The Rising Cost of Organic Wheat Flour

The more folks who devoid wheat and gluten-based products that surface on this West Coast, the more wheat prices seem to rise. I have questions, I have stories, I even have first-hand experiences.The truth is that wheat in Canada is a heavily subsidized cash crop. We sell a vast portion of our wheat grain to the America’s in replacement of precious H2O, meanwhile the little creative entrepreneurs like us, running a small-scale handmade everything pie shop graciously swallow then gag on the cost of superior organic Canadian wheat. 


After 15 years of baking professionally and almost 29 years of baking in my mama’s kitchen (yes I started young) I have witnessed the rising cost of wheat flour skyrocket to almost unfathomable heights. Our little shop in Vancouver, sifts through thousands of pounds of organic wheat flour a year to make our simple BC celebrated fruit pies. With a little pat of butter and sugar we sell whole and sliced up pies to our favorite city. My talented sister Andrea and I opened up shop in December of 2012, only a few weeks before the Christmas holidays. In that time, we have grown elegantly towards supplying a handmade, locally supported, farmer induced sustainable product. 


We wake up in the morning, ride our bikes to the shop and begin our daily routine. Firstly, turning on the ovens and with either flour from Anita’s or Roger’s, two local flour mills that make some of the worlds most flavorful unbleached, no vitamin or mineral enriched, non-chlorinated, organic freshly milled flour. We proceed to hand mix in the sweet butter, and take turns rolling out the dough as the other prepares the fillings, wether that means peeling Okanagan peaches, slicing perfectly tart apples, or picking through little blueberry gems. The pies are made fresh in the a.m. for our friends, neighbour and customer who stroll in through the day for a slice of pie and coffee. 


Our menu is simple, our shop is petit, and our philosophy is rich with stories of community. We navigate towards friendly farms just beyond the city landscape for our ingredients. Along the way chatting with like-minded individuals who get a strong sense of what the two sisters are up to in Chinatown. Without the preaching of local and organic, we support the little guys. With rising costs of fuel and scarcity of fresh water, high rent and taxes, we play in our pint-size kitchen with beautifully ripe picked bounty. What kind of farming is this, local, organic, biodynamic? We have learned that it goes beyond labels. The business model dives deeper into the social and agricultural economics of what it means to operate a small venture. I think the customer gets that.


Stepping back, my first experience with the rising cost of flour was when I was working at a little bakery in Ottawa and witnessed organic flour shooting up in price almost 300% over night. This was in the early 2000’s when, sugar was cheep, less folks knew what Wheat Bellies were and smoking was still cool in bars.  


The second experience was in ’08 while in University. I worked at a medium scale predominantly bread-focused bakery in Vancouver and witnessed the same pattern overnight. The difference was that in this round it was less personal, I was not working in a company with 5 people, like I was back in Ottawa, I was working in a company, with 100’s of others, in a much larger city. They even had an HR Department, and a sensible solution to the rising cost. The company decided to create loaves of bread at two thirds the weight and raise the retail cost by twenty five percent. This seemed to be a viable solution to a larger problem.


When you live in a really large country, it is difficult to imagine there ever being a shortage of water, clean soil, devastating crop loss, and particularly in this case a shortage of grain. We have basically dedicated 4 very large provinces towards growing wheat for god’s sakes, and almost one whole entire province,Manitoba, strictly to the task. 


I have always believed in Entrepreneurialism as a means of creating solutions to securing a stronger future. You are familiar with the saying, “Leave something your proud of, for your Children.” Well the longer I live, the more I become disenchanted with the belief that this will ever be viable in my own foreseeable future. When I was a child, as naive as I may have been, I wanted to ‘Change the World.’ I like many, had no idea what that really meant or how/where to start, but as a small child, I gave it a shot. I played, I made things, I read, I chatted with grown-ups and traveled the world, fell in love with food, art and design.


My home is Canada, it probably always will be. I love this place. British Columbia has boldly written ‘Best Place on Earth’ on our license plates - that must mean something. 


After a good friend’s most recent trip to France, and a few laughs, I learned that the bread-makers and patisseries in Paris boast, if not swear by, Manitoba Wheat, they have hilariously turned it into a exclusive brand, one that costs almost 3000% more a kilo there, than here. 


