With its colourful interiors and sun-lit space — it is hard to miss this charming grocery store on Pender street. The smell of fresh baked goods beckons you in to admire the shelves and tables that are wonderfully stocked with Spanish goods, everyday necessities and organic produce.
Today, I sit down with Shawn, one of the three founders of Pender Grocery. Shawn tells stories of food in the Basque region, how he discovered his passion for through travel, and their vision to cultivate slow living in a busy city. For a moment in time, my mind is transported to apple fields, farmer markets, old Europe towns through the relaxed ambiance that the store seems to emit.
Tell me how you went from importing cider to opening a grocery store in downtown Vancouver.
A few years ago, my wife and I travelled to Spain to visit our friend Michael, who was the chef of a restaurant in San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin restaurants. Michael introduced us to Basque cuisine — we experienced the pintxo culture and ate our way through restaurants, each more interesting than the last. The experience shook me and there I discovered that I had a deep passion for food. It was a lightbulb moment. After Michael moved back to Vancouver, the three of us started importing wine and cider from the region and it led to importing goods, and the opening of this store.
Opening a store was actually a plan for us in the next three-five years. Luckily, we came across this space at the perfect time, and the landlord, who was hugely supportive of our idea, made us an offer we couldn’t resist.
The sign on the wall and decorations in the store caught my attention the moment I walked in, how did the look and design for the store come together?
We are actually sitting in a space that used to be parking lot 100 years ago. The sign on the wall is something really special — we uncovered it when we were tearing down the walls to reconstruct the space. It is a ghost sign from 1906 that was covered up in 1908. We decided to keep it to lead the look of the space. After that, everything seemed to fall into place. Many of the vintage pieces here are collected from friends and family. Some favourites are passed down from Kelly’s late grandmother.
This is a very interesting location to open a grocery store, what is it that you hope to bring to the community here?
Living in the city, we are disconnected from farmlands and we don’t get to see how food is grown and made. We felt that the area was lacking a grocery store, and the idea was to create a Bodega — a grocery store for the neighbourhood.
Our customers consist of working professionals and residents from the local community. We want to cater to everyone but also want people to come in not knowing what to expect. We want to invite shoppers to take their time to browse, and to be inspired to cook.
Using ingredients from your shop, what is a simple and delicious recipe that anyone can make?
I love a good Pan Con Tomate — a humble recipe with few ingredients. Slice a fresh tomato, place on traditional crusty bread, drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt. A good snack can be a can of conservas from the store — sardines, squid or mussels marinated in Galician sauce. Simply open a can, dip with bread, and eat with gusto with a glass of wine. A tasty high-end treat.
Pan Con Tomate Directions
• In a small bowl combine sliced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper
• Whisk until combined
• Toast the bread slices individually until golden warm and crispy
• Set on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt
• Top with fresh basil