Delicious prescription for pandemic stress
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2020 (1122 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a block of south Osborne Street where shuttered businesses outnumber the open ones, Chocolate Zen bakery glows in the slate-grey early morning light like a beacon of comfort.
Inside the tiny bakery, co-owner Barbara Rudiak is getting organized for another day of cake- and pastry-making.
Her pastry chef partners — Betty Lai and Douglas Krahn — will be in a bit later but there are still orders to process, events to prioritize and calls to return. Even in the economic ruin of a pandemic shutdown, it seems that just about everyone can make room for some cake.
“It’s comfort food, right?” Rudiak says. “At a time like this, we need all the comfort we can get.”
Prior to the pandemic closing most of the businesses in Winnipeg, Chocolate Zen did a thriving business supplying more than 30 stores and restaurants on the wholesale side, and individual customers at the counter of its tiny storefront on Osborne just south of Morley Avenue.
As the shops and restaurants closed, and the weddings and anniversary celebrations were cancelled, business began to drop precipitously.
But then, something amazing happened, Rudiak says. “At first, it was pretty difficult. Our business dropped off dramatically in those first two weeks. But slowly, people started calling and ordering cakes. They were all so surprised we were still open and so grateful that we could make something for them.”
With the province’s decision to partially reopen small businesses, Rudiak says Chocolate Zen has had a modest amount of walk-in traffic. She has limited the number of people in the shop at any one time and provided masks for staff. They haven’t been able to replace the volume lost to the pandemic, but customers are still turning up with creative uses for Zen’s remarkable cakes.
“I guess you’ve got to keep laughing at a time like this.”
Some couples who were forced to cancel their weddings refused to cancel their cake orders.
“They’ve been cutting slices and leaving a little box of cake on the front steps of the people who would have come to the wedding,” Rudiak says. “It’s a way they can still share their wedding with everyone.”
Zen has partnered with De Luca Fine Wines to provide contactless home deliveries of wine-and-cake pairings.
The pastry chefs have also learned first-hand that Winnipeggers have a sense of humour, even in the face of a public-health crisis by ordering cakes shaped like a roll of toilet paper.
“I guess you’ve got to keep laughing at a time like this,” Rudiak says.
— Dan Lett
Updated on Saturday, May 9, 2020 11:30 AM CDT: Adds reference to pastry chef partners.