Jos Louis is making a comeback.
Vachon Bakery, which makes the beloved Canadian chocolate-covered red velvet pastry and other treats, shut down its plant in Sainte-Marie, Que., on April 20 after severe flooding prompted an evacuation of the area, ceasing production of popular snacks such as Jos Louis, Ah Caramel! and Passion Flakie.
More than a month later, the bakery is reopening production lines and aiming to fix a growing shortage of the company’s popular pastries.
Supplies of Jos Louis have disappeared from stores. The little cake is also sold out on Amazon Canada.
In Roxton Falls, a town west of Montreal, the snack can’t be found anywhere, according to local resident and Jos Louis fan Chantal Fortier.
“I’ve been eating them since I was a kid and I still like them at 48,” Ms. Fortier said.
Bimbo Canada, the unit of global bread giant Grupo Bimbo that owns the bakery, said two lines are now back in operation, baking cookies and Passion Flakie, a pastry filled with cream and a fruit filling. The bakery is testing the Jos Louis and Ah Caramel! lines and plans to reopen them this week.
Regardless, shortages will persist for some time, according to Bimbo Canada spokesperson Sylvia Sicuso. Even with the lines reopening, some machinery won’t yet be operational, resulting in tasks like packaging being done by hand, she said.
To refill grocery shelves left vacant where Jos Louis once sat, Grupo Bimbo is shipping in snacks from its Mexican and American brands to supplement the shortage.
As early as next week, Pinguinos and Strawberry Submarinos from Mexico and Mini Chocolate Chip Brownies and Mini Crumb Cakes from the United States will arrive in Canadian stores for a limited time this summer to fill the Vachon shortage.
“We didn’t want to disappoint customers this summer," Ms. Sicuso said. "Nothing can replace Vachon products like Jos Louis or Ah Caramel!, so we thought we would take the opportunity to share consumers favourites from other parts of the world that we thought that Canadians would enjoy.”
Loyalty to Jos Louis and Passion Flakie runs deep, especially in the bakery’s home province. Local radio stations in Quebec posted contests and surveys on social media, asking people to report where they buy Jos Louis treats and declare which Vachon pastry is their favourite.
Roxane Brisson, who grew up in Quebec and now lives in Sudbury, Ont., recently celebrated her 31st birthday by blowing out candles on a Jos Louis. Her parents started the tradition when they gave Ms. Brisson her first Jos Louis on her first birthday.
“[Jos Louis] bring me back to simpler times,” Ms. Brisson said. “But it’s not just about the treat, it’s about the memories that are tied behind it.”
Ms. Brisson said she may try the new treats from Mexico and the U.S., but they won’t compare to Vachon’s homegrown sweets.
“It’s gonna be a high bar,” she said.
Floods across Eastern Canada in late April forced 10,000 people out of their homes in Quebec and affected 7,000 residences.
In Sainte-Marie, several hundred people left their homes and nearly 1,000 residences and commercial buildings were flooded.
The bakery in Sainte-Marie employs more than 500 people from the local community. With the reopening of the plant, 300 employees returned to work.
“All the activities that we are engaged in to resume operations and bake are very manual,” Ms. Sicuso said. “Associate safety and well-being as well as food safety, environmental and quality-assurance measures will be considered before full operations can resume and that is driving when we test and start lines.”
Bimbo Canada operates 18 bakeries and employs 4,500 people across the country.
Grupo Bimbo, headquartered in Mexico City, purchased Vachon Bakery from Quebec-based Saputo Inc. in 2014 for $120-million.