Sweet Success

No rest in sight for bakery owners in St. Andrew’s

“These are the best cinnamon rolls on PEI.” It wasn’t Ben and Sarah Charlton, the owners of Bishop’s Rest Bakery, B&B and Catering who said that to me. It was our real estate agent who brought them as a welcome gift when we moved to PEI. I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind on that high praise.

What I can tell you upon meeting the Charltons is that a lot of love and care certainly goes into making these classics. “We don’t skimp on the ingredients. We load them with butter and sugar and really good cinnamon,” Sarah said. And while the recipe remains a secret close to the Charlton’s hearts, Ben tells me that it’s more about the method than the ingredients. “It’s me and a guy I met along the journey who are making them. It’s a feeling. You know when the dough is right with your hands in it. It takes a while to get that down.”

It’s not just their well-known cinnamon rolls but every baked good that is hand mixed at Bishop’s Rest Bakery in St Andrews, PEI. The quality and hard work that goes into the baking pays off for the Charltons. What started as a small side gig dropping off a couple of cinnamon rolls at the local gas station is now an established brand on the Island. The bakery delivers to more than a dozen stores from tip to tip, and made thousands of buns for PEI Burger Love™ this year.

The Charltons’ business is a family affair.                                            Photo credit: Jessica L. Fitz

The increasing success of their business led Ben to leave the security of his Health PEI job three years ago. “It was either pursue or scale back,’” Ben, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of Canada and certified Red Seal Chef, said. “It was scary to leave.” But the business has been growing every year. The new bakery the Charltons put into their house is already at capacity. It runs 24/7 in the summer employing up to 14 full- and part-time staff. During the tourist season 1,500 to 2,000 cinnamon rolls are baked daily!

The Charlton family and business adventure began when Sarah and Ben were working at a PEI restaurant, Sarah as the manager, and Ben as the head chef. Sarah is from PEI while Ben moved from Nova Scotia to pursue his Culinary Arts Degree. Life took them to Canada’s western provinces where they both worked in restaurants but the ocean called them back to Sarah’s home province.

After they married, they looked to find a permanent spot in the country to start their family. It must have been fate, or luck, or both that one day as they drove by the property that holds their B&B and bakery today they “saw a guy hammer in the for sale sign. I [had] looked through the windows of the abandoned building and have driven by many times before,” Ben said.

Built in 1890, they purchased the old parochial house from the church nine years ago and it was the perfect place to start their bed and breakfast. While the house was old, it’s also solid and the couple could focus on updating the inside. “It was easy to visualize the end product,” Ben recalled. Their B&B guests are not only greeted by the cozy interior of the home but also by a dine-in menu that focuses on seafood and fresh, locally-sourced ingredients to allow guests to stay in and indulge in Ben or Sarah’s cooking. “We have a lot of bikers being close to the Confederation Trail,” Ben said, “they don’t want to get back onto their bikes to get dinner.” With stunning views over the Hillsborough River and the welcoming atmosphere of the Charlton family’s home, dining in certainly sounds like a treat at the Bishop’s Rest.

Freshly made biscuits waiting to be wrapped. Submitted photo

Their business is truly a family affair. Sarah and Ben married and became business partners but they also became parents of four kids. Hayden (7), Liam (5), Eli (3) and Layla (almost 2) chip in around the bakery and B&B. They like helping in the bakery or with packaging. “And they are good little greeters,” Ben said. Sarah, a high school English teacher, expresses that owning their own business and working from home allows them to take care of their kids in a different way. “We try to live a simple and fulfilled life. We work way more hours than 9-5 but it is more fulfilling. The kids are around all the time. It instills work ethic in them, they gain communication skills and a sense of family.”

The days often seem to not have enough hours for all the endeavours the Charltons are up to. In the summer, Ben sometimes doesn’t go to sleep at all. Normally, his day starts at 5:30am. No wonder that they don’t actively advertise that they are also doing some catering on the side, with weddings or fundraising events like the Morell Sportsman’s Dinner. “We rent a mobile kitchen or cook out of the venue,” Ben said. Word-of-mouth secures them those jobs.

“We are part of a community. Local people support you, and that’s important to us.” People wanting to buy their baked goods would stop by after seeing the Bishop’s Rest sign. Neighbours told them they wish they could just walk over and get some goodies. So in 2017, along with their wholesale baking, the Charltons started to operate an in-home shop using PEI’s classic honour system. Pop in, grab your baked goods, and leave your money behind. It’s open from 7-7, seven days a week during the summer season.

Achieving all this and more is simply because they are “pretty driven,” Sarah said. “We balance off the work between ourselves. That’s our comfort zone.” Ben is already dreaming about a bigger bakery and maybe a cafe in a couple of years. Lucky for us.

About Jessica Fritz

Jessica is "from away" in the truest sense of its meaning: her roots are in Germany. She immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 2010 and moved to PEI two summers ago. As a passionate home cook Jessica likes to explore different types of cuisines including her native one. "Thinking globally, buying locally" is her foodie mantra, and being able to grow veggies in her own backyard was one of the big drivers for her move to PEI.
Putting words on paper has always been a way to express herself. Hence, writing for Salty combines her love for food and the written word while at the same time discovering PEI's thriving culinary landscape.
And recently, Jessica and her husband launched their own food business: Maritime Marzipan offers hand-made traditional European almond treats inspired by Island living. She is blogging about her adventure here on saltyisland.com or you can find them at maritimemarzipan.com.

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