Over the last 10 years, the Village Baker has indomitably kneaded the ingredients of perseverance, hard work and humour and now it is time to celebrate their first decade of business on Bowen Island.
Since 2001, Neil and Helen Reynolds have been in business on Dorman Road in Snug Cove. Up until their move to Bowen, they were living in Leeds, England. Helen describes it as a place that was slightly less than desirable for raising children. "Every Saturday night we had drug dealers at the back near our garden and helicopters buzzing the house.."
In 1999, Neil and Helen went on a Canadian holiday to Banff and continued their vacation on Bowen Island. At the time, Lary and Elena Waldman, former owners of The Vineyard Bed and Breakfast on Bowen, were the young couple's hosts. Falling under the spell that Bowen so often casts, the Reynoldses asked Elena and Lary for a job so they could stay on the island. The Waldmans instantly promised that if Neil and Helen emigrated, they would have a job. The couple returned to England, applied for their immigration papers and was back working on Bowen within six months.
Employing Neil and Helen was an excellent fit. Neil is a baker by trade and Helen, although formerly a research scientist for a large pharmaceutical company, is an excellent cook, as was her grandmother. The two worked for Elena and Lary for a year and then with the encouragement of their many friends, Helen and Neil opened the Village Baker in 2001.
Neil has been in the baking trade since he was fifteen. As a young man, he worked in a small family business for three years. Next he worked at Sainsburys, a chain similar to a Canadian Safeway. He attended the Sulford College of Technology where he received his papers in baking and patisserie. After that he entered the management level at Sainsburys. Helen smiles as she describes Neil in his management attire. "He had a white shirt, a brown tie and a Trilby hat. Not a classic baker's hat but more like just a white hat." Sitting comfortably on a chair with a daughter on either side of him, sporting a white t-shirt and apron, it is quite easy to imagine Neil has not worn a tie since those Sainsbury days.
To the naked eye, it might seem that Neil and Helen's life revolves around their business, but it is family that comes first. Planning for eight-year old Emma and six-year old Sophie are the reasons why Neil and Helen came to Bowen and they are the reasons why they stay. Neil explains, "Bowen is just a beautiful place to bring up children. And the children are so lucky." When asked what she liked best about being the daughter of The Village Baker, Sophie replied, "Daddy." In response, Neil says, "Owning our own business has enabled Daddy to make his own hours and to be there for the children. And that is a blessing and part of why we have stayed."
The Reynolds were cautioned in the beginning that Bowen might be a tricky place to start and maintain a business. Helen recalls, "We were told by a friend of ours when we first came to town that Bowen would not work. It was full of hippies, dropouts and millionaires." They did not let those words scare them away. They had faith thanks to good friends such as Paul and Basia Lieske, with whom they lived for the first year on Bowen, and Wolfgang Duntz who was their guarantor for the first five years of business. Neil says, "It was because of Wolfgang we were able to open a business. We thank Wolfgang for helping us land in Canada and for helping us through our first five years. And we thank Elena and Lary and Paul and Basia. They all gave us a soft landing."
These days with a busy, bustling bakery Neil bakes the bread, muffins, Cornish pasties and other goodies. Helen makes the soup and the pies. An excellent staff of four part-time workers keeps the bakery humming along and Neil is often on site with his wacky sense of humour somewhat akin to England's much loved Fawlty Towers. Helen also runs the kids around from school to their activities, teaches belly dancing, writes a blog and is working on publishing a novel. In his spare time, Neil plays with Sophie and Emma, walks Molly the dog and enjoys his down time.
Bowen's business climate is very challenging, as any entrepreneur on Bowen will tell you. To remain afloat takes skill and guts. Neil says, "It is a lot of hard work. You have to slow down. You will never make a lot of money on Bowen. It is the lifestyle here that is our reward. Once you accept that, you find life is a lot easier. I just take a look outside and say, 'Not bad - I've got two beautiful children and a wife. Not bad.'"
Not bad indeed. Congratulations are in order for Neil and Helen Reynolds for their decade of success as The Village Baker on Bowen Island. With their recipe of consistency and simplicity, it is quite conceivable the Village Baker will rise to the occasion of another successful 10 years.