First Mark and Paula Lamming were the best bakers at the Whistler Farmers Market. Then they were the best bakers in the Village. Now, with their new location in Gastown, is it time to ask . . . is their Purebread the best bakery in B.C.?
Paula and Mark Lamming always swore they would never open a bakery. So there’s some head-scratching as to how they came to own three: the original Purebread at the Function Junction industrial park in Whistler, B.C., another one in Whistler Village, and now the newest addition in Vancouver’s Gastown. Each of them piled high (before the doors open, at least) with loaves of Asiago black pepper or “old stumpie” rye bread, buckwheat sour cherry scones and toffee almond cookies, names that inspire a reverence among the bakery chain’s devotees that’s normally reserved for lesser saints.
And it started with a most innocuous Christmas present.
“We were whining about the fact that we couldn’t get good bread in town,” Paula remembers; come the holidays, they found a countertop bread maker under their tree, courtesy of Paula’s mother. The couple found they loved the process of testing recipes—and also tasting the results—and, in no time, the two amateur bakers had expanded to baking bread on a much larger scale, using the local high school’s home ec ovens to churn out loaves. Their first foray into a farmers’ market came as support for a balsamic vinegar booth run by friends, providing bread for customer samples. But the overwhelming response caused the couple to take out a booth of their own the following year.
“People would come up to us and say, ‘Where am I going to get your stuff when the market is finished?’” Paula says, explaining how several farmers’ market circuits led the pair to set up permanent shop. When a space came available in their hometown of Whistler, it seemed serendipitous—and the Lammings decided to embrace the long hours full-time. Six years and several expansions later, they have no regrets: “Now that we’re actually in the bakery business,” says Paula, “we can’t think of life any other way.”
That’s good news for the thousands of Purebread enthusiasts who flock here for “seriously seedy” bread or an afternoon homity pie. You won’t find any dyed fondant or ornate sugar work at this bakery—just generous portions and a simple presentation. “We want people to feel warm and comfortable with our baking,” Paula explains, “the kind of place that you can come to every day and know that something will be popping out of the oven that you may not have tried before.” And with a rotating menu of some 100 items, there’s always a sweet new reason to visit.
Since the Lammings find recipe inspiration everywhere, that already bountiful menu just continues to grow. A fragrant lavender rosemary loaf riffs on the soap Paula used to make when their children were small, while ginger crunch and coconut rough bars are holdovers from Mark’s childhood in New Zealand. Currently in Purebread’s test kitchen? An espresso cookie, a Danish cake, a savoury cheese-and-garlic bun. Once perfected, these goodies will be sold at all three Purebread locations. Of course, the Lammings’ perfectionist tendencies mean it could take a little longer: they’ve been “tweaking” some items for close to five years.
It’s not a two-man show anymore, and the Lammings no longer rely on the local high school’s ovens to bake their wares. Daughter Megan (a former Western Living Foodie of the Year) co-manages the Vancouver location, while son Jack works as a barista during school breaks. They’re joined by dozens of other staff, but Purebread still feels like a close family bakery. “It comes down to the passion from people,” Paula says. “Recipes can be taught. It’s the enthusiasm we look for.” So when a fire ripped through Purebread’s Whistler Village location in late 2013, the Lammings weren’t just worried about business—even though it happened right before Christmas, their busiest time of year. They were concerned about keeping their team together. “We have some really wonderful staff, and to lose those people would’ve been horrible,” Paula says. “So we figured out different things to keep everybody employed.” In fact, that’s when they found and purchased Purebread’s Vancouver location.
There are a dozen variables that go into baking: humidity, salinity in the water, barometric pressure—all of them important. But on any given Saturday morning, when lines snake out of all three stores, no one has such scientific variables in mind. They’re too busy plotting their order from the vast array of too-good-to-choose options before them, all made by people who have long since made sure that there will always be good bread in town.