In Business: Douce France

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Coming from a large family in France, Christel Saba — the 10th of 14 children — got into business at age 14 selling baked goods, pastries and confectionary.

By 16 she’d already won an award for unique and personalized gift presentation and then set her sights on learning more about the industry.

“The following years I started to work for my brothers — seven of them are bakers and pastry chefs in Paris,” Saba says from Douce France, her shop on Yonge Street south of Castlefield Avenue. “Then I wanted to get a global view of that job so I went to work in different places and my last position was at a castle (where) we would prepare menus for up to 500 people and I was responsible for the final touches.”

Named after her father’s favourite song, Douce France offers artisan products from her home country. There is tea from Compagnie Coloniale, the oldest tea house in France, pralines from Confiseur de Luxe Mazet, which are made using a recipe that dates back to 1636, coffee and chocolates from Voisin, a company established in 1897 and Angelina’s hot chocolate, a company dating back to 1903.

People in Paris line up, sometimes as long as an hour, for the hot chocolate, she says.

Different regions are on display in her store, each of them with different specialties imported from France.

“I don’t work with the importers but with the artisans themselves and this is how we can ensure quality and authenticity of the products any time of the year,” she says. “We offer plates on which we put the different specialties so that people can discover them before buying a whole bag.”

Saba also offers soups, catering, centrepieces for special occasions and customized gift boxes and baskets, which are also imported from France and can be filled with goods like biscuits, cakes, jam, glazed chestnuts and chocolates.

The Parisian café-boutique, set up six months ago, is not only the culmination of her experience in the food industry but also years spent working as a language teacher.

“It is for me a cultural and commercial project,” says Saba, who moved to Toronto four years ago with her Iranian husband and their three children. “We focus on the quality of the products and the service, the relationship we have with our customers, and that’s why the staff also wear the Parisian uniforms and they are bilingual.

“We’re trying to create a Parisian atmosphere in the café, we have French music and it sounds like customers love that.”

Several school classes have already visited the café to learn about French traditions, the different regions of France and the products that come from the areas while being immersed in a French environment.

“They had a multiple choice questions game and then they had the hot chocolate and I also prepared some follow-up activities to motivate them to learn French in a different way,” she says. Although the experience reminds some customers of a trip to Paris, others find they are brought back to memories of growing up in France.

“We’ve had some customers in tears because even the décor is from France,” she says. “People when they come over here, it reminds them of their childhood.

“They are so happy and it’s a taste of France for them in Toronto.”

In Business: Reasons Mommy Drinks

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When you get poo in your hair: Local writers produce funny essays on the untold truth about parenthood

While on set of NBC’s The Today Show in New York, where they were celebrating the launch of their book, Reasons Mommy Drinks, co-authors and comedians Lyranda Martin-Evans and Fiona Stevenson were paid a big compliment.

“They actually called us the Sex and the City girls with babies,” a smiling Martin-Evans says from a coffee shop on Mount Pleasant Road. “I was like, ‘Did you get that off a poster somewhere? That’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in my life!’ ”

Friends since high school, it was at North Toronto Collegiate Institute that the duo began writing together, in the form of full-length musical comedies. Years later, when they were on maternity leave at the same time, the idea for a blog was conceived.

They picked the name Reasons Mommy Drinks, to stand apart from the 4 million other existing mommy blogs, and launched in January 2012. Within six months they had secured a book deal.

“We thought we should continue to flex ourselves creatively and do something fun so we decided to start writing and thought a mommy blog would be a good way to start,” Stevenson says, noting they also studied together at the Second City Conservatory. “We have always written in a comedic voice and thought, let’s write funny essays on the truth about parenthood.”

In the book, they combined their own experiences with tales from friends and mom groups. They wrote humorous accounts of some of the struggles of having a baby, from the baby shower all the way up to the 18-month mark.

They describe the book as the antithesis of regular pregnancy books that are serious and often filled with worst-case scenarios — which can be terrifying.

“So we talk about what happens when you get poo in your hair, because it’s going to happen,” Martin-Evans says, adding the book contains 100 reasons mommy drinks, in the form of short essays. “Or sleep training: I found it so hard, emotional and the lack of sleep and taking all those things and making them funny, allowing her to laugh at them. Allowing her to laugh versus making her terrified.”

Stevenson, who calls North Toronto home, says the book links those first moments of parenthood — which she summarizes as amazing yet overwhelming and funny in hindsight — to pop culture and celebrities. Being on The Today Show was also a culminating moment. They refer to hosts Kathie Lee and Hoda by name in an entry.

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“A lot of the entries stem from that pressure that mom puts on herself,” Stevenson says. “In the moment, those moments can be so overwhelming and difficult, but months later you look back and all you remember are the beautiful moments, and you really do laugh at it. When you’re sleeping three hours in a 24-hour period, at best, everything can seem hard.”

Although every entry comes with a fitting drink recipe — such as the Naptime entry, which includes a drink with thyme in it, or the Ode to Daddy, featuring a twist on the Manhattan cocktail called the Man-hattan — they stress their parenting lessons aren’t all about drinking on the job.

North-Leaside resident Martin-Evans explains the genesis of the Reasons Mommy Drinks name.

“It was more about that feeling that you used to get at work, like ‘Ah, today’s a terrible day, I need a drink,’ but then you go home and drink a Diet Coke and order pizza and you don’t really mean it,” she says. “That’s sort of how we came up with that hook and then we thought, you know what would be even cooler is if based on the essay there was a drink, a mocktail or a cocktail, that went with what we were talking about.”

Although Martin-Evans and Stevenson, who respectively hold full-time positions as creative director and director of innovation, had big dreams of renting a cabin for a lengthy writing retreat to finish the book, they admit the idea quickly fell apart.

“We were going to immerse ourselves, and then reality sets in, which is a child and work and all these other things that you have to balance, so we literally wrote the book with the great support of our partners, with naptime constraints,” Martin-Evans says. “We would sort of like, race against time: 1½-hour power sessions during the nap, let’s go and be super productive.”


This article was originally published in the October 2013 edition of the Leaside-Rosedale and North Toronto Town Crier. All photos by Ann Ruppenstein.

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