LORETTE — Week in, week out, one of Rubia Lima’s top sellers is an Oreo parfait that combines gently crushed pieces of Oreo cookie with Belgian chocolate and whipping cream. Sounds yummy, right? Not to Lima, founder of Madame Sucré, a Lorette-based enterprise that serves up a wide variety of confections inspired by her native Brazil.
"Oreo cookies aren’t something I’m too crazy about, but since lots of people here seem to like them, I figured why not use them in one of my parfaits?" says Lima, who moved to Canada from South America in 2015, and regularly relies on her "peeps" — that would be her husband and their 12-year-old daughter — to serve as royal tasters when it comes to ingredients she isn’t overly keen on. (Salted caramel, a key component in her immensely popular hot chocolate bombs, is another no-go in her books.)
"My whole thing is to take things I grew up with in Brazil, and add what you guys love most to create something unique. My sign reads, ‘Brazilian treats,’ but Brazilian-Canadian is probably closer to the truth."
Here, she’ll show us, Lima says, when asked where in Brazil she’s from originally. Scrolling through her phone, she pauses at a series of photos showing off Vitória, a port city of 1.9 million idyllically situated on an island within a bay, about six hours north of Rio de Janeiro.
The youngest of three siblings, Lima, 43, can’t remember a time when she wasn’t in the kitchen, baking. Both her parents are physicians, and owing to their busy schedules, she took it upon herself at the age of five or six to be the "dessert person" in the family, by studying a dog-eared cookbook belonging to her mother to conjure cakes, pies and whatnot.
As much as she would have loved to pursue baking as a career when she got older, that was never really an option. Her mom and dad fully expected her to follow in their medical footsteps. The problem was, she wasn’t a big fan of "needles, surgeries… any of that stuff," so the three of them eventually reached a compromise: she would attend nearby Vila Velha University, where she would study to be a speech therapist.
Lima worked in her chosen field for close to four years before a series of panic attacks, some so debilitating that she was unable to leave her bedroom for weeks on end, forced her to quit altogether. Married by then, she wanted to continue contributing financially to the household. As soon as she was feeling a bit better, she began thinking of ways she could make money from home.
Bem casados, which translates roughly as happily married, are traditional Brazilian mini-cakes served at weddings and bridal showers. Lima had prepared them as gifts for friends and family previously with much success so she thought maybe that was the route she would take.
By the summer of 2012, everything was going along smoothly; her new-founded business Rubia Bem Casados was a huge success, her mental health had improved significantly and, best of all, she was the proud mother of an 18 month old. Things took a turn for the worse, however, one morning when she was dropping her daughter off at daycare. Seconds after exiting the car, a person came out of nowhere and pointed a gun at the two of them, before making off with her vehicle.
"I was just starting to feel like my old self again when that happened, which started the panic attacks all over," she says.
Her husband took the three of them on a trip to Disney World the following year. The change of scenery did wonders for her, and she loved their time in Florida, and immediately after returning home, they discussed moving somewhere they would feel safer. After conducting their research and settling on Canada as a perfect fit, they went through the proper channels before moving to Toronto in February 2015.
Lima laughs, saying they had saved what they considered would be enough money to go a year without working, time they would spend learning to read and write English, which neither one spoke. They quickly discovered living in Toronto is costly, and if they were to continue living there, their plan was going to come off the rails. And fast.
"The other thing was, Toronto, as attractive a city as it is, was too big… too crazy-busy for me," she continues. "One day I bought a used something or other from a person who turned out to be from Brazil, too, who told me she was moving to Winnipeg. I asked her why, and the more she talked about the city, the more it sounded like a better option. By the fall (of 2015) we were packing to come here, too."
Lima’s English was still poor in her estimation when she attended a job fair two weeks after moving to Winnipeg. Thankfully, her resumé spoke for itself. By the end of the day she had landed a baker’s assistant position at Sobeys. That was followed by stints at sweet spots such as Baked Expectations and Sweet Impressions, but after COVID-19 turned the world on its ear in March 2020, she found herself back at Square 1: home — by then they were living in Lorette — and out of work.
"To put it simply, a home-based bakery had worked once for me (in Brazil) so what did I have to lose by trying it again?" Lima says, summing up her reasoning for establishing Madame Sucré — she briefly considered calling her biz Sugar Lady, but thought that might give some people the wrong idea, she says with a wink — in June 2020. Most of the recipes she was employing for treats such as cookies, funnel cakes and brigadeiros, the latter of which resemble chocolates, were ones she developed years prior, only, as mentioned earlier, she twigged each to appeal to Canadian tastebuds. (Fat chance you’d see a brigadeiro in Brazil topped with M&M’s candies, she mentions.)
"As much as I love what I’m doing with Madame Sucré, the fact we’re here in Canada, enjoying life together, means so much more.” ‐ Rubia Lima
A hit right out of the gate, Madame Sucré is now a familiar site at markets and pop-up sales, especially during the summer months, when Lima peddles her wares as often as four times a week. Besides the St. Norbert Farmers Market, where she’ll be making her first Saturday appearance of the season this weekend, she also regularly attends the Downtown Winnipeg Farmers’ Market, which moves outside to Manitoba Hydro Place in early June, as well as a popular, twice-a-year affair reserved for Brazilian-Canadian entrepreneurs she’s been organizing herself since the fall of 2020.
Yes, it’s been a lot of work and rather challenging at times, says Lima, whose immediate goal is to build her own commercial kitchen, to avoid constantly shlepping 20-kilogram bags of flour and sugar back and forth from the facility she currently rents. But it’s all been worth it, she adds, especially the manner in which Manitobans have welcomed her and her family with open arms. Mouths, too.
"I’m trying to think of the word to describe my feelings. I’m just so… proud isn’t the word I’m looking for," she says, apologizing as she speedily types phrases in Portuguese, her first language, into her phone, to arrive at the descriptor she’s after.
"Thankful! That’s it," she announces, breaking into a smile. "I am so thankful to be here, and to know that we are building a good life for our daughter. As much as I love what I’m doing with Madame Sucré, the fact we’re here in Canada, enjoying life together, means so much more."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.