Beloved Whitehorse baker kneads some time for himself
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
In August 2015, Suat Tuzlak, then the owner of the Alpine Bakery, asked a couple he knew in Germany to post ads in local newspapers.
He was looking to sell the very business he started 32 years ago.
“Maybe that won’t be necessary,” they told him. “We will take over.”
Come Jan. 1, Silvia and Walter Streit will be the new owners of the iconic bakery.
Tuzlak is quick to point out that he sold his business to trusted friends. The quality and variety of products the bakery is known for, he said, won’t change.
“They are the best candidates one can imagine,” Tuzlak said. “They know (the) bakery, they love Yukon, share similar values, work ethic.”
Walter first visited the Yukon in 2001. He came back regularly after that, and in 2004 he started visiting with his wife Silvia. They met Tuzlak and became friends — Tuzlak even attended their wedding in Germany.
When Tuzlak put the Alpine Bakery up for sale, the couple had been thinking it was time for a change.
A civil engineer by trade, Walter found the pace of life in big cities too fast for his liking.
So the couple has moved to the Yukon for good.
“Germany is not my home anymore,” said Silvia, “I (only) go there for visiting family.”
In Germany, Walter owned a consulting company, working on bridges and tunnels. Silvia was in charge of bookkeeping.
Now the roles have changed: Silvia will be the head baker, and Walter will take care of the business side of the bakery.
“Now she is the boss,” said Walter.
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For Tuzlak it was a relief the couple offered to buy the bakery. He was concerned prospective buyers might turn his cherished business into a bar or a “steak restaurant.”
“Walter has experience as a previous business owner,” Tuzlak said. “It’s a big asset.”
Silvia, for her part, had already worked for a time at the bakery and has been baking bread there since September.
“I am amazed how good a baker in the meantime Silvia became without formal education,” Tuzlak said, “just with enthusiasm, dedication and interest.”
And if there is one person who knows that previous experience isn’t a requirement to start a bakery, it is Tuzlak himself.
He was born in Turkey but moved to Germany, before going to Alberta where he worked in the oil patch in the 1970s.
An environmentalist at heart, Tuzlak wasn’t comfortable with the industry.
In the 1980s he moved to Whitehorse and started the Alpine Bakery, first in a small building next to Antoinette’s, and for the past 25 years in the well-known wooden lodge at 5th Avenue and Alexander St.
The bakery offers organic sourdough bread, baked goods, and lunches. When Tuzlak moved to the Yukon, organic food was almost unheard of.
“It was not easy to get established,” he said. “On the other hand Whitehorse was and still is a good, open-minded place.”
The bakery, he recognizes, was a “big gamble.”
He had no professional experience but used to bake bread for friends and neighbours.
“It was a tough start but Whitehorse was the right place.”
At the time, California witnessed the rise of a small movement led by artisanal bakers making sourdough bread.
“I knew some of those people,” he said. “If there was any kind of training, I visited some small bakeries in California. It was helpful.”
He is proud of the business he’s built — offering not just bread but also organic vegetables through the “produce club” that features locally grown veggies in the summer months.
At the bakery, he mills his own grain shipped from Saskatchewan.
And all of the breads are varieties of sourdough, made from the fermented mix of flour and water that was popular during the Gold Rush.
“Bread turns out much better, tastes better,” he said. “And the quality of sourdough bread is easier to digest and better for (the) system.”
Sourdough bread requires more time than regular bread made with commercial yeast — at the Alpine Bakery, sourdough bread is prepared every afternoon to be baked the following day.
With the new year only weeks away, that task will soon fall to Walter and Silvia, who are gearing up for the impending handover.
They’re planning some minor renovations for the building that will be done over Christmas. They want to be open on Mondays during the summertime because of tourists. And they want to expand the list of products the bakery sells, adding typical German cakes and a few different sorts of bread.
“We’ll keep the character of the business,” said Walter.
But he also wants to show Yukoners they’re in it for the long run. “Especially at the beginning, it’s necessary to show we’re trustworthy,” he said.
The couple plans to give one per cent of the bakery’s revenue to environmental non-profits.
“It’s not just talking,” he said.
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These days Tuzlak only bakes on occasion.
“I don’t have that luxury anymore of putting my hands in the dough because of other aspects of the business,” he said.
He is excited for his retirement — and he has big plans.
“I’m getting ready for the 2024 Olympic Games,” he said.
This is a joke, because every second person on the street asks him about his next plans. But what he is most looking forward to is having more time to hike, ski, bike and swim.
When he was the bakery’s head baker, he woke up every day at 4 a.m. and baked enough bread to go through 1,000 kilos of flour every week. Yet he made sure to keep a healthy lifestyle, swimming, doing yoga, and napping.
“My day goes better if I have all three of them,” he said.
Tuzlak is now in his seventies and baking has kept him in good shape.
“Kneading dough is good for body, mind and spirit,” he said.
With that, Tuzlak must cut the interview short — he still has a bakery to run, after all.
But he says he isn’t going to leave the territory.
“The Yukon is my home.”