Sunday, November 29, 2020

Chilliwack’s BeNanna Bakery rises again, and now it’s making dough

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Ben Van Eck’s first bakery bombed. It wasn’t until 12 years and five children later that the Chilliwack man felt like trying again.

Ben and Anna Van Eck (back) in their 500-square-foot bakery in Chilliwack with their kids: from left, Reuben, 6, Naomi, 12, Rebecca, 14, Toni-Lynn, 9.

“Sometimes life gives you that,” the Netherlands-trained baker said. “It went sour and that’s really emotional.”

This time round, Van Eck’s vanilla slices, bread and cakes are flying out the door. BeNanna Bakery is crowded with customers, the bills are paid and Van Eck is daring to dream again.

He has no illusions about what went wrong the first time: “Not enough sales, too much overhead and we borrowed too much,” he said.

Van Eck and his wife Anna had bought a 2,500-square-foot bakery by borrowing 100 per cent of the purchase price with the help of a family co-signor. The couple worked day and night, but the loan was too big. The place was too big.

“You’re plugging this hole with that hole,” Van Eck said. “It kept going down and down, and it goes really fast the last couple of months.”

What’s more, the couple inherited a product list and customer expectations. Sure, Van Eck quickly learned to make donuts, but his heart yearned to bake European pastries, not muffins and hotdog buns.

After four years, the bank demanded its loan.

Although Van Eck figured he’d paid down 30 per cent of the total loan value, his co-signor had to pay back 100 per cent of the original loan. Van Eck hadn’t realized early payments go to interest. No capital had yet been paid down.

It was a bitter lesson. “It took me two or three years before I could go back to the building,” he said.

For the next 12 years, Van Eck did what he had to in order to make ends meet. He managed a greenhouse and, later, a chicken farm.

Then, in 2012, someone asked the couple to bake for a school fundraiser. Van Eck and Anna went all out, baking vanilla slices, raisin buns and apple turnovers all night.

“We made a whole minivan full. I invested about $1,000 in ingredients,” he said.

In the morning, Van Eck stayed home to clean up. He felt sick with worry. “I’m having stomach pains,” he said. “What about if (the baking) doesn’t sell?”

His wife phoned home an hour-and-a-half after later. They were completely sold out.

“All of a sudden, the switch went. I was motivated.”

And so, Van Eck decided to try again. This time, he would borrow no money and watch all expenses like a hawk. He’d open his new bakery in his garage. Saturdays only.

The health department gave its OK, Van Eck built a website and took online orders. The garage bakery was immediately profitable and over three years, sales climbed to $1,000 a week.

Last year, the couple finally moved BeNanna Bakery into a tiny — and affordable — commercial property of just 500 so. ft. Three customers fill the space.

“I can live with that. People come in here now and it’s nice and cozy,” said Van Eck, who has to choreograph his movements when baking. “Rent now is way less than the loan payment before.”

The bakery is so busy, Van Eck has hired three full-time employees and he’s even backtracked on his personal pledge to never borrow money again.

“I swallowed my own words,” he said. “You start growing and you realize you need capital, not because you’re doing bad, but because you’re doing good.”

 

 




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