There's some Whistler-type serendipity to the fact that if Bruce Stewart hadn't gone to a party, who knows what the locals' favourite grocery store would be like today?
Not many can rattle off the date of their first day on the job, but Bruce can. He's been the general manager of Nesters Market since August 1, 1997, and it all started at a friend's party in Nanaimo. Bruce had owned a grocery store in Port Alberni, and at the party he met one of the then-owners of Nesters — Brian Kerr, who started the store 10 years earlier with the late Ken Beatty and Martha Heintzman.
"We started talking and, of course, you talk about what you do in life, and I said, well, I've just sold my grocery store and I'm looking for a change," says Bruce, who'd skied Whistler as a kid. Brian was looking for a store manager, so Bruce came for a boo.
"It was a pretty rundown old space, but it had some sort of charm and it was very busy, and I thought, this looks interesting — so I took it on," he says.
Nineteen years later, he's still here, albeit with a different fridge, one in a Whistler Cay Heights duplex facing east, with sweeping views of Blackcomb and Whistler, and a big back deck he enjoys with son Andrei, 10, a Myrtle Philip student and Atom Winterhawks goalie; daughter, Paige, 23, who was a store cashier for years and now substitute teaches in the corridor; Pete, their black cat; and beloved Hobbes, an aging Bouvier who can't see or hear well at the amazing age of 15.
The fridge we are about to enter is a stainless steel LG with French doors, located just left of the big living/dining area. But lets get one thing out of the way first: Yes, Bruce does virtually all his shopping at Nesters ("I love the store. It's convenient for me because I work there and I feel guilty shopping anywhere else!"). And, yes, he has to pay. Staff get a 10 per cent discount, that's it.
Starting on the top shelf, we find "lots of stuff,": Organic peanut butter; feta cheese; Habibis Hummus for veggie dips; salsa; and, surprisingly, wheat grass for Pete, who likes the cold and, on cue, actually jumps into the fridge at this moment and starts chewing on the shelving.
But never mind Pete. There's also black olives Andrei loves; homemade raspberry jam Bruce made; dill pickles; and sundried tomatoes for pizza, which Andrei makes himself.
Next shelf we find organic milk for Andrei's Cheerios; Tropicana OJ; Liberté Greek yogurt; leftover lentils Paige cooked, perfect for maybe a quinoa salad she likes to take to work for lunch; Kalamata olives; leftover orzo salad; fresh rosemary; something Bruce says looks like baby poo, but is really refried beans; and some of "nana's soup" — an oxtail broth Bruce's ex-wife's mom makes specially for Andrei.
On the "third floor" there's organic free range eggs — two dozen "because we like our eggs," says Bruce; boneless, skinless chicken thighs destined to be stuffed with Provolone cheese, sprinkled with Panko crumbs and baked. And fresh pork tenderloin; San Pellegrino water; Santa Cruz apple cider; Whistler Chestnut Ale and some Grolsch beer.
But before we go further, you can pretty much see this is a healthy fridge full of tasty things that are easy to graze from and easy to cook — a good thing because Bruce does most of the cooking. Typically, he's home from work by 4 or 5 p.m. and likes to have everything on the table within an hour at most.
He'll bring home "fresh stuff" daily, whether it's vegetables or meat, for one simple reason: "I don't like leftovers. I like fresh food," he says. As for his philosophy regarding what he likes to buy and eat and what he likes to stock in the store, the two are one in the same.
"My first (values) are natural, organic and unique, and then conventional would be last. That's what I like to buy for the store and that's what I like to sell to the customers," he says. (Besides Whole Foods, the Squamish and Whistler Nesters stores combined are one of the biggest customers in B.C. for organic and natural foods from one big supplier specializing in such products.)
Now lets get back in the fridge.
In the "deli drawer" we find cervelat salami; two kinds of ham; and several cheeses including Padano Parmesan, good for salads or try a Bruce favourite: sprinkle a wedge with pine nuts and drizzle over some honey — mm-mmm, good. In the veggie drawer we find carrots, Romaine lettuce; brown mushrooms, an English cuke, broccoli, celery, limes for G+Ts, red grapes, and parsnips slated for stew.
As is usually the case, the fridge doors reveal a condiment heaven filled with goodies, ranging from Thai sweet chili sauce and Whitewater Cooks Glory Bowl dressing to the usual ketchup, horseradish and mustards galore. There's also Hershey's chocolate sauce, and one of those Arm and Hammer baking soda boxes for fridge odours we all buy then leave until they expire, like this one from 2013. In short, there's everything you need to cook well and eat well, which brings us to the family dinners the Stewarts enjoy at home several times a week.
"For the few nights I get to sit down with the kids and eat, it's important that we turn our cell phones off and hang out at the table for half an hour and engage in conversation," Bruce says.
"We usually play a game after that, too, so we eat together, clean up together and play a game together — kind of a cycle when the three of us are together."
And a great way to end a day at the market.
Glenda Bartosh is a freelance journalist who'll shop at Nesters a lot.