Romantic. This one word represents all that is Le Marché St. George. Based in Vancouver, Canada, this café space has become a growing must-visit location. Family-ran, Le Marché is a place where gatherings take place (olive oil tastings to house tours to book signings) and memorable moments are created. Not only is food cherished, but the time taken out to enjoy each other’s company is as well. I had the chance to interview Janaki Larson (Le Marché’s interior designer) about the beautiful location, it’s interesting history, and more. If you’re ever in Vancouver, be sure to stop by and say hello.
How did the idea of Le Marché St. George come about?
I knew about this building for years. So when it came up for sale we came to look at it, strictly as a voyeuristic field trip.
Next thing you know, we were making an offer on it and then celebrating our purchase with the owners in the backyard! I always thought it would make such a great, little café; little did we know there were all kind of zoning regulations we weren’t informed of when we bought it. It is grandfathered in as a neighborhood grocery, but the city’s idea was different than ours. They wanted to know where we planned on putting the lotto machine and the cigarette case! We had to have a grocery component, which we hadn’t anticipated, and we were denied seating too.
We had to modify our plans a lot to comply with the city but kept the concept as true to the original as possible.
I have always loved to shop for groceries. I love going to the baker, the butcher, looking on the shelves for interesting products, and devising a menu spontaneously. Also, whenever we travel in Europe, I am always awe struck by how beautiful everything is. Even the most mundane daily experiences, like grocery shopping or going to the post office is a beautiful experience. We wanted to open something that brought back that “experience” of beauty, leisure, and enjoyment. Food shopping has become such a “convenience” thing now. Costco serves a purpose, but there is no romance or connection to the food, farmers, or growers. We are a small shop, so we are able to work with very small and specialized suppliers. Our eggs are farm eggs, we get sunflower sprouts delivered by bike that are grown in Eastvan, there’s a resident beekeeper, and inner-city farmers. We recently hosted a pop-up restaurant with some young, local chefs who would love to have a restaurant but can’t afford Vancouver’s high prices. The risk is too high. We have olive oil tastings from our friend whose family has a grove in Puglia and then dinners inspired by that region of Italy! We just got our own chickens; it has really become a place to host ideas. This doesn’t even touch on what it has done for the neighborhood. Everyone always comments on how they now know everyone around them, where before, you just didn’t see people out on the streets because the closest place to grab a coffee was Main Street. I could go on forever!
How are menu items chosen and decided?
Pascal is French Canadian, so he was adamant that we have croissants. My sister Klee and I drove around for a good month trying croissants everywhere, looking for a good rustic one. Rustic, minimally processed, simple, and delicious best describes our criteria.
Do you all aim to maintain a close and personal relationship with your suppliers?
Our retail square footage is 326 square feet and in that we have over 60 suppliers! A lot of them specialize in one thing (for example: 5th generation sausage maker, foraged fruit jams, eggs, French cheeses, wild mushroom foragers, et cetera). We try to carry as many local products as possible while maintaining an aesthetic principal. I think we have a great relationship with each of them!
How important is customer service to the Le Marché St. George crew?
My sister Klee has said it best: “We treat everyone like they are friends that we have invited over.”
You guys run a program—Live at Le Marché. Tell us all about it and where the idea stemmed from.
Live at Le Marché has become a free space to facilitate ideas. It is a temporary rental for out-of-town visitors, a private events space, a pop-up retail space, and soon some culinary classes.
Who plays a major role with the interior design of the café/home space?
That would be me. I love design and my last career was as a set decorator, so I have no shortage of design ideas.
What is a memorable moment you’ve experienced while being at Le Marché?
That’s a hard one! I would have to say that it’s not a specific moment but a general feeling of kindness and gratitude people have for us! We get thanked a lot for creating a welcome place for the neighborhood. I always thought, and have often heard, that Vancouver is an unfriendly place, but I don’t feel that way any longer!