The Stockist: Bluhouse Market and Café
In every industry there are the gatekeepers, or the Godmothers/fathers who bestow advice and opportunities to newcomers. Jennifer McCarthy is the one of those gatekeepers. She curates and sells products from over 100 local vendors at Bluhouse Market and Café in Deep Cove – often putting items on her shelves before anyone else. We caught up with McCarthy in Deep Cove to talk about her love of supporting local, eating whole food and her new soup venture.
AW: What made you open a café and market in Deep Cove?
JM: Back when I was in Toronto, living kind of close to downtown, I would go to the farmers market every weekend to buy my food. I would typically trek to the market with a 40-litre backpack and $100 cash, fill it to the gills, that was the meal plan for the week.
When I moved to Vancouver it took me a little while to find my farmers market and I felt the pain of losing my food base. I didn’t realize how much it had come to mean to me, to know where my food was coming from.
The Trout Lake Farmers Market became our go-to for a good 4 years, but there is something limiting about 10am to 2pm on Saturdays. It was so meaningful for me to go and have these conversations and it was a social thing for me at the same time.
Eventually, I found this old house that was falling down and had holes in the exterior walls and rats, ants and raccoons – just so many problems. It was an old kids consignment clothing store, so it had never been outfitted for a café. We took it over and put more time, money and love into it then I knew it was going to need, but we were in it, so we just went for it.
It’s been a gradual process because we could only afford to bring in so much product at once. At first it was really scary because making minimum orders for suppliers was tough. It was kind of a catch-22, because it was hard for us to meet their minimum and tough for them to come out to us in Deep Cove, but you just have to hang tight through that [time].
In a way you wanted to extend the farmers market into your café. Did you want to be a store first or did you want it to be a café and it became a store?It’s kind of neither of those, because I selfishly said I’m just going to put everything I love in a box and the box happened to be a falling down heritage building. Part of my experience that I loved at the farmers market was going to the crepe truck, and I drink a lot of smoothies, but there wasn’t an organic vegetarian option that existed in the Cove for people who are active and outdoorsy that need that kind of fuel. So, I thought let’s put it out there to see if there is a demand for some different options.
It seems like you are kind of a first step spot for a lot of food makers. There’s not a ton of people who are taking leaps of faith on products that aren’t super well-known.That’s exactly what I want people to find here, because I don’t want you to be able to find stuff here that’s necessarily in stores. I want you to be able to find things that are really new and unique. I choose vendors based on a criteria. They have to fit three out five of these things for me to consider their food, including being organic, gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, local, and it definitely has to taste good.
AW: What galvanized your love for local food?JM: We always grew up outside of the city, so my parents were fortunate enough to have a piece of property that was big enough that you could put a sizeable vegetable garden on it. They did it for economic reasons to be honest, because they couldn’t afford all the fresh veggies all year round, so they would grow as much as they could and let Mother Nature do a lot of the work. I can remember my mom topping and tailing beans and then blanching them and putting them in the freezer. I have vivid memories of my dad washing the earth off of bunches of carrots as we pulled them out of the ground. I think what that gave me at a young age was knowing what real fresh food is supposed to actually taste like and it’s so totally different. I remember meeting my husband and he hadn’t had that experience and we were staying somewhere that had this big garden. The people just said to pick whatever we wanted and I remember that he just was completely stunned by the flavour that existed in these cherry tomatoes, like you could feel and taste the sunshine in them and that’s just magical. I got that experience and I feel very privileged. I may not have had the most financially privileged upbringing, but I was privileged to know some foundational things in my life that I think every human being has the right to experience. That’s why we do what we do because we want to share that experience with people and let them taste what real food tastes like.
AW: I think there’s something about it that makes you savour things a bit more. When I have tomatoes from Mexico I don’t really think about how quickly I’m eating them, or how I prepare them, but when it’s local I put more thought into it.JM: That’s an interesting connection between local food as slow food, because people could eat fast local but there is something about it that I think does inspire [eating slow], because it is such a treasure. I have this debate all the time with people who say they can’t afford local because it’s too expensive and economically I think it’s a brainwashing trick of the super stores and it’s a fallacy. If you actually spend that money buying whole foods and take the time to prepare the food yourself, it’s so much less packaging, additives and chemicals and all the stuff that goes into quick, easy and cheap food. You get a totally different experience, which doesn’t have to cost more. I would take my $100, or whatever my budget was, and I would have to make the choices that would make the week work and I never went without. I knew if I got a mountain of kale, cabbage and cauliflower, because that stuff is cheaper, then I could splurge on a loaf of bread that was $8.50. Sometimes cheap fast food is wasted and we don’t recognize how much money we just threw away with that compared to taking the time to buy local, savour it, slow down, prepare it properly, and don’t dare let it go to waste because you know what went into it.
AW: The thing that I’ve always loved about food people that I haven’t found in other industries is that they are so wonderfully quirky and obsessed and that’s always really inspiring for me.JM: I think that quirkiness stems from, especially with some of the products we carry, them not being in it for the money. They’re not going to make an awesome paycheque, so they have to love it and I think that’s what makes it special, because people can talk about it from a really creative place and are really passionate about it. Not only do we want bring those products into the house so that our community of customers can enjoy them, but also so we want to bring that energy into the place, because it is really creating an experience and a vibe. We know that if we fill the house with things that make us happy, then we’ll make the community happy. It’s definitely extra work compared to ordering off a GFS catalog list. I have contacts in the industry that have just one invoice. We love supporting local because the fundamental underlying premise is about knowing where your food comes from. I think you can feel the difference and you can taste the difference and that’s what I want in my body. That’s also what I want for my community and for the planet, because if it’s coming from local sources than its less carbon footprint and with the cost of rising gas right now it’s ridiculous when you find out how far a lot of our food comes from. The tricky part about it is all these small vendors starting up have different systems for how they want to do things. Some people I text, some people I contact on Instagram, some people I email, some people I call, and it’s kind of like an ongoing juggling act where you have to be ordering all the time. It’s not just in time ordering, it’s all the time ordering. I know it’s a little bit crazy, but that’s what makes it fun. I love when the vendors walk through the door. For example, Stephen Tufts from Dickie’s Ginger Beer came through with a case of Dickie’s and we got to have a conversation. I met him four and a half years ago at a farmers market and he still delivers his ginger beer himself. Then Dan comes in from Culture Craft Kombucha and we talk about how his kid is doing and which farm he is profiling. When you get to talk to those people, and this is a foundational piece for me, you get to confirm and be re-inspired on a regular basis.
AW: You are about to release your own line of soups. What are learning about being a food producer?One of the things that I love is that it is a very intuitive process. I’ve followed my gut and luckily it’s been fairly right, but it’s been wrong too. There’s lessons and mistakes and I’m constantly learning. At this point I’m confident enough that I’ll figure it out, but I’m not naive and I know that I really can’t anticipate what’s going to go wrong. I can try, but it won’t be what I think it is. That’s the beauty of small batch entrepreneurialism, it just throws you into things and that’s what makes it so fun and interesting. I love it.
Watch out for Bluhouse Cafés soups, like Delicious Dahl and Ginger Squash, coming soon!
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Bluhouse Market & Cafe
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