The Design of an Uncommon Bakery
Nestled in the downtown core of Port Arthur in Thunder Bay, ON, Uncommon Baked Goods is like no other bakery. True to its name, the bakery is a far cry from what we think a place serving pastries should look like. The space has only two walls with one side being a giant window facing the street and the other an open counter. This puts the daily work environment into full display from prepping and proofing to baking and serving. And in the middle of it all stands Jacqueline Johns, a pastry chef with more than 12 years of experience.
“When I first sat in the space, I was very excited to be out in the open. Traditionally, working in fine dining kitchens, as a pastry chef, you are put into the back corner, in the basement, in the smallest space possible. You're lucky to even have a window to the outside, so this felt like a dream. And for the most part, I do love it. It's fun to be able to interact with people. It also allows people to see the product, to see what you're making firsthand and to get involved in the process.”
A Virtual Start
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Jacqueline spent most of her career in the US. She worked as a pastry chef for a resort in Aspen, Colorado, before transitioning to Vancouver, BC where she was the executive pastry chef at Rogers Arena for the Vancouver Canucks. She then went back to fine dining and worked for various restaurants in downtown Vancouver before settling back in Thunder Bay during the pandemic, where she started Uncommon Baked Goods over the internet, “It was an Instagram business that kind of just took off. I never really considered having my own bakery, although it was kind of a pipe dream. When I came back to Thunder Bay I just wanted to fill some of my free time. I opened an Instagram account and started selling cookie boxes around the holidays.”
Transcending its social media start, the bakery is now located in the iconic former Eaton's building, brought to life by the Goods & Co. Market, with predetermined space sizes for vendors. This is where Tok Tok Home got involved. Our task was to design the counters and cabinets to best optimize the available space and to fit together different shapes and sizes of kitchen equipment. At the same time, the design had to reflect the vision Jacqueline had for the space, “When I was thinking of the design of the bakery, my intention was always to keep it light, open and modern. So clean lines, light wood, airy, fresh and non-traditional. I think the inspiration came mostly from things that I had in my own home and things that I liked in my own space. And I kind of figured that if I was going to be spending 18 hours a day somewhere, I wanted to be comfortable there and I wanted it to reflect my personal design sense.”
The Design Challenge
The bakery has two customer serving points: a walk-up window facing the street, and a counter with seating facing the market in the interior of the building. Both points had to have enough storage for actual and potential future uses. The design challenge was to find a way to make all of the equipment and cabinetry fit together in a tight space with unconventional angles, elevations, and walls that were not always straight. This is expected from a historical building like Eaton’s, which used to be a department store, a call center and now a market place.
The cabinets are made of birch plywood coated with natural oil. They are designed to be free standing and reconfigurable if needed. Deep drawers and adjustable shelves allow for ample storage.
The Uncommon Pastry
The bakery can be defined as modern French seasonal. This means the bakery puts a modern spin to traditional French pastry and plays with different flavour profiles, utilizing different spices and as many fresh, seasonal, and locally-sourced products as possible.
“I feel people are surprisingly open. When most customers come to the bakery for the first time, they just tell me to fill a box with whatever. This is fun and challenging, but it's really nice that people are open to trying new things. I was a little worried that they might be hesitant with some of the items, but for the most part, everything's really taken off,” adds Jacqueline describing customer interactions in the first months since being open.