Let them eat cake: Pam Fortier on merging 2 decadent bakeries

For decades, Pam Fortier has been Calgary’s queen of butter, sugar and vanilla, producing Pinterest-worthy cakes and pastries since long before the dawn of social media.

Making the move a week before Thanksgiving, what was I thinking?

As bakery business slowed down earlier this year, Pam Fortier called a friend to talk mergers. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

For decades, Pam Fortier has been Calgary's queen of butter, sugar and vanilla, producing Pinterest-worthy cakes and pastries since long before the dawn of social media.

Born the youngest of five in Big River, Sask., Fortier's grandmothers in Radville were famous for their baking.

"I think my mom was a bit tired by the time I came along," Fortier says.

"I hate to admit it, but I remember her buying Robin Hood pie crust mix. So maybe I absorbed some of it from my grandparents."

After landing in Calgary in 1979, Fortier studied culinary arts at SAIT, worked at restaurants around town and trained as a pastry chef in Vancouver before returning to Calgary and buying Decadent Desserts from sisters Bev and Jude Polsky back in 1997. It had many locations around town, settling most recently on 10th Avenue S.W.

But earlier this year when business got slow and her lease was running out, Fortier picked up the phone and called her friend and fellow baker Jennifer Norfolk, owner of Brûlée Patisserie.

Pam Fortier says her customers, including ones with high-end tastes, keep her in business. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Fortier knew Norfolk's business was also lagging and offered her a proposition: I'll buy you or you buy me.

After some deliberation, Norfolk chose the former, and on Oct. 1, she moved Decadent Desserts around the corner to the Brûlée space underneath the Cookbook Company Cooks on 11th Avenue, and Decadent Brûlée was born.

"I would have been fine either way," Fortier says, "but making the move a week before Thanksgiving, what was I thinking?"

Rolling pins get a lot of use at Decadent Brûlée. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

She's now in the midst of what she calls the 90-day march to Christmas. It's a baker's busiest season, especially one who specializes in cookies, squares and celebratory cakes.

She has kept many of her Decadent items on the menu, like her famous domed coconut cake — which resembles a snowball and is popular over the holidays — and her shortbread, but is still working to consolidate the two bakery's styles, keep favourites from both places in stock and ensure Brûlée customers continue to get what they want.

Pam Fortier is trying to find that sweet spot of offerings from both popular bakeries. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

"At Decadent we were more rustic and minimalist," Fortier explains, "and Brûlée cakes tend to be more lavishly decorated. It's a different aesthetic — I just need to find a middle ground. Now I have a whole new range of stuff to taste, I'm hooked on the nut slice."

As we chat, customers come in and order trays for holiday parties, or ask for their favourites without even perusing the display case.

Decadent Brûlée is a merger of Decadent Desserts and Brûlée Patisserie. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

They'll still make gruyere croissants, Norfolk's sticky cinnamon buns on Fridays and Saturdays, and the impeccably frosted cakes are still topped with fresh flowers.

"The Brûlée customers are quite particular, but so are the Decadent customers," she says, arranging a tray of chewy blondies studded with dried cranberries and raspberries, dense brownies, chocolate-dipped caramel-pecan shortbread (they're called Seymours, and they're amazing) and linzer stars (which she says are delicious with sauternes).

"But if we didn't have people who were that way — particular and passionate about food — I'd be out of business."

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.