Get to know a Baker: Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell, Bobbette & Belle
Stepping into Bobette and Belle on Queen East is like entering a sweet-smelling haven. The shop has been famed for its macarons and decadently decorated cakes. Owners and masterminds Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell (who vow to never interview separately,) recently sat down with me to unveiI their histories and philosophies in the kitchen.
Did you always want to be a baker?
A: I actually come from a long line of bakers. My grandmother made wedding cakes as well, so I kind of grew up with it, but didn't get into the field until after having had a whole other career as a teacher.
S: At home growing up I pretended to have my own baking show. I knew, from a young age, but no one in my family can bake. Not even my mother! The funny thing is Allyson's name even has roots.
A: Yes, Bobbitt comes from the Welsh name for baker.
Where did you work before opening the store?
A: I had my own business so I had my own company doing wedding cakes for about three and a half years before we got together, and prior to that I was a special needs teacher. I wanted to get into doing French macaroons, but I didn't want to do it all by myself, I wanted a business partner.
S: I came from a more restaurant background, working at Canoe and Biff's, and became chocolatier at Soma. Then I went on to culinary school, where Allyson and I met.
What was the first thing you baked professionally?
S: Probably cake. I feel like I've been baking my whole life, but probably cake.
A: For me I started off at Biff's and it was a plated dessert. One of their signature dishes was the creme brulee because it was a French bistro. So professionally I would have to say custard.
What are the key challenges of operating a bakery?
A: Staffing is one of our number one challenges. I think instilling in your staff the value of something that is fresh baked and always keeping the quality and the standard super high.
S: I would have to agree with Alyson. Getting people to care about the product as much as you care about it.
How do you resist eating cupcakes and macarons all day?
S: This is easy — I don't.
A: I do, believe it or not! Sarah is a true true sweetaholic.
You do a lot of custom cake orders. What's the most memorable cake request you've received?
A: We did a Cirque du Soleil wedding last year, and it was probably a five and a half foot tall cake. Sweet tables are huge now. One wedding we did a big cake, and then a sweet table for 650 people, and then we did a replica almost to scale of the couple's German Shepherd.
S: A picture was taken of them the day after having cut the dog's head off and they were holding it. Apparently they froze the head. It really looks like the dog so it was a bit freaky.
A: We did a big green apple once too, 3 foot by 3 foot for a surrealist wedding. The sky's the limit.
How do you respond to trends in customer tastes? For instance, doughnuts are popular right now, do you feel compelled to sell them?
A: We're very much about classics.
S: Exactly, classics with a twist. One thing that really resonated with me when I was in restaurants developing menus was finding out what people ordered on a menu. What do they gravitate towards, what am I ordering when I go out? We're always ordering something familiar and classic.
A: But done in a new or interesting way.
Do you have any future plans for Bobbette and Belle you can tell us about?
A: We're definitely looking to expand so that will be on our plate for the next year. Looking to find a second location.
S: We've been researching specific neighbourhoods to get a feel for them.
When you're not baking, what do you like to do for fun?
S: Eat. I love to dine out. Although Alyson and I have been very good. We've been doing our workout regime together.
A: I've been on a bit of a health kick. I like to work out. That's one of our main things though, just after work, to try new restaurants. We often go out together too, which is strange because we work together all the time. I also like anything art and design related so I'm a big sewer. Anything DIY - that's for me.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? A: Salt S: Tea
Last baked good you ate? S: Chocolate fudge cupcake A: A Little Nicky's mini doughnut
Someone who inspires you? S: Women business owners A: Carl Jung, but that has nothing to do with baking.
Strangest thing in your fridge? S: Kale. That's strange for a baker.
Photos by Morris Lum