In this week’s edition of Canada’s Tastemakers, FBC’s Ethan Adeland spoke to Isabelle Hemond, Director of Food at Starbucks Coffee Canada about the launch of the La Boulange pastries and the ever-evolving coffee and food scene in Canada.
On a rainy Vancouver afternoon in February, the Starbucks on Hebb Avenue had a distinctly French flavour to it. Today was the day La Boulange pastries were being introduced to the media prior to their grand unveiling in Ontario and British Columbia in March, 2015. I had the chance to sample the goodies and also sit down with Isabelle Hemond who is the Director of Food for Starbucks Canada. Between bites, we chatted about Isabelle's background, creating a brand new food program for over 1,300 Starbucks locations and other tidbits.
Anyone who is this involved with food on a daily basis better
like love food. So when I asked Isabelle about her work background prior to Starbucks, I wasn't surprised to learn it had to do with her chosen profession, "I've been eating for over 40 years, so I've always loved food!" Growing up in Quebec, her best friend's parents owned a crêperie and Isabelle was always hard at work making crêpes during the summer. She also worked as an assistant manager at the store so she saw the front and back of house operations and was hooked. It was from an early age that Isabelle fell in love with food and "saw its ability to connect people."
On this particular day, Chef Pascal Rigo was also on-hand serving up his pastries and chatting with anyone who wanted to talk La Boulange. It was very obvious that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Isabelle noted that "Chef Pascal loves Canada!" She explained that it's been a great partnership since 2012 when Rigo's La Boulange and Starbucks partnered together. She went on to remark that "we've had tremendous success with our La Boulange line in the U.S. and now it's time for Canada."
What I found interesting was learning that Starbucks has found through their research that Canadians consume and enjoy cookies, bars and muffins more so than Americans. So with that discovery, it was important for Starbucks to create a menu that was unique to the Canadian market. Once the items were identified, it was up to Chef Pascal and Starbucks to exhaust every option out there to source the very best ingredients and perfect it in such a way to make it available for 1,300 stores. Isabelle went on to explain that, "Starbucks has always had the highest of standards for our coffee and now with Chef Pascal, our food program is at that same level."
After sampling everything, I was most impressed with the butter croissant and the almond danish. I could taste all the butter goodness and the croissant had just the right amount of flakiness. As for the almond danish, the almond paste tasted just like I'd find in a classic French pastry shop in Montreal, Paris or at La Boulange in San Francisco. So, with my favourites in mind, I was curious as to what Isabelle was most excited about with the new menu.
It was a tough question, as it was like asking which child is your favourite! But she was also certainly excited for the butter and chocolate croissants. Also, after what I can imagine was thousands of requests, Starbucks now offers gluten-free options. The Marshmallow Dream Bar and the Flourless Chocolate Cookie are packaged individually so anyone with a gluten allergy can enjoy them. My biggest takeaway from the gluten-free options was how tasty both were which again proves that gluten-free doesn't mean it shouldn't taste good!
Before wrapping up our chat to warm up with a Chai Latte, I had to ask about what is in the works for Starbucks in 2015 and beyond. It was great to hear that Starbucks has plans to hire 8,000 people in 2015. Also, Isabelle let it be known that there will be an exciting pilot program in the Fall. In some yet-to-be-determined locations, they will feature an evening food program complete with a tapas menu with local beers and wines! She explained that "it's been a great success in a few test markets in the U.S. already so we're excited to bring it to Canada!"
And with that, La Boulange pastries are now available in Canada! The menu will be available in Ontario and British Columbia beginning March 3, 2015. It will make its arrival in Quebec and Atlantic Canada at the end of March while hitting Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in June.