What’s on the menu at Issho Bakery, Riverdale’s new place for coffee and Japanese-inspired desserts
Including milk chocolate matcha cookies, miso marshmallow squares and kimchi scones
Name: Issho Bakery
Contact: 583 Gerrard St. E., isshobakery.com, @isshobakery
Chef-owners: Yuka Watts, Martin Yeung
Accessibility: Fully accessible (but no customer washroom)
Pastry chef Yuka Watts and baker Martin Yeung, partners in business and life, both have fine-dining backgrounds—but, when lockdown hit, they took the opportunity to put down the plating tweezers and focus on creating desserts that put substance over style. “We had both been working with frou-frou food for so long,” says Watts. “I wanted to make something that tasted really good versus having it look a particular way but not deliver the flavour I was after.”
Incidentally, the creations they churned out of their home bakery—milk chocolate matcha cookies, milky hojicha spelt sable cookies and sourdough sandwich loaves—still looked good enough to fuel a successful Instagram-based business. About a year into their virtual bakery, they started selling sweets in a handful of coffee shops across the city. A steadier revenue stream meant the pair could realize their original goal to open a brick-and-mortar shop, and a few months ago, they moved into the small Riverdale space formerly inhabited by Soul Chocolates (which has since expanded and moved farther east).
The business has hit a nice stride, and the pair hope to expand in the future, but they won’t grow the team until they can afford to pay everyone a living wage. Issho is also part of One Percent for the Planet—a certification accorded to businesses that donate at least that much of their annual revenue to environment-related causes. Given that Issho Bakery’s motto is “making stuff we wanna eat,” it only makes sense that they would create a business resolutely in line with their values.
As the name suggests (issho is Japanese for “together”), this bakery draws inspiration from characteristically seasonal, not-too-sweet Japanese desserts. But Issho is relatively free-wheeling with its recipes, unencumbered by straightforward allegiance to a particular tradition. Ingredients are top quality across the board, including stone-ground flour from 1847, a Fergus-based miller. In one signature cookie, the grassy bitterness of high-grade matcha powder is cut with the silky sweetness of Valrhona and Cacao Barry milk chocolate. Scones are layered with scarlet kimchi for an umami-rich bite. Here, sugar is almost an undertone, only there to deftly balance other flavours.
Dessert is the star at Issho, but coffee is no afterthought. Beans from Hamilton-based Detour make up the house roast, with chocolatey, nutty tones. But there’s also a rotating selection of lighter-roast single-origin coffee, which is more in line with what Watts and Yeung drink at home. (There’s a small premium per drink if you opt for a more adventurous bean.) Besides your regular roundup of espresso-based bevies, there are killer specialty options, like a bright, fizzy mix of espresso, tonic and yuzu juice.
It’s a cozy counter-café with wood details, white walls, touches of greenery and a glass partition between the back kitchen and the front serving area. Shelves lining one wall display beans for sale by the bag, along with honey from Quebec-based craft apiary Miels d’Anicet, which Issho uses in its honey shortbread. It’s a small room, but clean lines and an ordered, intelligent use of space keep it from feeling stuffy.