I am embracing the idea that chefs are activists whose job is to address the end result, in my case, pie. How can I not care about the beginning? The way we eat, how we think about food, and how food is actually intrinsically connected, is truthfully chaotic. Food is most often misunderstood, undervalued, and thrown away in the trash. The current farm-to-table style business model, I believe, is viable. Now the tricky bit is to take it further by maintaining quality and still support the little guys. 


written by Stephanie French

Co-Owner of The Pie Shoppe, Vancouver 

September 2014




Chinatown Night Market Cancelled after 17 years.

Chinatown Night Market cancelled after 17 years

Costs cited as factor, despite efforts written by Chris Cheung

Two night markets in Richmond now welcome visitors. The smell and sizzling of oil drowns the air, vendors cry out the latest deals and packed crowds move in tides every weekend.

Across the water in Vancouver, however, Chinatown’s streets will remain quiet on weekend evenings as its own night market has been cancelled this year. The annual event has run for the past 17 years and would have opened mid-May.

The cancellation surprised many as the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market reported hosting record numbers thanks to the reinvention of the market by two first-time program directors, Tannis Ling, owner of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, and Ken Tsui, a local pop-up event organizer.

The night market is organized by the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, which attributed the cancellation to costs,
Henry Tom, one of the association’s directors, does not believe Richmond’s night markets can replace Chinatown’s.

“We have the historical Chinatown backdrop and have more to offer in terms of heritage and atmosphere. They are totally different experiences,” said Tom.

Stephanie French, owner of The Pie Shoppe on Gore Street, was one of many vendors at the Chinatown night market last year. She notes the amount of young business owners who signed up as vendors and had the chance to have fun while displaying their goods.

French also doesn’t believe the experience can be compared to Richmond’s. “It’s important to recognize Vancouver’s cultural diversity and we shouldn’t have to go down to Richmond when we can have a taste of it in the city.”

While unique and affordable items are a big part of night markets, last year’s Chinatown market had a strong community focus, with a wide variety of attractions, including screenings of kung fu movies, dumpling-eating contests, street mahjong and video game tournaments — none of which are present at Richmond’s market.

Rick Chung visited the Chinatown night market last year and had mixed feelings about the reinvention. “Chinatown has changed a lot as there is a younger, hipper crowd now and it almost didn’t feel like a Chinese night market,” said Chung. “[The night market] was a reflection of what Chinatown had become with all the new bars and restaurants in the area.”

Chung doesn’t think entertainment is much of a draw when it comes to night markets.

“People only go to night markets for the cheap crap and food, and the Richmond ones are so huge. There are at least five stalls that sell the same thing and you can choose between them.”

The Chinatown site may be a modest size, but this is why the Courier’s Sweet Spot columnist Eagranie Yuh likes it. She remembers when her mother used to take her to Chinatown and likes the personal atmosphere. “The Richmond ones make me feel like I must’ve missed something.

Chinatown is much more manageable and you can have conversations with people and actually feel like you’ve seen the whole thing,” said Yuh.

It is uncertain when the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market will return, and Tom recognizes the challenge of increased construction and development in the area.

“We are hoping to see exciting new things and hoping it will be feasible to bring back the night market at some point with all the new developments,” said Tom.

© Vancouver Courier

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The Pie Shoppe will be participating in this years Food Cart Festival, kicking off on Sunday June 22. 2014 in the great open space near Olympic Village, on False Creek.  We will be exclusively selling our hand pies, which were a big hit last summer at the Chinatown Night Market.

I Heart Hand Pies !

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We are stoked to be working with Brown Paper Packages Ice Cream this summer. This great little local company has an operation right around the corner from The Pie Shoppe in Chinatown. We are working on the most perfect Vanilla Bean Ice Cream to marry with our customers pie. We will be selling Whole Pints and Scoops in the shop. 



A Story by Ben Wannamaker

Firstly, my friends are leather smiths who specialize in hand-crafted shoes. After catching up in their studio in the heart of Chinatown one afternoon, my friend suggested we go get a slice of pie at "The Pie Shoppe", just downstairs.

