tofino business - the common loaf, a tofino institution

Tofino business profile: The Common Loaf Bake shop - A Tofino Institution

by Shirley Langer, Tofino


We people of Tofino cannot be easily categorized. There are simply all kinds, and even some who defy description. It is possible, however, to divide the populace of Tofino into two broad groups regarding their preference for the staff of life: those who eat bread baked with bleached white flour, and those who wouldn’t be caught dead with a loaf under their arm containing anything less than three unbleached grains, preferably grains of ancient origin. These latter folk frequent The Common Loaf Bake Shop.

The Common Loaf is more than a bakery. It is a gathering place, where regulars philosophize, exchange useful information and the latest rumours, or just shoot the breeze during coffee klatches. Travelers sit dreamily over tea or coffee, writing postcards, while the more earnest ones log the wonders of Clayoquot Sound in travel journals. Just the approach to the bakery alerts you that this is not a conventional place. Clientele gathered on the patio ranges from the town loafers and serious drinking companions to the most upright establishment, all intermingling over coffee and The Loaf’s famous cheese or cinnamon buns. The dress is colourful and alternative, reflecting Tofino’s independence from style fashionistas. No matter what your fashion persuasion though, the common leveler in Tofino is fleece. But clothing is too prosaic a term to describe the mix of garments on view, garments which run the gamut of grunge, hip, faux gypsy, latter-day hippy, punk exotica and the straight-laced. Hair, if not shaved off completely, might be dyed every hue possible or encouraged to twist into impressive dreadlocks.

There is one thing no customer at The Loaf can afford to be casual about, and that’s the crows. The crows that congregate around the bakery have eagle eyes. The minute you abandon your table to refill your coffee cup or decide you must have a chocolate brownie, a crow will make off with whatever is left on your table. I have seen tourists rush in gesticulating and babbling in many tongues about crows stealing their food. Their dismay is inevitably met with a sympathetic shrug and advice about leaving someone on guard next time

The only constant about The Common Loaf is its quirkiness. Take the staff. Eclectic would be an understatement. No previous experience is required. There is no dress code. Nor do there seem to be any standards to adhere to. Everyone must sell bread, take cash, take orders, serve the food, clear tables, wash and replace dishes, keep the coffee coming, clean up messes and keep on smiling. In fact, there are only two criteria that must be met in order to keep a job at The Common Loaf Bake Shop: one, show up, and two, be useful in at least one specific way. While such quirkiness can leave much to be desired by way of too much puddled coffee on the tables and no spoons at the coffee bar all too often, it nevertheless produces a unique atmosphere.

Maureen Fraser is the proprietor and grace that facilitates all the creative chaos that swirls around her establishment. She arrived in the area as a ‘60s hippy when the beaches swelled with hundreds wanting to live free from convention in beach shacks constructed on the slopes of the headlands. When all the hippy folk were evicted from the beaches by the formation of Pacific Rim National Park, Maureen, like so many others, rolled down the road to Tofino. Eventually Maureen opened the first Common Loaf Bake Shop just up the street from the Co-Op Hardware Store.

Never one to hold back her opinions about clear-cut logging of Clayoquot Sound’s ancient forest, the media would seek out Maureen’s opinion when there was controversy or a blockade. Our kaffee klatch happened to be there when she was being interviewed for tv while she prepared the mix for a Seven Layers To Hell cake. She must have been more intent on the interview than the recipe because she forgot to turn the blender speed down before adding the flour. Suddenly, flour was flying everywhere and the interview came to an hilarious end.

Over the years Tofino has changed, as things must. The village has grown; there’s even a four-way stop street, and Tofitians now include espresso, latte and cappuccino in their coffee repertoire. Some things change, but the line up at lunch still spills out The Common Loaf Bakery door and onto the patio. And look out! the crows still wait to seize the day and your cheese buns.

Shirley Langer describes herself as a woman about town with a well developed civic consciousness.

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tofino time september 2005

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