Valentine's goodie : Interview with Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery

Hi everyone! : )
My flu seems to have calmed down for a bit, so I'll take this chance to post my delayed goodie for Valentine's day : ) Here's the interview with Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery…! :D

I've met Liana and her brother Greg back in 2010 at the craft fair at Dawson college. They had a table full of yummy goodies that kept tempting me…! After one bite of their salted savoury scones, I was addicted! Over time their business slowly and surely grew as they went from fairs to events. They finally opened up their first bakery in St-Henri in 2011. In January 2014, they opened the year with a bang, introducing their relocated gorgeous bakery. I decided to go take a peek at 4150 Wellington street and I met with Greg by a freezing February afternoon.

How did you start that wonderful adventure?
My sister Liana always wanted her own bakery. She would talk about it a lot and I realized she was in it over her head. I told her : ''You won't be able to do it alone so I'm going to do this with you'', gave her a hand at least. We then started furnishing small cafés, doing small orders, fairs and soon enough we needed a retail space. Then we started looking for a little space, starting out small, try not to go wild. And then we found a spot in St-Henri and stayed there for about two years and a half. When we decided to go to Verdun, it took us almost a year to get the new place ready to open.

We started with small amounts of our own savings. The first event we ever did was a neighbourhood gathering. We were selling baked good and had invited a few of our friends that displayed their art. I guess you can say it's where we got the very first taste of Sweet Lee's.

Describe Sweet Lee in three words (or maybe 5): Heum…. a rustic bakery…. ? (laughs) 
Well, I guess… natural, hearty and homy…. And definitely original, different.

Why the move from St Henri to Verdun?
We couldn't expand as much as we wanted over at St Henri, even if we were well established. We only had two seats and it was cramped, with not a lot of space to develop our products too. It wasn't what we wanted. It took us almost a year to find this new place, we looked in Verdun and St-Henri but since St-Henri is growing in popularity, the price of rent skyrocketed ( 2 to 3 times what is used to be…! ) Also we had been living in Verdun for a time and with our hyper busy schedule is a very good thing to be close to home. Now we have to get used to all that space and the seating spots, I guess we're almost like a restaurant now. Also we went from 2 employees to 8 so it's a good change.

Why opening a rustic bakery?
We like knowing what we eat. We're not into ''pretentious-looking'' food that is overly priced or decorated. We like food that looks like food and that tastes like it's supposed to be. We also put the lowest amount of ingredients as possible to make it as rich in flavour as possible. We want to make it as healthy - even if we serve a lot of deserts - but we don't want to add ''garbage'' like preservatives in our food.

How long did it took you to set up Sweet Lee's ?
We evolved over time, like we had our business cards redone 6 times, tweaked a bit the logo. But you've got to go with the flow I guess. Adjust with where you are heading at a certain time. Now we have a more refined look than our previous location which was more of an old country home look. But we always had the same mentality over all these years.

What about a business plan? Some people say it's super important to do it before getting started...
It's something we made after we started because we wanted to apply for grants and loans. A business plan is a huge task to do it properly, if you do it on your own and you don't know what you are doing, you're going to get overwhelmed for sure regardless of your business. It's something very important, it would be my advice for people who are starting out.

But for the business plan, would you recommend it to a very small business owner?
If you know where you are going and you know what you are doing you probably don't need one. But you're not going to get financial support very easily. The loans and funding is really a big part of why you do it.

Greg, what's your background?

I do a bit of everything. I'm a carpenter, I also did work a couple of years in kitchens and cooking it is mostly a family thing. Lee is really the one that does the most all the baking. I'm a decent learner and I like to eat (laughs) so I know what tastes good.

You mentioned you have a zero waste policy? We do our best to minimize our waist and recycle everything we can. We also work with companies for compost and local companies for the supplies. We have a discount on a day old products to keep our product fresh but usually at the end of the day there's not much left. We are very surprised about our volume increase. What would sell within a week at St-Henri here we sell within a day and a half.

How do you manage to supply all the small cafés in plus of the bakery?
It has always been part of the equation. We started by supplying small cafés and we worked on our partnerships a lot over the years, for many reasons. It's something we always want to be as part of our business.

