August 20, 2015 - 9:00 PM
VERNON - Not many people can say they’re carrying on family traditions stretching back to 1825, but Vernon baker Roy Bouman continues to do so with pride.
Every perfect cream puff, every birthday cake, and each smiling customer pays homage to the long line of family bakers who passed down recipes, strong work ethic and a community philosophy to Bouman. The sixth-generation baker is well known in Vernon for his shop, Sweet Caroline’s, which is tucked into a strip mall on Vernon’s 48 Avenue. Bouman and his wife started the business 20 years ago, but this family’s history of baking goes back much further than that to a coal-fired oven in the Netherlands as far back as 1825.
Bouman’s own grandfather worked at the bakery, where he helped rescue members of the Jewish population from the Nazis in World War Two.
“He was very much a part of the underground,” Bouman says. “They would take out the shelves in the old oven and hide Jews inside to bring them to safety.”
At a time when all food was regulated by the Nazis and people required vouchers for food, the bakery made cakes to give away, he says.
Bouman’s father grew up helping out around the bakery where he got to eat all the broken pastry pieces from a cookie bin. He wasn’t allowed to touch the good stuff, but was free to satisfy his sweet tooth with the discarded pieces.
His parents eventually immigrated to Canada where his dad got into banking, not baking. But concocting foods from scratch remained a ritual in the household, with Bouman’s mom baking up delicious breads and boterkoek, and he and his dad indulging their shared sweet tooths with cakes, or even just good old brown sugar. It was actually his mom, some years later, who rekindled the Bouman baking gene in Roy.
“My mom made me be a baker,” he says with a laugh. “I had just graduated and my mom said enjoy your summer, because it’s the last you’ll have.”
She got him a job at a nearby bakery, which Bouman reluctantly walked to every morning at 2:30 a.m.
“I hated it, to tell you the truth,” he says of the early mornings.
What followed was years of working on and off at different bakeries, with Bouman accepting any opportunity to expand his skills, and eventually earning his journeyman’s papers.
“(Baking) just followed me and wouldn’t ket me go. Then, I started getting good at it,” he says.
In the 1990s, through a series of coincidences, Bouman, who’d been living on the Lower Mainland, was offered a job working as a baker at Safeway in Vernon. He and his wife Caroline were looking for somewhere to settle down for good and raise their young family. He took the job but was laid off three months later. Determined to stay put, Roy picked up work mowing lawns and delivering flyers. But as always, baking found its way back into his life. Caroline saw an article about starting your own business and found about supports through North Okanagan Community Futures to help get them on their way.
“That started up the process of opening our own bakery,” Bouman says. “We’d always wanted to, we’d always talked about it. We put everything on the line, it was sink or swim.”
Twenty years later, Sweet Caroline’s has become a fixture of the community; a place for locals looking for their favourite sweet, a trusted spot for special occasion cakes, and a little gem for Dutch travellers looking for a taste of home.
With over 100 different products, many of them recipes passed down through generations, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at Sweet Caroline’s. While the bakery still holds true to its traditional roots, it’s adapted as well. Bouman has concocted an array of gluten and allergen-free products, leaving no sweet tooth unsatisfied. And like his grandfather handing out free cakes during the war, he enjoys spreading joy through his baking. Whether it’s staying open late to help a couple fulfill their craving for lemon tarts, or giving out popular Smartie-speckled gingerbread men to kids while their parents peruse the shelves, he loves the human connection, and happiness, food creates.
“A box of pastries brings the community and people together to sit around and talk to each other. There’s no X-box, no TV,” Bouman says.
All three of his sons spent time working at the bakery over the years, and his oldest recently documented the family’s unique history to celebrate Sweet Caroline’s 20-year anniversary. You can watch it below.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015