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New Port Moody pie biz helps autism causes

Patrick and Lisa Beecroft changed what they served at home and in their cafes after their eldest daughter suffered a health scare at Halloween.

One of the photographs accompanying this article is of a Tripleberry Crumble pie, shot last Friday at Gabi & Jules, a Port Moody bakery that opened just days earlier.

The photo captures more than just one of the company's products, more than how delicious the fruit-filled pastry looks.

It encompasses the story of a business and a family, and how both aim to give back.

And that story has its roots in a frightening incident that Lisa and Patrick Beecroft say made them more knowledgeable parents and more successful business owners.

The incident happened a few years ago when their eldest daughter, Juliana, now eight, had a reaction. It was Halloween when the girl, who is autistic, ate a candy.

"She was raging, out of control. It was so scary," Patrick remembered.

It was also an impetus. From then on, he and wife Lisa made a commitment to clean baking: They would use no food dyes or additives in what they served at home or in their Caffe Divano coffee shops in Coquitlam, Port Moody and Burnaby.

"We didn't want to create science experiments," Patrick said. "Our motto was, 'If we wouldn't give it to our kids, then we wouldn't give it to yours.'"

Today, Caffe Divano makes its baked goods in house every day. Among those are pies, and Patrick said the push for the traditional dessert staple came two years ago after an evaluation with a staff member who spoke of her strengths as a pastry chef.

There were many trial runs before they began to offer the pies for public consumption but soon, the 300-sq. ft. kitchen at the Port Moody Divano location quickly became too tight for the number of pies they were creating, Lisa said.

And so the Beecrofts decided to launch a second company, a brand named in honour of their daughters that carried the same homemade, organic "grandma-quality" goodness and values as their cafes. The pair scouted for a location and settled on the industrial side of Clarke Street, a high-traffic road in Moody Centre, next to a martial arts facility.

With the help of interior designer Laura Grist, the couple renovated the two-storey manufacturing space with a girly decor: a light-filled boutique cafe filled with freshly cut flowers that's bathed in pink, a wall covered in white doors, complete with doorknobs.

"It's very feminine. It's playful. It's not overly sophisticated but it's full of love" is Patrick's description.

Gabi and Jules, the bakery's namesakes, love it, too, and often help in the kitchen, Lisa said — a place they call home.

They see other young people, also with autism, employed there, too: A 22-year-old man builds the pie boxes while a Grade 9 student scoops out the cookie dough.

The Beecrofts hope to hire more people with special needs to give them employment and a sense of purpose and belonging. "It's a huge win-win," Lisa said. "They're so happy to contribute and we're so happy to include them in our community."

But what the couple is doing is also giving their girls a future.

Many people with special needs get lost in the system and feel isolated, especially when they become adults, Lisa said. At Caffe Divano and the Coquitlam Farmers' Market, where they sell Gabi & Jules products, the Beecrofts hear countless stories of struggle from parents with an autistic family member.

Lisa said being self-employed doesn't give them a lot of free time so, to contribute, they fund two non-profit organizations devoted to autism awareness: A dollar from every whole pie sold through Gabi & Jules is donated to the Autism Support Society and Medicare for Autism. Since last May, Gabi & Jules has raised about $2,000 for the two groups, Lisa said.

Besides its charitable component, the Beecrofts have also reached out to other Port Moody businesses. The bakery sells Rocky Point Ice Cream, which also makes its products from scratch, and soon it will partner with The Parkside Brewery to offer a fruit-and-ale pie.

As well, on weekends, the shop will host birthday parties in a room on the second floor, showing young guests how they make pies with real butter crusts and simple ingredients as well as teaching about food sensitivities.

"The whole business is our life," Patrick said. "It's so personal to us and putting our girls' names to it means so much."

Gabi & Jules (2302B Clarke St., Port Moody) is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.