Where do you find all the inspiration for your recipes?
At this point, we already have our flavours combos from St-Henri but we also try out some new, different combinations that you don't see everywhere and that we are known for. Also seasonal fruits and veggies play an important part of it. Like our savoury scones, it is quite rare in Montreal and it's one of our signature dish.

The biggest event you attended to...?
One of the biggest we did was actually here back in 2013. It was la Cabane a Sucre Wellington, it's actually coming up at the end of March. Last year there was about 10 000 people who attended and we served at least 1000 people each day during the week-end. The event is expecting 15 000 people this year. We'll be located in front of our bakery and two streets here will be closed for great food and games.

What's the favourite part of your routine?
Serving clients. It's fun to see them come in, especially here because I think we did managed to do something impressive visually. It's really nice to see them go ''wow!''. With the amount of time we spent here to make it like this, it' feels good. It took us almost a year to finish this place up, for various reasons. And I did a lot of the design (expect for the coffee counter) and I'm happy to see it in reality.

What's your favourite dish to make?
I guess I would say the scones. They are similar in preparation but we usually do it way too early in the morning so it's less enjoyable that way. (laughs)

Your favourite dish to eat?
That's a hard one….that's the hardest (laughs) I would have to say the chocolate fondant……… And the cheesecake : ) 

Who's your favourite cookbook or chef? It can be someone famous or your grand-ma, it's really up to you! :)
I would have to give it to Liana. I don't know that many chefs but I'm pretty dam impress with what my sister has done. But you don't have to put that in the interview (laughs)

How do you manage social media in plus of all the cooking?
Whenever we have the time, we take a minute in our day to promote on social medias. It is a very important part of the business now. It's a task we share in our team. It becomes a part of our ''break'' if I might say.

What's your favourite social media?
I like Facebook a lot because we can share more details. We can also share pictures and that is what captures the interest of our customers the most, not just the wording. And it's easy to share. And we are currently updating our website and add up a webstore, ordering online, a place for catering and for special orders.

Any additional tips for starters?
You can not pay yourself too much in the beginning if you know that you are running on little amounts. Reinvest that money to make the company roll and it will definitely make a difference. And also don't count the hours that you put in…! (laughs) You still have to be able to live but don't count 40 000$ a year right away. Wait a few years and then you'll be able to increase your pay check or to expand your business.

Also, you can't do everything yourself or rely on everybody else to do it for you. When some situations arise, you need to know a little bit of everything or certain aspects of it at least, otherwise you end up overpaying for those services a lot. Be prepared of those types of surprises because it happens all the time. Even when you think you are ready, you're not. Be prepared for anything - I mean anything. You have to be adaptive, for anything that might happens.

Would you have tips for cooking newbies?
Take what you like doing and experience with it, play around with ingredients. Create something, don't just follow a recipe. Try working with textures, be creative and open.

Any tips for craft fairs?
Have a good presentation, be friendly and sell something different. Set yourself in a way that attract people. It's not just about the table. Know your product and know your demographics.

Some people have some reservation working with family and you work with your sister and your mom. Any advice?
Either don't… or be prepared to sacrifice. But I mean it really depends on the family. It can work or it may not, I don't know. I guess it's something you should know in advance if you want to get involved with it or not. But my advice would be be prepared to make come concessions, make some compromises and respect one another. Choose your battles I guess. Family first and business second…. but not always I guess….! (laughs).

What's next for Sweet Lee's in 2014?
Get established in this new place. We want to have a small terrace in the summer, start this new adventure. And be partners of the Wellington's street, it helps to promote all the shops here and plan events so it makes it fun for people to come here.

Loved it? Hungry? : ) 
You can find Sweet Lee's at their new location in Verdun, 4150 Wellington street, just next to the De L'Église subway station.  (Funny, even the name of their street is related to food! :P)

My recommendations : their cinnamon buns are simply the perfect! They are just sweet enough, ''spicy'' enough and so moist and fluffy! (The perfect word would be ''moelleux''! I definitely regret not buying more than one. My suggestion : buy 5 so you start your mornings in a perfect way! And if you are craving chocolate, the rich Chocolate and Cherry fondants are simply amazing! 


  1. I think they have a zero waste policy - a zero waist would make them unfeasibly thin for bakers :)

    1. Hi, oh my yes, sorry about that! I still have to check my auto-correct, it sometimes makes funny things.
      Thanks for pointing it out and thanks for reading the article, I hope you enjoyed it! :D