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Many of us have memories of foods from our childhoods, hometowns or home countries that make us fondly remember times and places past. For pastry chef and chocolatier, Christophe Bonzon, this nostalgia inspired him to transport the pastry cafes of his Swiss hometown to his new home in Burnaby Heights.  


Christophe and his wife, Jess, Owner-Operators of Chez Christophe, have come a long way in their first five years in operation. They started from scratch as two immigrants emerging in the BC restaurant industry with no connections or support system. Now, they’ve built a community all their own around their cozy chocolate and pastry shop. While a lot has changed for them, their commitment to hand making products in the Swiss tradition never falters.

Chez Christophe's caramelized white chocolate bar is offered in our Vancouver Gourmet gifts. 

 

We recently sat down with Christophe to chat about how his passion for pastry has blossomed into a thriving community hub.


What made you want to open your own cafe?


As a pastry chef, I always enjoy making new creations. I wanted to establish my own cafe so I could do more of that. I had been thinking about it for the past 10 years.


The specific idea for Chez Christophe came from my European upbringing. In Switzerland, it’s traditional to have a pastry shop attached to a small cafe where people can sit and enjoy pastries. You must have a wide offering of chocolates, pastries, sweet and savoury. I could see there was a market for this more European style cafe in Vancouver. And, similar to Europe, people in Vancouver always appreciate that our products are made in house with local ingredients!


Chez Christophe in Burnaby Heights.
Photo Credit: Chez Christophe

What gets you excited about going to work everyday?

I really enjoy what I do. What motivates me everyday is seeing people coming through our door and enjoying our products. It keeps me motivated to keep creating and keep pushing ourselves to make new things. People telling us they’re happy with what we do - that’s the main reason for sure.

 

What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten?

When we first opened, we were brand new to BC. Somehow, we started seeing regular customers right away, which was so encouraging. We’ve had people come visit us every week for 5 years - since we opened! People must really enjoy what we do, otherwise they wouldn’t be coming back over and over again. That’s the best reward - it means we’re doing something right.


What’s your greatest accomplishment?


Opening the business as newcomers to BC, and seeing it grow. When we first started, it was myself and my wife - challenging, to say the least. Now we have 18 employees.


We also had the opportunity to travel to France to Cacao Barry, our cocoa supplier, to create our own blend of chocolate! We created two dark chocolate blends that bear my name, and are my own custom recipe. I loved working on this project with Cacao Barry, and I’d love to work on more projects like this.


What surprises people the most when you tell them about what you do?


People are always surprised at how much time and effort it takes to create each product. Everything is made from scratch by hand, and we take care to produce consistent and high quality products. When we take the time to explain the creation process, people are always surprised. I think it’s something people take for granted.

 

Left: a seasonal pumpkin tonka latte.
Right: Apple pie milk chocolate bark with caramelized hazelnuts
Photo Credit: Chez Christophe

 

Where do you get inspiration for new products?

We have some really creative staff, and I always let them bring ideas to the table. I always add my final touch, but a lot of the ideas come from our staff.


Sometimes I’ll just see something when I’m walking around, or I’ll have a brainstorm, and rush to write it down. My job as a pastry chef never stops. It’s about always trying things out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m inspired by what’s around me.


What’s it like to run a business with your wife?

We actually worked together in Australia at the same business, so we did have a preview of how running a business would be together. We complement each other well. At first, my wife took care of customers in the front of house  and I take care of production in the back. Now that we’re growing, our responsibilities have grown and changed. It’s rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Christophe and Jess in the kitchen.
Photo Credit: Chez Christophe

How important has it been for you to build community with your business?

My family is all back in Switzerland, so in 2013, when we first opened, it was just us. We didn’t have connections, so we really started from scratch. We were amazed by the support of our community.


We love the Heights! People here support small businesses and are so friendly. It reminds us of Switzerland. We know our neighbours and customers by name. We care about them and they care about us. We love this aspect of the business and the location we’re in. We can share with our customers and they become part of our life. For example, some of our earliest customers who came to our shop were single with no kids at the time. Over the years, we’ve been able to see their family grow. It’s amazing to be a part of.


Do you have any role models in the food industry in Vancouver?

Jack Evrensel - the former owner of the Top Table Group of restaurants. I met him when I worked at Cin Cin (which he then owned).  When Chez Christophe first opened, he gave me some great advice on opening and running a restaurant. He was so open and supportive of what we do - I really appreciated it.


What’s next?

We keep growing the business and we are looking at opening another location. We’re also growing with our online store, so that’s something we’d like to dabble in a bit further. Being able to offer our products to people online is great.


Do you have any seasonal products you’re excited to unveil?

We’re working on something that has some very personal meaning for me. It’s a DIY chocolate bark kit that comes with different recipes all in one box. I’m hoping it will be a great gift for people who want to be a little bit creative and hands-on. I’d say it’s our biggest new product coming up for the holiday season.


It’s a particularly nostalgic project for me. When I was a kid, I’d make truffles with my mom to give as Christmas gifts. I definitely envision people making their own chocolate bark with their families, like I used to do with my mom.


A DIY Chocolate Bark kit
Photo Credit: Chez Christophe



We are proud to feature Chez Christophe chocolate bars in our gourmet gift baskets.

The Locavore gift basket.