When guests step through the doors of the new Creekbread restaurant, a sign that reads "food for the soul," greets them. A lofty claim, you might scoff. But after a few bites of their delicious, wood-fired flatbread, you may be singing a different tune.
Cara Stelmack is managing partner for Creekbread, which opened for business on Sept. 29. It's just one of eight restaurants founded by a small group of restaurateurs that also owns The Flatbread Company, with locations on the East Coast of the United States and Hawaii. But make no mistake; Creekbread is no chain restaurant.
"It's important to us that we maintain our identities locally," Stelmack said. "And for that reason, we don't consider ourselves a franchise."
Two of The Flatbread Company's business partners had been coming to Whistler on holiday for years and realized that the community would be perfect for their restaurant model. They discovered the old Whistler Creek Lodge space (formerly Uli's, among other names that have adorned the restaurant space) and began negotiations to purchase the building.
"I think that it's representative of the character that Creekbread represents: the old timber and its natural kind of rustic elements, for one."
The space has been lovingly restored into a warm, rustic and welcoming dining room, bordered with Tibetan-style flags decorated by flatbread-loving kids. At the heart of the restaurant is a clay, wood-fired oven, which was built by staff and volunteers from the community. It's surrounded by carefully split hard wood, which fuels the fire that warms the room while cooking each flatbread to perfection.
Scattered throughout the space are a series of vibrant paintings by local artist Vanessa Stark. In fact, the owners even commissioned a special piece from Stark, outlining Whistler's journey from the mid-1800s to today.
While vegan and vegetarian fare doesn't normally go down too well with fussy eaters, their chef has managed to work his magic on the menu, creating options that will cater to just about any dietary restriction and taste bud.
"There's a great awareness for people, and for people's needs," Stelmack said.
It's clear from a glance at the menu that high-quality ingredients are pretty important to this new laidback local's spot. They source as many products as they can locally, purchasing from local farmers markets and farms, and seeking out as many organic ingredients as possible. This summer, they actually bought enough raspberries to make berry salad vinaigrette to last the whole year.
"We've certainly been making friends at the farmers markets," Stelmack said with a smile.
Hell, even their drink list is local, with many of their beers sourced from Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish and Whistler Brewing Company, and a wine list that is almost purely West Coast (think B.C., California, Oregon and Washington).
I made my first visit to Creekbread this week with two keen dining companions and we managed to test-drive a pretty wide range of its menu offerings - a wedge of the Kalua Pork, Pemberton Potato Pie, Coevolution (Greek) and their weekly meat special (Bacon Cheeseburger.) We weren't disappointed.
"Yeah, that's good food," one of my companions nodded, grinning broadly.
My personal favorite of the bunch was surprisingly the Coevolution, one of their sauceless options. I usually like the tangy sweetness of a good tomato sauce, but this pizza doesn't seem to need it - toppings are kept moist and affixed to the dough with a delicious olive oil and garlic mixture.
Even though we were full after making our way through a full large flatbread, we couldn't seem to stop nibbling away at the leftover slices.
Creekbread's quality ingredients come at a bit of a price - a 16-inch large flatbread, which feeds two adults, costs anywhere from $19.75 for a cheese and herb to $28 for Mopsy's Kalua Pork. Still, Stelmack insists that they're competitively-priced and strive to be affordable for locals.
Tucked away in the original heart of Whistler - Creekside - this new business is very much interested in becoming part of the community. So much, in fact, that they're hosting weekly benefits for non-profit groups and individuals in need, with $3.50 from each large flatbread and $1.75 from each small flatbread going towards the beneficiary.
So far, they're only open for dine in dinner service, from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m., seven days a week. But a few months down the road, they plan to also offer a lunch menu.
"I think there's such a great energy here, and such a great energy in town and it just comes through... Everyone just enjoys themselves when they're here."