A mid-life crisis can manifest itself in many ways—a radical new haircut, an increasing obsession with obituaries, a sudden interest in, say, fast red sports cars. For Vancouver visual artist Shannon Oksanen, self-reinvention came as the impulsive decision to buy a bakery.
Oksanen had frequented Main Street’s Liberty Bakery with her family for years, especially after discovering her daughter, a notoriously picky eater, loved the café’s black bean soup. Upon learning the owners were selling in 2014, Oksanen phoned fellow artists Rodney Graham and Scott Livingstone in a panic. “I wanted to save Liberty Bakery,” explains Oksanen one sunny winter morning. “It was the first kind of café anywhere around here for years, so it was just such a meeting place, you know? And I really wanted to keep that.” After a brief deliberation, the trio decided to purchase the place.
The trick was that Liberty, then about 16 years old, was in need of a renovation. “Rodney, Scott, and I were obsessed with the decorating,” says Oksanen. “It was super important to us to make it look like a pretty little jewel box of a place.” The three artists gave the country-styled space a clean, crisp Nordic-inspired makeover (as a nod to the previous owner’s Swedish culture and Oksanen’s Finnish heritage), complete with white wooden walls, a collection of old portrait paintings, vintage beech and elm chairs, and fresh flowers.
For Vancouver visual artist Shannon Oksanen, self-reinvention came as the impulsive decision to buy a bakery.
While the bright and charming decor delight, the crowning jewel is a diverse assortment of baked goods dreamed up by head baker Erin Hammett and the rest of the creative culinary team at Liberty. Behind the glass display, playful favourites like Totoro ginger cookies (a cartoon character shape suggested by her young daughters) sit alongside Scandinavian-inspired treats like semla (traditional Swedish buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream) and “potatoes” (vanilla cream puffs under cocoa-dusted marzipan). Alongside these Liberty staples, themed sugar cookies and confections come and go with the holidays (Valentine’s Day welcomes an individual-sized red velvet cake layered with cream cheese icing and drizzled with a chocolate glaze).
This month, Liberty Bakery has increasingly added to its savoury offerings with items like beet and lentil salad, and roasted tomato and fennel soup, thanks to a partnership with chef Julie Marr from Kitchen Culinaire—another local culinary business. Additionally, Oksanen is hoping to collaborate with Beyond Bread in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood to sell sandwiches and fresh loaves.
This commitment to local collaboration, along with a friendly and talented staff, has allowed the bakery to retain the welcoming atmosphere Oksanen had cherished as a customer.
Liberty Bakery, 3699 Main Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
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