It’s barely 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but at Thomas Haas Chocolates and Patisserie (2539 West Broadway), things are in full swing. Over the whirr of the espresso machine, I overhear bits of conversation, with croissant, chocolate and ohmigodsogood cracking through the din. While some people are content with just caffeine, most have a plate in front of them — pastries for most and cakes for the eager few.
At first glance, the shop is a jewel box of impeccable chocolates, butter-laced pastries and Instagram-worthy desserts. But behind the scenes is a love story between partners, in every sense of the word.
It all started in the fall of 1995. Thomas had just relocated from his native Austria to be the executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel. As department head, he stayed at the hotel until he found more permanent accommodation.
In the front office of the hotel was Lisa, who was born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto. “I was always calling him to ask when he was leaving,” Lisa says, “so I could sell his room.”
Despite machinations within the hotel to match the two, Lisa was seeing someone else. The following spring, newly single, she and Thomas were hanging out as friends. “Something hit me and I realized that, you know, I might kind of like this guy.”
The rest, she says, is history.
After a stint in New York City, where Thomas worked for Daniel Boulud, the couple — who were now a family — returned to Vancouver. While consulting for the Metropolitan Hotel, Thomas noticed a dearth of fine chocolate in the city.
So, he started a makeshift chocolate workshop in the basement of the family’s North Vancouver townhouse.
“He would work 12 hours at the Met, come home, have dinner, then go into the basement and make chocolates,” Lisa recalls. She looked after their two children and handled the paperwork. “And I had to clean everything,” she says. “There I [was] in the kitchen with the big pans, the enrobing line, trying to get the chocolate out of the microwave.”
After a few months, they moved the chocolate operation to a friend’s warehouse. They stayed there for the next four years, supplying luxury hotels with top-notch chocolate.
In Christmas 2004, they moved into their first retail location in an unassuming cul-de-sac behind the North Shore Auto Mall. Most times, it’s bursting with people.
“[The café] is so small because Thomas and I thought we’d be able to manage it,” Lisa recalls. “[Like] someone would ring a little bell and we’d run out and say, ‘What can we help you with?’”
Naturally, when they opened their West Broadway location in 2009, they made space for a larger café. Similarly, their menu has evolved over the years. “I think Vancouver’s palate is becoming more refined,” says Lisa. And on the fact that so many chocolate and pastry shops have opened in recent years: “It keeps you on your toes. It means we’re constantly improving.”
Together, Thomas and Lisa Haas have built a marriage, a family and a business. “In the business, he’s trying to delegate, to take a step back and let people grow. But to his core, he still remains the same. He has the same integrity and fierceness — or you could say stubbornness,” she laughs.
And outside of the business? “I think in terms of family, he has mellowed a little bit,” she says, “but I have to say, he’s still just Thomas.”