Serve it sweet – Smithers Interior News

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– Words by Toby Tannas Photography by Lia Crowe

There are few pleasures in life as sweet as satisfying a sugar craving. It’s even more fantastic when your chosen indulgence is beautifully handcrafted, ethically sourced, and available just around the corner at a charming Parisian-inspired café.

Stepping into the Karat Chocolate + Pastry store, tucked away on a quiet block of Ellis Street in downtown Kelowna, is above all a feast for the eyes, with glass displays offering their signature chocolates, cakes and pastries, salty and sweet.

The day I visited there was a steady stream of people ordering coffee and sweets. Unlike other cafes, they’re not rushing with cups and paper bags; instead, they sit at bistro-style tables to savor every sip and nibble. (You can see the satisfaction on their faces, often accompanied by a leftover chocolate croissant!)

What they don’t notice is the man perched on a chair in the corner watching everything. He is chef and owner of Karat, Julian Helman: the visionary who brought this bright, vibrant and delicious atmosphere to life.

“I always knew I wanted to own a pastry shop since I was a kid. My dad was a chef and I grew up in kitchens. At the time, I just didn’t know making chocolates was going to be my ticket. .

Chocolate is the basis of Karat. In 2015, Julian was working as a pastry chef at Quails’ Gate Winery and dabbling in chocolate making on the side.

“I put up a little notice board in the kitchen and told my co-workers that if they wanted some, I was making little boxes of chocolates for Christmas. I had $400 in my bank account. I bought a few bags of chocolate and a few small craft boxes on the internet.

A chef friend from the nearby Mission Hill Estate Winery let Julian use the basement kitchen to produce his chocolate creations during the offseason, in what was literally an “underground” operation. Eventually, he began to gain attention through word of mouth and social media. A downtown shop was the first to stock Karat chocolate bars.

“When Linda from Olive & Elle Boutique first contacted me,” Julian recalls, “I had to explain that I was a one man show. things Olive and Elle loved about Karat.

When Julian, trained overseas in the disciplines of cooking and baking, landed a short stint as a private chef in North Vancouver Island, he was able to swell his bank account enough to his chocolate business to the next level.

“I contacted my friend Dave, who owns what is now Bright Jenny Coffee. He found me a place in the North End. It was 500 square feet and $40 a month. I rented it out and we We put a little retail section there, we had four bars of chocolate and you could buy boxes of 12 chocolates and that was it,” he laughs.

That was in 2016. Since then, Julian has slowly built the business, one chocolate order at a time. He is forever grateful to family members like his uncle, Vince, who wrapped chocolates in those early days and continues to offer advice and step in when he needs it. Each support over the years has allowed Julian to spend more time perfecting his craft, an essential ingredient in his recipe for success.

“I became obsessed with the ingredients. Finding the best chocolate, asking where the beans are grown, who are the people behind the company, how does it get to our table? »

Julian also applies this same ethic to the ingredients used in Karat pastries. In just a few years, the basement chocolate-making operation has grown into a well-rounded and thriving local business.

“I still feel like we’re a very young company and we still have a lot to do,” says Julian. “Investors have shown interest in making Karat a big deal, but I’m just not interested. I like to go a bit slow in terms of growth, so we know exactly what we’re doing and make sure the quality is always high.

A big part of the quality equation is a skilled workforce. Karat now has 18 members on the team (including Uncle Vince) and Julian’s wife, Amanda, oversees the cafe and manages the books.

“Without Amanda’s support and hard work behind the scenes, Karat would not exist as it does today.”

Julian considers his staff like family, and many have supported him and the company through very difficult times. Julian is proud of his chefs and offers them great creative freedom.

“I let the staff run around a bit and do their jobs creatively. I’m still involved, though, and like to keep it simple. I start with a flavor that I really like, then I profile it with a specific chocolate, then we work on the look a bit. What we like to eat is what we do. My dad always said to figure that out and then do the best you can and you won’t fail.

Proof that the cream really rises to the top, Julian and his team are ready to grow… a little! The Ellis Street cafe will be undergoing a refurbishment and expansion early next year, and the new space will feature even more of the freshly baked goods they have become known for, including oversized cakes . Karat’s original location (the tiny one) will remain the Chocolate Kitchen, where you’ll most often find Julian.

“A perfect day for me is when I find myself in my chocolate kitchen, developing something new. I call them diamond days. They are rare at the moment because I manage everything, but I will definitely make time for more diamond days in the next few years.

Julian also devotes more time to his family. His three-year-old daughter, Hazel, keeps her parents on their toes, and her love of being with dad has influenced Julian’s priorities.

“When I was younger, it was all about work. As you get older, when you have kids, it softens you. My happiest memories are here in the shop when my daughter was very little. saw her little face at the window every morning. She would have a croissant on the grill, I would have a coffee and we would just be together. Those are the best memories.

Karat is a true craft business with family at its heart. Next time you visit Karat Chocolate + Pastry Boutique for an artisan indulgence, keep an eye out for the chef and his daughter sharing some quality time over a pastry. A nice reminder that life and business are best served sweet!

Story reprinted with kind permission from Boulevard Magazine, a publication of Black Press Media

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