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The ‘Cake Lady’ launches a Parisian-style café

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Cathy Dobson

A couple of years ago, Kathy Dhillon was hired to prepare a chocolate table for a gala hosted by Sarnia’s St. Joseph’s Hospice.

The reaction to her elaborate cupcakes and sweet goodies ensured she’s never been short of business since.

“There was no looking back after the gala,” said the baker, who has more than 25 years experience in fancy baking and high-end sugar art.

At the time of the gala, Dhillon was establishing herself as Sarnia’s Cake Lady. She worked out of the kitchen at St. Paul’s United Church to create specialty desserts.

Now Dhillon has teamed up with her stepdaughter, Rashpal Gill, to open Vanilla Bean Bakery and Café at 138 Cromwell St., between Front and Christina streets.

“I chose the name because I always use vanilla bean paste in all my baking,” Dhillon said.

She was taught to bake at the age of eight by her grandmother and years of self-instruction and experimentation followed.

“My grandmother was an amazing baker and I still use a lot of her recipes,” said Dhillon.

Vanilla Bean is styled after a Parisian patisserie. A display case divides the café, which has an open kitchen on one side and seating for about 10 on the other.

“I’ve always had a vision of a vintage French café with a jazzy feel,” said Dhillon.  “I want people to come in and feel they are some place special where the atmosphere invites them to hang out.”

A Wi-Fi counter is proving popular, as is the window seating, red brick walls and original photo art Dhillon shot in Paris.

When Vanilla Bean launched on June 3, Dhillon and Gill didn’t think anyone would want sweet treats in the morning, so they opened each day at noon.  But they were wrong.

“That very first week people said they wanted to come earlier for coffee and muffins, so we are now open at 9 a.m.,” Dhillon said.

A chalkboard outlines the numerous coffees available, most for $2.75 a cup.  Indian spicy coffee and honey ginger coffee are two of the most popular.  An Americanos costs $1.95.  There’s hand squeezed lemonade and iced teas as well.

Best sellers include Dhillon’s specialty cupcakes with flavours like Chocolate Rollo, Lemon Strawberry and Vanilla with Vanilla Bean and Swiss Meringue.  Everything is made in the Vanilla Bean ovens and each cupcake is dipped in Belgian chocolate and has Swiss Meringue topping.

Cost is $2.75 to $4.75 per cupcake. Muffins are $2.09.

Cakes are available in about 20 flavours such as praline toffee almond, carrot, lemon cocoanut and chocolate hazelnut. They start at $55.

Dhillon is also taking wedding cake orders.

“They are a favourite despite the long hours it takes to make the handmade sugar items,” she said. “Every petal is made by hand and the same for the characters, animals, and other sugar art.”

Prices for a Vanilla Bean wedding cake range from $600 to $2,000.

Dhillon and Gill have applied for a liquor license and hope to offer wine, champagne floats and mimosas in the near future.

If approval comes through, they intend to extend their hours and increase their staff.

The Vanilla Bean Bakery and Café is open Tuesday and Wednesday 9 a.m. – 8p.m. and Thursday to Saturday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.  Call 519-491-8051 for more information.

Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or call 226-932-0985. 

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