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Merci Boulangerie Gets Ready to Open on Commercial Drive in Early 2024

If you`re a Vancouver Farmers Market regular, you’re likely already familiar with Merci Boulangerie, a French bread and pastry outfit owned by Natalie Cumberbirch.

A born-and-raised Vancouverite, Cumberbirch is also a real-deal Red Seal Baker. She began her Culinary and Pastry schooling at Vancouver Community College in 2016, pushing through culinary school while waiting for a space in the pastry program. After its completion, and at the advice of one of her instructors, Cumberbirch flew off to Europe to get some practical baking experience in a German bakery. Next stop: Barcelona, to continue her mission of gathering good intel and developing techniques. Eventually, her prestige and talent reached the level where she was lured back to Canada to become Head Pastry Chef at Tofino Resort + Marina in 2017.

While in Tofino, Cumberbirch received a call from a baking buddy offering her a stint at fancy two-Michelin-star joint, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. At the time, Natalie responded, “Joel, who?” Luckily, her coworkers introduced her to Google and brought her up to speed on who Robuchon was – and off to Paris she went!

Even though the new double-Michelin-star baking gig came with 18-hour days spent in a super intense kitchen environment, Cumberbirch loved it, and in no time she had climbed up to the position of chef de partie. But despite her enormous respect for the team and the learning opportunities that the job at L`Atelier de Joel Robuchon afforded her, Cumberbirch`s burning passion for bread and pastry would not go away. Hence, she took a position at Mamiche, one of Paris’s hottest new boulangeries. “When I started out at Mamiche, I did the baking in the morning, and it was tough. I didn’t speak the language and worked with an all-male team. I really had to prove myself. I would work all week with the bread team and then come in on my days off to learn lamination with the pastry people; after about six months, I got the go-ahead to transfer to pastry full time. I was enamoured with it. I loved figuring out the flow and the intricacy of why you do certain things at certain stages”

Fast forward to 2020 (Covid times), and Cumberbirch`s return to Vancouver, where she started baking up a storm, selling her croissants and an assortment of other baked goods at Farmers Markets and via online orders, which she hand-delivered all over town. It wasn’t long before the demand for her high-quality baked goods became more than a commissary kitchen space could handle, and the search began for a brick-and-mortar solution.

The space at 2879 Commercial Drive (previously Seasons Bakery) became available, and in October 2023, Cumberbirch jumped on it. Thankfully, no structural changes were required to the 1000-square-foot space, and the aesthetic was already near-perfect, so production for existing Merci orders began immediately, as did the gradual transition of their new address into a full fledged retail shop.

Cumberbirch and her team won`t have time to put the finishing touches in place until after the holiday rush. But when that time comes (very soon – Merci Boulangerie should be ready by early January) the shelves will be lined with fresh bread and French pastries, and a small coffee program (espresso, cappuccino, americano) will be put into place. There will also be a cooler loaded with take-home-to-bake goodies, and a retail area stocked with complementary items like local jams, honey and cheeses. They will be open early (7:30am) and continuously to 4:30pm. “We want to be there with fresh-from-the-oven pastries and coffee for the morning commuters, as well as the after school crowd,” says Cumberbirch.

As for the vibe? As Cumberbirch explains: “I care about what we are making, and I care about how we are making it, but I don’t think it has to come at the expense of anyone’s health or sanity. We want to be having a good time.” Merci Boulangerie will definitely have a Parisian edge, but it won’t be “snooty” – it will be fun and French: an old school hip hop soundtrack mixed with some French pop; platters of almond, chocolate-almond, and chocolate-hazelnut double baked croissants, as well as savoury ham & cheese or onion & cheese and many other treats; and smiling faces, natch.

Eager to experience Merci Boulangerie before its official January opening? In the meantime, Cumberbirch remains committed to selling at the Farmers Markets, because she values the direct interaction with regular customers that the set-up offers, and finds it personally fulfilling. That being said, you don’t have to wait until Saturday (her Market day) or opening day in 2024 to get your fill of fresh and ready-to-bake items and an exclusive preview of the space! Yes, this very week you have the opportunity to make a holiday order for pick-up directly from the Commercial Drive bakery on December 23rd or 24th. Details here.

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Merci Boulangerie
Neighbourhood: Commercial Drive
2879 Commercial Dr.

There are 2 comments

  1. Oh my goodness you said the L word – Lamination! I can’t wait! You might see me every day….

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