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Forage for down-home, local eats at Whistler Cooks' new restaurant

Hunter Gather expected to open on Main Street this month

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From their particular vantage point as one of the resort's more recognized and sought-after caterers, Grant and Hilarie Cousar saw a gap in the community's restaurant scene they knew they could fill.

"We just thought there was a bit of a void in the marketplace with good quality, middle-of-the-road dining, pricewise, and, for us, we're just really proud of the great food we do and we wanted to try and get it in the marketplace a bit more," explained Grant, who has co-owned Whistler Cooks Catering with his wife since 1999.

After so many years on the catering side of things, the Cousars are finally making the leap into the restaurant world with the launch of their new village eatery, Hunter Gather, expected to open by the end of the month.

The restaurant, with a strong emphasis on casual, local cuisine, was the culmination of the Cousars' nearly two decades in the market, learning the distinct tastes and cravings of Whistlerites and visitors alike.

"I think we continue to realize the strong place we hold in the marketplace," Grant said. "While we operate restaurants in different versions with the Brandywine (Day) Lodge at Whistler Olympic Park and the Aava breakfast restaurant, we really saw that people were looking for more from us."

Now, Grant said his team would rely on the network of local suppliers and producers it has built up over the years to offer the resort a laidback taphouse concept that will dish out homemade sandwiches, soups, vegetarian and vegan options, as well as pouring locally made wines, and beer from the folks at Coast Mountain Brewery. Of course, Hunter Gather's signature smoker cannot be overlooked either — expect a succulent selection of smoked meats and down-home favourites all prepared in-house.

The idea, Grant explained, is to keep things simple, with only about 15 dishes on the menu to start.

"We're just really billing it as a local eatery. Beyond that, we honestly haven't really found the perfect terminology so that everybody understands what it is," he added. "Definitely a good smokehouse component; a strong every-diet component taking care of our good friends in the vegetarian world and then just sandwiches and some good smoked barbecue ribs and brisket and that."

The Cousars also hope to cater to the short-on-time lunch crowd with its no-fuss takeout counter using the latest point-of-sales technology that will allow diners to order in advance from their mobile devices.

"With it just being so busy these days, more and more every restaurant is challenged to try and keep up, and we thought we were capable of doing that," noted Grant.

Housed in the former village 7-Eleven, Grant said he jumped at the chance to fill the vacant space on Main Street, which has seen a flurry of locally owned food retailers set up shop in recent years.

"I love all the local business owners on that street which are, to me, some of Whistler's best businesses," he said. "To be a part of that, to join that fraternity on that street is terrific."

As more village businesses move away from local ownership, Grant said he and his wife — who shared Business Person of the Year honours at last year's Whistler Excellence Awards — saw it as a responsibility to launch their own homegrown venture.

"We want to be leaders and we want to be real players in this town and keep good, solid local ownership," said Grant. "We think there's something valuable in that that both locals and visitors will like."

Check Hunter Gather's website, www.huntergatherwhistler.com, for more details.

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