The GBC grads and husband-and-wife team behind Toronto's popular Roselle Desserts
Chef School grads and partners Stephanie Duong and Bruce Lee shared their first teatime in London, England, while travelling and working abroad more than a decade ago. Inspired by the experience, they prepared Valentine's Day tea sets for two at their acclaimed Toronto bakery.
The couple opened Roselle Desserts on King Street East in 2015, earning rave reviews and legions of loyal customers. In the run-up to February 14th, Duong and Lee sold pre-ordered tea sets featuring sweet and savoury bites with flavours inspired by their recent trip to Mexico.
"We started the Valentine's tea set last year, and it was a huge hit," Duong said. "We love teatime, and whenever we travel, we always seek places to have tea."
Learning and working together in France
When Duong and Lee first met at George Brown, it wasn't love at first sight. Duong (Baking and Pastry Arts Management, 2011) was one of 15 pastry students chosen for an international study and work abroad opportunity in France. She made no secret that she was annoyed when Lee (Chef Training, 2011) was invited to attend despite the fact he was from a different program.
When Duong fell ill with bronchitis just two weeks after arriving in France, Lee, who spoke fluent French, was asked to take her to the doctor.
"We're sitting in the doctor's office and I'm helping her fill out the forms, and in the back of my mind, I'm like, Oh, this is the girl who was complaining about me," he said.
The cough cleared and a romance blossomed. After the GBC program ended, the pair stayed in France, and both landed jobs in Michelin-starred restaurants. Duong says the international experience helped set them up for a successful partnership.
"It's very hard to move to another country and work in a kitchen that runs in a language you're unfamiliar with. But it immediately bonded us," she said. "We knew that we were the kind of the same person."
The pair also spent a year working in renowned Hong Kong restaurants before returning to Toronto permanently and opening Roselle Desserts in Corktown (King Street, just east of Parliament Street) in 2015.
Launching a business
Duong and Lee quickly established a stellar reputation for Roselle, earning glowing reviews and honourable mentions in esteemed publications, including Toronto Life, the New York Times and Bon Appetit. In 2018, Toronto food writer Suresh Doss declared, "Roselle is the best in town when it comes to French baking."
The pandemic brought significant challenges and tough decisions, including shuttering a west-end location they opened in 2019, reducing operating hours and launching pickup-only/grab-and-go service. Once the lockdowns lifted, Duong and Lee decided to maintain the limited hours and new business model that got them through the height of the pandemic. They believe it will help them weather other challenges like inflation and rising food prices.
While they've earned devoted customers, an impressive Instagram following @roselle_to (30k+) and television work (Duong is a judge on the Food Network Canada series Wall of Bakers), Duong says they never take their success for granted and are always trying to prepare for what’s around the corner.
The couple credits their success to the community for supporting their business and the spirit of adventure and passion for food that they share.
"We have the same motivations of seeking adventure and challenging ourselves, personally and professionally," Lee says.
"We get each other," Duong says. "I'm glad we're in the same industry because otherwise, we'd never see each other. It made owning a business together so natural because we wanted to spend that time together."
Photo credit: Michael Gozum