Luring me there with the promise that I'd soon be eating organically sourced ingredients skillfully turned into puff-pastry pie on the premises, and drinking home-roasted, third-wave coffee for free: how could I refuse? And how did he have this hook-up? Well, him and his partner earned it by bartering custom leather shoes (with coffee beans exquisitely hand-burned into the toes) for a deliciously limited supply of pie and coffee from 'The Pie Shoppe's' co-owner Stephanie French, whose other half Andrea and her, comprise the functional binary owning and operating this easily overlooked gem, nondescriptly hardening it's mineral through edible social lubricant and bean alone, just off Gore and East Georgia.

Pouring in, we passed a simple sandwich board outside. Stuck bubblelessly on the front window was a decal displaying 'The Pie Shoppe' in typographically sound, under-gussied font. Inside sat a modest wing chair with a dapper Asian boy in it. He was on his computer and wore under-stated suspenders. Otherwise, The Pie Shoppe felt like a compact production kitchen. There was stainless steel, there was white, it was only 310 sq feet and the only luxury was phonograph machine and fifty-piece vinyl collection on the wall above the pour-over station. There was pie and there was coffee; no espresso and no apologies.

I pulled one of two stools up to a slab of butcher's block that awas used for pie production b) acted as the desk for a new age iPad payment system and c) became the dining table / pie bar for saddling because the single wing chair was already politely occupied. Seating capacity is 5, Standing capacity is ten or less and there are two chairs and a table out front.

After my leather smith split, I haunted around like grazing equine and tasted some tantalizingly emotive blueberry pie - made from locally sourced Island Farm blueberries and Anita's Organic Flour - and drank Stephanie's own third-wave Panoramic Roasting Company coffee via a traditional pour over process using custom hand-made ceramic.

Everything inside was designed by the expanding collective of designers, engineers, and artists who call themselves friends of the French Sisters and it was erected in only nine days.

"So how did this all get started?"
"The Pie Shoppe started... wow." Stephanie says, distracted politely by the still marinating nostalgia of it all. " Well, Andrea and I emptied our pockets and our bank accounts in November 2012. My sister dropped out of school, we stole her tuition money and signed a lease for December first."

"What about the initial momentum?"
"Well, I've always made things. I just do this stuff, I don't have an explanation. I finished my degree at Emily Carr and thought it was time to do something. Andy and I thought about doing it just for a month at first. You know, just a pop up. But we ran the numbers and it was too expensive. So instead, we took a six month lease here, with no lawyers, no one you're supposed (italics) to grab when doing this because that's just more cost."

The available sibling, subjected to my impulsive questioning during a relatively busy service period is a petite dough-eye'd woman with both corporate calculation and an affably sleepy confidence in herself and her abilities. She's made and sold art all over the world, did product development and kitchen creation for BC Ferries, Whole Foods, wrote grants for artists with the BC Craft Council and a host of other corporate and grassroots gigs within the spheres of Art and Food.

Her sister Andrea, four years younger, covered in tattoo's and 'thick skinned' according to the elder sibling wouldn't be around the shop today. "We make a good combo, you have to meet her" she continues between sales of The Pie Shoppe's staples: chocolate pecan and apple pie to wide-eye'd customers who walk in the front door faster than the cozy real estate allows, noticeably slowing the majority of people who come through the door down - which is a nice touch.

"Andy is amazing with people and has a real no bullshit attitude, which is what the food business is about. You won't get CUSTOMER SERVICEEEEEEE here," she says flamboyantly, startling me with her mock insincerity. "If you want that, go somewhere else. We've worked behind the scenes for so long, we'd hang ourselves first. It's our 310 sq feet, so we do whatever we want."

And this is the essence of The Pie Shoppe. Andy's sincerely genuine disposition combined with Stephanie's practical expertise.

"What's tricky about these articles is that people don't get it," French says, trading a baker an entire apple pie for six loaves of bread before my eyes. "It'll reach an audience that doesn't know us or the way we operate and then they come in and they don't understand that there's no peach pie, there's no banana creme pie..." she laughs and smiles, momentarily meeting the eyes of the baker before coming back to mine, and wishing him well as he turns on his heel.

"If the fruits are in season around here - or as far as Chilliwack or Abbotsford - then we may make it. If not, sorry."


Ben Wannamaker, Fall 2013