August 05, 2019
Chef Alvin Gillis
Executive Chef, Wendel’s Bookstore & Café
“Our commitment to local food is part of our promise to strive for excellence in what we do everyday. It is a sign of our investment in our staff, our customers and our community. It’s something I am really proud of.”
103 - 9233 Glover Road
Fort Langley, BC V1M 2S5 604.513.2238
Tell us about Wendel’s Bookstore and Café?
Wendel’s Bookstore and Café is in historic Fort Langley and was created by our owner Diane Morrison and her mother Erica 21 years ago. I joined the café just over 3 years ago now as the Executive Chef. Wendel’s is a huge supporter of local food – and it’s exciting to be working with so many suppliers that are completely passionate about what they do. It helps us recommitment to our core philosophy of being a good neighbour and a local supporter.
Tell us about your background and your passion for local food.
I have worked as an Executive Chef in the industry for more than 30 years starting on the East Coast in Boston and Nova Scotia and migrating West with many Hotels, Fine Dining Restaurants and Catering Companies. My eagerness to support local and sustainability in the products we use has always been top of mind with every relationship I have been fortunate to work with. Action speaks volumes to achieve tangible results and engagement with customers.
What’s your food philosophy at Wendel’s?
We are a scratch kitchen – and make about 99% of everything from scratch. That is amazing for our customers because we can serve with confidence customers with a large variety of food allergies and intolerances. For our kitchen team, being a scratch kitchen means we are constantly applying new skills and keep the work really interesting.
We are committed to offering gluten free and dairy free options. With Wendel’s True Foods, we have a full line of gluten free options. I think this is something that draws a lot of customers and they are really appreciative.
What drives you to source and support local?
I love the trickle down impact of supporting local. The relationships we have with our local suppliers makes sure that we continue to have strong local suppliers available to us. For example, we have an amazing relationship with Black Table Farms, which is just down the road from here. We work with them year round and through the planning process, we commit in advance to buying their high-quality organic produce. Our promise to buy what they plant allows them to invest in improvements. In the end, it gets us amazing food, amazing quality and our partner knows they have a market for their products.
I love supporting local because it not only provides financial means to operate, it creates awareness. Black Table goes to the Fort Langley farmers market – and members of the community recognize them from being on our menu and have a connection. How cool is that?
How do your customers respond to your local commitment?
I think our relationships with farms and farmers in our community make our business stronger. I think the connection between local and fresh resonates. The fact that using local food means that our menu is constantly changing makes it interesting for our customers too.
People want healthy food so they do appreciate our commitment. Our local commitment makes our staff proud and that also shows when our customers engage with them – and that makes a difference.
Tell us about your other local partners.
We work with a lot of local partners who share our passion. We get local lamb from Fort Langley. We use Rossdown Farms in Langley for poultry, 63 Acres for beef and Johnston’s in Chilliwack for pork. It’s exciting to use partners like these because I can go and tour the facility and see the operation in real time. I love that feeling of connection and the confidence that it gives me in the food that I serve to our guests.
How have you used local food to stand out in your market?
I create daily and weekly features to support of our producers and I list our partners/farms on our sign boards and feature sheets. Our social media platforms also provide discussion and photos of our relationships. It’s very exciting to see that our social followers connect with our local commitment.
What are your favourite BC ingredients for summer?
I was at Black Table Farms this week and I’m excited about the baby blue potatoes, baby kale, grape and cherry tomatoes. When I was at the farm, we talked about what we are planning for fall – so I’m already looking forward to turnips, eggplants and root vegetables.
Where do you see the future of local food heading?
My hope is to see more food produced locally, but it can only thrive and grow with support from public and food service operations. We are seeing more exposure through online venues, programs like Eat Drink Local and features on television – those all help with educating customers.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been offered cooking local food?
Take the time to know the producers in your area and develop relationships that benefit both business and social.
What are you most proud of at Wendel’s?
I love that we are busy because that means we connect with our community. But I am most proud of the fact that we serve beautiful local food in Fort Langley. Locals can come here and enjoy an exquisite lamb shank dinner without going downtown. That’s important to me.
We thank Chef Alvin for taking the time to meet with me. If you live in the Fraser Valley, check out his local menu.