I still remember what last year’s Kitsilano farmers markets was like when I visited Claire of Livia Sweets for her pastries.
It was a dreary, drizzly morning, but the market was brimming with colourful umbrellas, each eager for their weekly bag of fresh produce. Members of the family, both old and young, gathered in groups as they enjoyed their Sunday outing. Charming live music was played by a band of silver haired musicians. Pools of children played tag on an adjoining grass field, while their parents chattered with the farmers who grew their food.
Yet, in our post-pandemic-lock-down reopening, this year’s farmers market motto is: “Shop, don’t stop!”
The past few months have been difficult for the entire food sector — empty streets and restaurants make up the business areas of the neighbourhoods we know and love. As Canadians emerge from months of lock down with much uncertainty, we ask: have our favourite restaurants been able to survive and will they finally reopen?
Claire’s business has ties to all parts of the food industry.
She sources ingredients directly from our BC farmers, serves a bistro menu at her own dine-in cafe, and sells her handcrafted pastries at farmers markets. Although these are challenging times for restauranteurs, I also knew the fighting spirit in Claire would not let her down. I reached out to her to see how she was doing.
Hello Claire! how is Livia Sweets doing?
Claire responded, "We’ve been very lucky and we were in many ways set up to succeed in this time — we already had a take out window, bread is an essential, we have always been a neighbourhood spot. But we’ve also pivoted really quickly. Change is not easy for me, but changing is paramount right now."
During the entire lock down, Livia Sweets remained opened from 9am until sold out, everyday but Monday’s. Since only take out was made available, thankfully her community had appeared for her every day, in the form of long line-ups by her gorgeous bread window.
Now, if there was a recipe to Claire’s success at Livia Sweets, what would be the key ingredient?
I think it’s her genuineness.
For one, I can’t think of a better person in Vancouver who embodies the word “community” so well. And having seen her incredible journey from an independent baker to cafe owner, the reasons for her success are evident.
I first met Claire back in 2016, when Vestige was still a brand new business. I had designed a clothing collection inspired by bakers and asked Claire to participate in one of my interviews. She was selling her signature sourdough at small markets, with just a handful of Instagram followers who knew how talented this baker was.
What struck me most back then was Claire's energetic smile. Since our first meeting, I have visited her multiple times — and she always served her pastries and pastas with a sweet beam and a twinkle in her eye.
It is evident that her positive energy brings her bread, her food and her people together.
Fast forward three years later, Claire has opened her first bakery early last year with enormous success. Having lived in the Commercial Drive area for over a decade, her dream is to create a quaint, unpretentious spot for her own neighbourhood. On top of serving her delicious pastries, Livia Sweets also uses farm fresh ingredients for a light bistro menu. From the beautiful interior decor to her prized sourdough — care, sweat and effort seeps through every part of her business.
In fact, just a month or two ago, Livia Sweets was a constant bustle — filled with morning coffee drinkers, pastries line-ups throughout the day, and a steady pool of pasta lovers at night.
Claire, tell me, what has been the hardest part of the pandemic so far?
“Our beautiful dining room is now a packaging room,” Claire sighed, “and we can’t let our customers in, and it breaks my heart. We’ve had to let go of what we were, and I loved what we were! The hardest part of it all has been not being able to see the smiling people inside our cafe.”
“But the joy has been seeing them lined up, rain or shine, for our loaves,” Claire continued. “Our community has showed up for us in such an impactful way, and it makes me cry everyday!”
I know farmers market is a yearly tradition for you — are you still doing it this year?
“We’re still on the schedule for the farmers markets, but we are letting our dates go to smaller producers for the next month at least. Since we are holding up okay, we requested for our dates to go to a bread maker who doesn’t have a shop to sell out of.”
Can you recommend some fresh Spring produce from our local farmers?
“Asparagus from Cropthorne Farm!! It’s coming in this week and I want to cry with excitement. I also danced like a lunatic when our first rhubarb delivery from Glorious Organics came in. I’ve been making so much jam!”
Finally, do you have any words of encouragement for other restauranteurs and our local farmers?
Claire paused, then answered, “please take the time to read and listen to all the nice things your neighbours say about you. It makes these dark times so much easier.”
Just as Claire’s community has come through for her, our farmers, bakers, and restauranteurs all need our community’s support.
So shop small and order local whenever you can. If you need to make a grocery run, consider visiting a farmers market (but shop, don’t stop!). Aiding our own agricultural workers and small business makers will sustain our country economically, and will one day nourish our own well-being in return.