Baker brings sweet taste of Hong Kong to Halifax brewery market

·3 min read
Eric Chiang is the founder of Hélène Jaune Cookies which opened a booth at the Halifax Brewery Farmers Market in June 2022. (Emma Smith/CBC - image credit)
Eric Chiang is the founder of Hélène Jaune Cookies which opened a booth at the Halifax Brewery Farmers Market in June 2022. (Emma Smith/CBC - image credit)

When Eric Chiang decided to move to Halifax from Hong Kong — leaving behind a successful bakery business that consisted of six retail stores and a factory — people told him he was crazy.

"I shut down the whole business but that's the way I have to go," Chiang told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Monday.

"Right now, this is the second run of my life. It's no problem. In Hong Kong, is the first one. This is the second run, just like a football game. Don't worry, I can make it."

Before moving to Halifax, Chiang owned and operated several Jini Bakery Cookies and Gu Fah Bakery locations in Hong Kong.

Emma Smith/CBC
Emma Smith/CBC

He built the business from the ground up, starting in 2003 with a simple street food booth that sold only Hong Kong bubble waffles. That eventually grew to a thriving bakery chain that sold a variety of cookies and pastries and made more than $1.6 million Cdn in sales in 2019, he says.

But that was the same year the Hong Kong government introduced a bill that allowed anyone charged with a crime to be extradited to mainland China to face trial.

The bill was withdrawn, but many Hong Kongers — including Chiang — saw it as another example of Beijing encroaching on their political autonomy and freedom.

"I have a daughter. She is 10 years old and I worry about the future for her and I think Canada has a better environment and education for her," Chiang said.

Since Chiang had already immigrated to Canada as a teenager in 1993, studying at McGill University in Montreal, he decided to return with his wife and daughter — this time landing in Halifax.

Chiang didn't initially plan to reopen his bakery. It wasn't until most COVID-19 restrictions in Nova Scotia had been lifted in 2021 that he had the idea to start again.

"I love to eat. I love to eat and all my family love to eat and love to do the job in the kitchen and so we enjoy making food, making pastry, making cakes," he said.

"Making people happy is my only wish. Making people have this satisfaction — it's a very happy experience."

Chiang started researching what he had to do to reopen his bakery. Since he doesn't have a licensed kitchen, the provincial government told him he could start a home bakery and sell his goods directly to customers.

He started Hélène Jaune Cookies, named after his wife Elaine but in French. He said the French name is to commemorate where they met — Montreal.

Now, about a year after restarting, Chiang has opened a booth at the Halifax Brewery Farmers Market.

He sells intricate, handmade Hong Kong-style cookies, a specialty caramel-nut mix, a variety of colourful Swiss rolls, fluffy Japanese-style cheesecakes and moon cakes.

Emma Smith/CBC
Emma Smith/CBC

He said he's happy to be a vendor at the market because the people are nice and "the atmosphere is awesome."

"I have so many return customers in the market and they come back to my booth every week," he said.

"I'm very happy. Actually, I'm making friends, not only customers. They are my friend … [it's a] very happy, very happy experience."

Chiang said although the experience has been enjoyable, it also comes with its challenges.

"In Hong Kong, I have so many, so many staff to help me. Right here, I have only one person — only me," he said.

"I bake and I package, I do the transportation, all the things. It's only me."

Chiang said his hope is to make enough sales at the brewery market so he can open a licensed kitchen and start selling his baked goods in stores once again.

"I can make my life easy again. No problem," he said.

"Of course, it is challenging, but without challenging, without a dream, there's no meaning for your life. I'm happy to make it."