Charmaine Sweets Studio immediately catches my eye from the outside, a standalone rectangular box with its name written in huge letters across the building. Found at the corner of an intersection in Leaside , what was previously a children's music school has now been transformed into a family-run neighbourhood bakery.
Inside, it's bright and welcoming, with a casual yet elegant feel, and the wafting scent of butter-laden pastries in the oven is pure heaven. Robin egg blue paint covers the walls, and the space boasts one communal table, which is also used for hands-on, drop-in baking classes on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
Owner and matriarch Teresa Ho has collaborated with two of her daughters and their partners here, and even her husband and sister made contributions (he's a real estate agent and found her the building while her sister, an artist, designed the menu boards).
Baking started out as a hobby for Teresa, but making cakes and cookies for her kids eventually grew into her starting up a baked goods business in 1985 from the basement of her home. She also became interested in teaching and passing her knowledge onto others, using baking classes to bring women together and bond.
Her business is named after her eldest daughter, who, funnily enough, ended up becoming interested in baking as well - specifically in bread and pastry.
Charmaine previously worked at Epi Breads , Petite Thuet - where she trained under Marc Thuet and also met her husband, fellow pastry chef Dustin Kuruc - and The Carbon Bar before she and Dustin decided to join Teresa here.
Sonya, Teresa's other daughter, and her partner Ray help execute the business side of the baking studio, with everything from marketing to retail.
All the treats are baked in house from scratch every day, with premium ingredients. The focus is on European-style pastries and desserts while also experimenting with some Asian twists like matcha green tea shortbread ($1.50) and mini chicken pies ($3 each) similar to the ones found at Chinese bakeries.
Signature cookies ($1.50 each, $10/Â˝-pound, $18/lb) developed and made by Teresa include chewy chocolate gingerbreads, mocha hazelnut crescents and lime meltaways, and can be packaged into boxes or tins ($10-$30) as gifts for special occasions and, along with specialty cakes (from $35), can be ordered ahead of time online for pick-up.
Other offerings include small fruit pies (starting at $6.50 each), whose flavours and fillings, like Charmaine's lovely macarons ($2 each), tend to change up. There are pecan tartlets ($2.25) as well as sticky, gooey, just-sweet-enough butter tarts ($2.50) that use Sterling butter. They're so good my friend comments, "I could live in there. Make it my own home."
I feel the same way about the almond croissants ($2.75); the flaky, buttery exterior gives way to the soft and light interior containing a dangerously addictive vanilla-y almond paste. I wouldn't mind living in this. Regular ($2.15) and chocolate ($2.25) croissants, along with soft and eggy beignets ($2 each) are some of Charmaine and Dustin's other specialties.
Those in the area have been requesting gourmet sandwiches for lunch, so Teresa and family introduced some that include cream cheese & cucumber ($5.90), brie & pecan ($9) and prosciutto ($9.95) matched with various breads that are baked fresh daily, from baguettes and pain au lait to challah. Whole loaves can also be purchased to take home.
During our visit, I notice a lot of walk-ins from curious passers-by who've noticed this new addition to the area. "We're happy to be in this neighbourhood," says Teresa, who lives up by Bayview Village. "We feel welcomed here."
Photos by Hector Vasquez.