It takes a dreamer’s heart to open a restaurant. To look at a proven, well-documented and industry-wide track record of hardship, toil and likely failure and say, “I think that’s for me.”
But there are dreamers, and then there is taking all of the above risks on a tiny street with no parking in the middle of a pandemic just as you’re leaving the security of your longtime airline industry job. There’s not even a name in common usage for such people—except, that is, for the two names known to loyal patrons of Mon Pitou: Jesse Hawes and Triet Duong.
And the above tale of hurdles doesn’t even tell the whole story: how neither had seriously worked in a restaurant before, let alone opened one (Jesse was a flight attendant; Triet worked in biotech recruiting). That neither even planned to look at the empty space on Vancouver’s West 7th but happened to see it on a lark and instantly saw the potential.
A MON PITOU RECIPE: Jesse's Outrageous Banana Bread
Proud owners Jesse Hawes and Triet Duong. Photo: Bree Sopatyk.
But for every one of these roadblocks there was a workaround, fuelled by the pair’s passion. For starters, while they were not restaurateurs, the amateur bakers had been successfully baking cakes, brownies and cookies and selling them at farmers’ markets across Vancouver and had developed a rabid following thanks both to said baked goods and to a charming brand based on the couple’s beloved English bulldog.
The cute canine inspiration, Ru. Photo: Bree Sopatyk.
And Triet was blessed with his own dogged determination that saw him hounding the city daily to get their business license on time (in a stroke of luck they ultimately received it the day before they were set to open). And then there was their ace in the hole: Jesse’s good friend Alanna Dunn of Reena Sotropa In House Design Group, who had agreed to help design their dream, a wonderful offer that contained one final hurdle: she lived in Calgary and the pandemic meant site visits weren’t going to be possible.
A MON PITOU RECIPE: Triet's Favourite Brownies
Dunn still remembers getting the call from Jesse after the pair had found the perfect space. They brought her along via FaceTime (the first of many virtual site visits), and she agreed that the space had great potential and could work within the couple’s budget. Then, she got to work. “Thankfully, Jesse had a very strong vision right from the beginning,” recalls Dunn—something that sped up all the preliminary work of coming to understand the end goal.
The first major challenge was how to incorporate all of the functions that Jesse and Triet had on their wish list—coffee shop, curated market, bakery—into the compact, 1,100-square-foot space. An additional need to be as practical as possible in regards to time and budget meant that the kitchen—the tiny spot that produces such wonders as the French scramble with burrata on rustic sourdough or the now-famous French onion soup—had to stay put, as did the bathroom and front door.
Once those anchors were established, Dunn could set the team’s mind to the fun stuff. Jesse already had a strong sense of what design elements he liked—such as wainscotting—and Dunn suggested Hunter Green from Benjamin Moore, both of which channelled a slight Ralph Lauren vibe. Ultimately the duo’s marching orders to Dunn were simple: “We want it to feel like you’re coming into our home.” The design she created captures that ethos to a T: entering into the small spot, it’s tough to put your finger on what it is exactly that’s drawing you in. There’s no shortage of excellent French bakeries in town, to say nothing of coffee shops, but Mon Pitou feels apart from everything else. It offers the feeling that you’ve just stumbled down some forgotten side street in Paris and come across a locals’ haunt that caters in equal measure to grand dames and young hipsters. “Jesse and Triet have always been such gracious and welcoming hosts,” says Dunn. “My goal was to translate that warmth into the space.”
A MON PITOU RECIPE: The Ultimate Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
But none of this melange of expertise and passion was a guarantee of success when they quietly opened their doors with zero fanfare and modest expectations in February 2021. And yet there was a three-hour lineup, and all pastries sold out before noon. Fantastically, this patronage has continued more or less unabated since then, with a consistent mulling about of patrons present in seeming perpetuity on Mon Pitou’s cute little stoop. For Dunn, it was a full six months from opening before she was able to make the trip out to see her handiwork in person, and she, like everyone else it seems, has fallen in love with the space all over again. “It’s such a full experience—the smell of baking, the number of things that grab the eye. It’s so layered in details that it’s almost maximalist.” It’s a sentiment shared by the legions of fans who have made this quaint, Parisian-inspired spot part of their weekly (or even daily) routine.