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Local cheese retailer innovates through community outreach.
Vancouver’s Les Amis du Fromage will trade for cheese!
I love talking with entrepreneurs and hearing their stories of how their business started, developed and grew. Sitting down with Allison Spurrell and Joe Chaput from Les Amis du Fromage, a Vancouver-based cheese and gourmet food retailer, I was immediately engaged by their passion not only for food, but also people and community.
Social interaction is a huge part of business, and building community in what we do and how we do it is key to success. Not only are all Les Amis products high quality but they also teach us a valuable lesson in how to live a good life.
Originally running a catering company with her mother, Alice Spurrell, Allison told me that she liked to include a considerable selection of cheese, with wine pairings, as part of their catering events. Their selections proved popular, and it wasn’t long before word spread and other caterers started asking if they could buy cheese from them.
843 East Hastings St, Vancouver | 604-253-4218
1752 West 2nd Ave, Vancouver | 604-732-4218
#518 Park Royal South, West Vancouver | 604-925-4218
Plus: Au Petit Chavignol
843 East Hastings St, Vancouver | 604-255-4218
The cheese industry in Canada restricts the amount of product imported into the country to protect producers nationally. With the major cheese importers in Montreal and Toronto, it’s not easy as a Vancouver-based business to get its hands on large amounts of specialty cheese.
But by establishing relationships early on with the importers, having great taste and setting herself up as a cheese expert, Allison was in a great position to help local restaurants and catering companies obtain a vast selection of high quality imported cheeses, besides servicing local consumers through their retail locations.
At any given time Les Amis could have anywhere between 400–600 varieties of cheese in their cellar. This has helped them build a great reputation in town as a leading supplier and resource for all things cheese.
Founded in 1886, Strathcona is one of the oldest residential neighbourhoods in Vancouver and, because of its age, is home to many heritage homes with mature fruit trees.
“I just put the word out,” says Joe, and it was easy to find a neighbour with bushels of extra plums that they were willing to trade for cheese from the shop.
Joe went on to make his exclusive Strathcona Italian Plum Chutney a seasonal artisan product sold in their shops and also served in their restaurant, Au Petit Chavignol (843 East Hastings St), which serves tasty wine, cheese, charcuterie and other delicacies. On occasion I go into their shop on East Hastings to buy local cheese for my company Saul Good Gift Co.’s gourmet gift baskets and was instantly a big fan.
Their 2009 experiment was so successful they’ve decided to expand their product line this coming season. With figs, quince, pears and apples all being grown in Strathcona, I’m excited to see what else they come up with besides the plum chutney.
Besides having a long list of interested families looking to trade their extra fruit this season for tasty cheese, Joe has made a commitment to be a distribution channel for SOLEfood Urban Farm, an exciting inner-city green jobs program training and employing inner city residents in horticulture.
According to Seann Dory, the project manager employed by United We Can, the farm will operate as an enterprising non profit that will sell produce to create revenue to help finance the social enterprise.
Be on the lookout for locally grown, heritage salad greens being served on the plates in Au Petit Chavignol in the near future!