Indigenous-owned bakery prepares for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is one of the busiest times of the year for Port Dover's Urban Parisian bakery, co-owned by Seneca pastry chef Brad Lewis.

Port Dover's Urban Parisian features classic French goodies from a Seneca pastry chef

Brad Lewis, pastry chef and co-owner Urban Parisian (Candace Maracle/CBC )

The chocolate has been tempered for milk, dark and white truffles, extra strawberries have been ordered for dipping and praline roses have been shipped from France for a special brioche the bakery prepares only once a year.

The days leading up to Valentine's Day are expected to be busy at Urban Parisian in Port Dover, Ont., roughly 86 kilometres southeast of London.

Pastry chef and co-owner Brad Lewis expects to sell out of everything.

"It's our second Valentine's here at the Urban, so we're ready this year. Our very first one here we didn't have a lot of warm up time," said Lewis.

Lewis co-owns Urban Parisian with his wife Melanie Atkins and Thursday marked their second year in the new shop.

Lewis, who is Seneca, Turtle Clan from Six Nations, always wanted to be a chef. He took culinary classes offered at his high school.

"I always loved helping my mom in the kitchen, baking stuff. She was an awesome cook," said Lewis.

His mom married a non-Indigenous man, so they lived off-reserve. He grew up on the town limits between Six Nations and Hagersville, Ont..

After Lewis apprenticed at Ancaster Mill, a former flour mill turned high-end restaurant and event venue near Hamilton, for nearly a year, he was encouraged by his chef to attend culinary school. 

Lewis attended a culinary institute in Ottawa for two years before starting work as a pastry chef in Norfolk County. He and Atkins "took the plunge" and opened the business roughly 13 years ago.

Pink vanilla macarons are one of the special items the bakery makes for Valentine's Day. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

"[We] try to do as much French baking as we can. But we also have like, the cheesecakes and the things that everyone knows," he said.

Valentine's Day means items like chocolate-dipped strawberries, pink vanilla macarons, homemade chocolate truffles and chocolate molten lava hearts are in high demand.

Lewis said he and his staff dip 20 to 30 dozen strawberries and prepare dozens of other confections in time for Valentine's Day.

New building, new challenges

Before the pandemic, the couple sold their home and purchased a new building for the shop.

Though they were initially apprehensive about moving out of Port Dover's downtown core and into a less busy location, the bakery thrived thanks to its loyal patrons, Lewis said.

Then COVID-19 hit and public health regulations meant adjusting to takeout and seating reductions — a significant blow to their revenue. The pandemic created other challenges, too.

"All these home bakers started popping up because COVID — everyone was baking bread. So I'd run out of flour," Lewis said.

Chocolate lava hearts are another Valentine's Day specialty. (Candace Maracle/CBC)

Lewis said local support helped get them through. A local organization created packages featuring locally sourced baked goods, cheeses, wines and ciders along with homemade pottery or soaps, which were delivered to people's doors with zero contact.

"It was non-profit, they did it from the goodness of their hearts," said Lewis, of the people who co-ordinated the packages.

"This this town's pretty awesome. It seems like everyone is family. No matter who you are, what walk of life you come from, this little town welcomes everybody."

When the couple purchased the building it needed a lot of work. Renovations are still underway, which will see additional indoor seating and a patio space added.

The regular customers are already anticipating the revamp — Port Dover resident Nick Childs' running group meets at Urban Parisian on weekends and returns there after their run.

"We're all excited about being able to you know, get back … and actually be able to sit down."

The project's completion is set for spring.


Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.