Lisio at a press conference. "And the more we looked at it, the more we liked it. The more we liked it — we bought it."

A spokesperson for an agency of the Quebec government, the Societe Generale de Financement, called it "a good business decision."

Could cheese and pastry work together?

Union head Yves Marcoux said he thought Vachon would grow under American ownership, but wasn't sure what impact a Quebec owner would have. (The National/CBC Archives)

But the head of the union representing Vachon workers was more uncertain.

"With the American offer, we thought the company would grow," said Yves Marcoux in translation from French. "We'll have to wait to see what happens with the new Quebec owner."

According to the Globe and Mail, the American company was Interstate Bakeries, which also owned brands like Hostess Twinkies and Wonder bread.

And a Vachon fan who had travelled three hours to visit was pleased with the news Vachon would remain a Quebec company.

"It all began here. Something built by two Quebecers," said a woman outside the museum, also in translation. "That's why it's so interesting, and so important." 

Flooding in the Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce region in the spring of 2019 affected the Vachon factory, halting production temporarily and making Jos. Louis cakes harder to find in grocery stores