French Pastry Shop Finds a Home in Edmonton

Duchess Bakeshop

Co-owner Garner Beggs (far left) and staff at the Duchess Bakeshop.

Being too successful is a problem most business owners dream of having. But as Duchess Bake Shop co-owner Garner Beggs can attest to, sometimes having a lot of a good thing can be harder than it sounds.

Now, don’t get him wrong — since they opened their doors in October of 2009, Beggs and co-owners Giselle Courteau and Jake Pelletier have been thrilled to see their bakery become a virtual hot spot almost overnight.  At any given point in the day, the shop is teeming with customers, all eager to bite into a made-from-scratch cake or one of the shop’s famous macarons.

“The community around us just embraced us tremendously, instantly. And it’s just been holding onto a tiger by the tail ever since,” says Beggs.

That kind of growth in such a short amount of time has its consequences, and after experiencing a 100-per-cent growth rate the last few years, it’s understandable that things might feel a bit crazy at times.

“It’s funny because the little that I have ever read about small business … is all about how to deal with struggling businesses or how to make your business successful,” Beggs says, but he’s found that success has its own issues. “If you don’t have a growth plan there that can handle and cope with that, it’s so hard. Because all you’re doing is desperately [and] frantically trying to keep up and you can’t come up for air and look at the bigger picture and get all those little details right.

Those little details are important to Beggs, since they’re a large part of why he and Courteau decided to open a bakery in Edmonton in the first place. The idea came to them while they were living in Japan, which is where they experienced the delights of world-class French patisseries. They appreciated the quality of the food and the attention to customer service so much that they decided to try and recreate that atmosphere in a shop of their own when they got back to Canada — knowing full well they’d miss it if they didn’t.

So with a “spectacularly small amount” of money in hand, Beggs and Courteau began working on their own patisserie. Though they weren’t always sure if Edmonton would be the place they’d end up building it, Beggs realized that in a city often dominated by franchises, they could fill an underserviced niche.

“People are hungry for things that are unique, things that actually have a soul to them, like a heart and identity. People are excited about that,” he explains.

Edmonton’s reaction to the bakery was proof that they’d been waiting for just such an establishment. The bakery, which has a mix of French and other cultural baking, makes everything from scratch, and it hand pipes thousands of its famous macarons by hand weekly. They run out of food nearly every day, a fact that Beggs makes no excuses for.

It’s all in the interest of preserving the specialness of a place like Duchess Bake Shop. Beggs wants visiting the bakery to be an experience in itself, which he says won’t happen if its product is too readily available.

“When you blanket a city in carbon copies of yourself, you always lose that identity of place and setting. This is a Westmount and Oliver establishment [and] the people that supported us right away were from the community,” Beggs says. “I love that people from all over the province come here, and even in the country — people from Toronto come here because they’ve heard of us, which is amazing. But they wouldn’t do that, they wouldn’t have a reason to come to this community if I had a million locations.”

While he’s firm that he’ll never open another Duchess Bake Shop, Beggs still has “a million ideas of what other things Edmonton is missing,” including a Duchess Bake Shop cookbook and a downtown dessert bar he hopes to open in the near future. One can only hope he’ll find the time to fit it all in.