British Columbia’s lieutenant-governor didn’t mention anything about kosher food when she made a speech from the throne in February 2023 to outline government priorities for the year ahead.
But, later that day, members of the province’s Jewish community made a point of presenting a box of kosher pastries known as “Challnuts” to Premier David Eby.
The unique desserts came from the My Way Bikery—the only kosher bakery on Vancouver Island, which was opened in January by a couple of ex-Montrealers: Moshe and Leah Appel.
But getting their signature creation ready was a close call. The bakery was closed for the night when a local rabbi called them with an order to take it to the legislature in Victoria.
“So here were my employees, cutting the Challnuts into little pieces,” recalls Leah. “You know, trying to make enough to feed everyone.”
Challnuts are Leah Appel’s take on jelly doughnuts. She uses challah dough, which is coated with egg whites and raw sugar, and baked with the jelly inside.
The pastries predated the bakery itself, when the Appels were selling baked goods out of their home kitchen in Nanaimo, B.C.
A customer asked Moshe for sweet challah buns, and Moshe assured him he had some. The man was charged for a dozen. And then Moshe informed an unsuspecting Leah she needed to dream up a recipe, pronto.
“I said, ‘I don’t know how to make that’,” Leah told him. “And he said, ‘Well, he already paid, so figure it out.’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Well, of course you can, because you’re you!’”
Since then, Challnuts have become her signature dish. They’ve proven so popular that someone stole an entire tray of them right out of their new bakery, which opened Jan. 3 in the Victoria Public Market.
My Way Bikery also supplies challahs, cakes, salads, and sandwiches to the growing Jewish population of Vancouver Island. They make Montreal-style bagels, too, although without a wood-fired oven to bake them in. (Getting a permit proved impossible.)
The venture was a major pivot for both Appels–they each quit their jobs in marketing and tech to try their hand at the food-services sector. They bought the location and the equipment from a non-Jewish baker who had the site in the market until he had to sell quickly due to a family medical crisis in Nova Scotia.
The unusual name is a combination of their home business My Way Bakery, and the name of the former owner’s establishment. He called it the Bikery because he started out riding around the city selling pretzels from his bicycle. (After striking up a friendship with a local Chabad rabbi, the former owner also branched out into making kosher challahs in 2021.)
Although launching the business led Leah to start using her Hebrew name—rather than Lois—starting a totally kosher bakery is the latest step in Moshe’s own personal spiritual journey to reconnect with his Jewish roots. The Montreal native comes from a prominent Jewish family; his grandfather Moe Appel, ran Israel Bonds and was active in synagogue life.
But it was during the pandemic that Moshe’s life changed direction. He began to wear a kippah and tzitzit, he now prays three times a day and he is very close to the local Chabad community on Vancouver Island.
The couple originally wanted to serve dairy products like cheese blintzes, but they soon discovered that the cost to import strictly kosher dairy products to Victoria from the United States via Montreal would be prohibitive.
That’s why, at least for now, their menu has many vegan choices, and is all pareve food— which gets inspected and approved by the Vancouver-based Kosher Check’s team of rabbis.
Even though the overwhelming majority of their customers either don’t keep kosher or aren’t Jewish, the Appels wanted to make sure that Chabad rabbis and their families have a place to eat in Victoria.
“Who else is going to do it in a small community if we don’t?” asks Leah.
For example, a rabbi and rebbetzin from Calgary recently pre-ordered much of the bakery’s menu for a rare trip without their children—and expressed gratitude for not having to bring their own food.
“So that’s the kind of thing that makes me feel so good about it.”
They also get requests from Israel asking them to make shiva platters, or send cookies to someone’s cousin who lives in Victoria. Inmates who request kosher meals at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre also have it supplied by the Appels–including 16 loaves of bread per month.
My Way Bikery is a labour of love for the Appels in more than one way. Moshe and Leah have known each other since elementary school and were best friends while growing up in Montreal. After high school, they each went their separate ways, which included marrying (and having children) with their previous spouses.
Now in their early 40s, reconnection came during the period of COVID lockdowns. Appel was a single father living in B.C., while Leah’s marriage was ending. Their new blended family includes two daughters and a son—and two dogs.
Ten-year-old Raya works occasionally in the bakery, too. She made all the hamentashen dough for Purim.
But there won’t be any matzah bagels or other sweet creations coming out of their ovens for Passover. Not if they want to keep their kosher hechsher. The rabbis told them making matzah beforehand as a gimmick isn’t a good idea, because customers might use it during Passover.
Staying open would also have required them to sell their chametz, clean out the entire bakery, then keep the ovens off for one week prior to the holiday. Instead, they’ll stay closed.
Despite all the goodwill and publicity the couple and their bakery has received, they’re aware of the risk of being prominently located in a public market.
Given how Moshe’s observant Jewish image is part of their branding—along with Hebrew letters on the store’s sign—they did consider whether it would open them up to antisemitism. Victoria has gone through several incidents recently, including a threat made to the city’s Jewish film festival, and the local Chabad building being defaced.
But Leah says she’s encountered a local fascination with their heritage.
“People really like Jews here and they really are interested because Moshe wears the ‘team jersey’,” she explained, referring to her partner’s long beard, kippah, and fringes dangling over his jeans.
“People will just stop him on the street and say ‘My grandfather was half-Jewish. Let’s talk about Judaism.’”