Weinberg’s Good Food — necessity was the mother of invention

 “I had a child who only ate apples for about a year, says Leah Weinberg. “So I thought he needed to have organic apples, and I couldn’t afford them!” That was the genesis of Weinberg’s Good Food, the well-loved specialty food shop located on the coastal Island Highway 19A next to the Buckley Bay ferry terminal to Denman Island. A second Weinberg’s store opened in Qualicum Beach in June 2019.

Leah Weinberg, owner of Weinberg’s Good Food, in her Qualicum Beach store.

Weinberg’s Good Food wasn’t planned in a formal way, says owner Leah. “We’re a little bit stream-of-consciousness, following our intuition.” Raising two young children in Vancouver was an expensive challenge that prompted an ingenious solution. So Leah got the idea to start a buying club. “The moms in the preschool and I got together, about 12 or 15 of us. We would buy our food every week [direct] from the wholesaler.”

The buying club helped to solve one big problem, feeding her growing family, but the cost of housing on the Lower Mainland was another worry. She and her husband Gerald wanted a way out of the big city. “My parents had property in Fanny Bay that had been in the family for a long time,” says Leah. So, in 2010, the couple engaged the house relocation company, Nickel Bros., to move a house there to become their new Island home.

Once settled in Fanny Bay, Leah started up a new buying club there but, six months later, fate put a spoke in the family’s wheel. Her husband Gerald’s employer had assured him that he could work remotely but then, in those pre-pandemic times, the company changed its mind, and his position was declared redundant.

A store is born

Cosy corner at Weinberg’s Good Food overlooking the inner courtyard at Chilham Village on Second Avenue West in Qualicum Beach.

Serendipity stepped in to help out. Leah spotted the space for rent at Buckley Bay at about the same time as she learned about a Community Futures self-employment program. She thought that, if she took this training, it would help her launch an expanded version of her buying club.

“My idea was that at least we’d have something to eat!” But, through the Community Futures program, she had to write a business plan, and the buying club concept became “a bigger idea.” Weinberg’s Good Food was born.

 “You don’t make a lot of money on produce, the margins are pretty slim,” says Leah. In the beginning, Weinberg’s offered mostly coffee and food items. Initially, the store was not allowed to sell things that might compete with their landlord’s business upstairs which sold mainly the things that made money – pop, chips, chocolate bars. So Leah started looking at gifts and other items that would expand what she offered her customers.

Espresso bar at Weinberg’s Good Food, Qualicum Beach. Yes, they sell those sailing ship mobiles!

Still cost-conscious, Leah now had another, much different objective for the store near the Buckley Bay ferry to Denman Island. “[Living] in Fanny Bay, the closest store is Bowser or Courtenay. For me, if I needed an onion, it was a 25-minute drive. So I also wanted [the store] to be something that would save people a trip to town.

Our goal has been to offer a little bit of everything, to have not six kinds of ketchup, but one ketchup [product].” Over time, Weinberg’s original store became known to locals and travelers up and down the Island as a place to find unique and interesting food items, home decor, clothing and personal products, as well as that onion needed for tonight’s supper.

Setting up shop in QB

How did the notion of establishing a second store in Qualicum Beach come about? “I felt like it would be good to have a Plan B, especially somewhere that we could own the property,” says Leah. “We didn’t want to open a new store in Courtenay even though it logically would have made a lot more sense [because] that’s where our kids go to school and we travel there a lot.” Courtenay didn’t offer the environment they were looking for.

“We are creatures of opportunity,” says Leah. “Gerald just happened upon the [real estate] listing. We liked the town, and the building location.” The second Weinberg’s Good Food store is located in Chilham Village on Qualicum Beach’s main shopping street, Second Avenue West.

“Qualicum Beach is a lovely looking community. I think it’s the only community apart from Victoria, which is a big city, where you can actually walk. My 13-yr-old loves going down there. He can bring his scooter or his skateboard, and he can be totally independent. He can go to the park, he can go to the beach, he can go to the candy store, and then he comes and checks in. There’s nowhere else I can think of … well, that just wouldn’t happen in Courtenay, that wouldn’t happen in Comox. So we really like QB a lot.”

“It’s funny, a couple of years after I had been running the Buckley Bay store, I said to my Mom, ‘I think I kind of unconsciously recreated Denny’s,’ the grocery store of my childhood.“ [Leah grew up in Anmore, near Buntzen Lake in the Port Moody area where an old, tiny grocery store called Denny’s was the community hub.]

“I have to say, I was blown away by the community and how warm neighbouring business owners were to us when we opened. Really amazing. Those girls at MOD Apparel are just the kindest, nicest people, sending me customers, letting people know that we were there, the yoga studio too, really everyone. Everyone has been super, super nice.”

QB is distinctly different

Despite carrying some similar products, there are distinct differences between the two Weinberg’s stores. In Buckley Bay says Leah, “we’re kind of remote; in QB it’s a neighbourhood. In Buckley Bay, people are always coming and going on the way to somewhere, whereas in QB, people are just out for a stroll, walking their dog or enjoying the day. It’s a totally different interaction. It’s nice.”

Happy customers stepped outside Weinberg’s Good Food (at centre, back) to bask in the spring sunshine and enjoy their “excellent” coffee in Chilham Village’s inner courtyard.

“People [here in QB] have more time to chat. The conversations you get to have are real conversations. That’s really important to me. When I hire people, I want people who can actually carry on a meaningful conversation because I feel like that makes that experience more enjoyable.”

Many customers concur, often citing the pleasure of wide-ranging chats with Amanda. Leah agrees, and says she is very lucky to have Amanda overseeing the store in QB.

“I’ve always been a big proponent of fair trade and organic food,” says Leah.  “It’s a luxury, and I know that, and I know not everyone can afford that. I know I couldn’t, that’s why I started the Buying Club. But, I try to make it as affordable as I can.

We’re happy to bring things in for people if they have a product they like. A lot of times some of my favourite products come from customers telling me about their favourite thing. That’s always cool.”

Another cool thing? Weinberg’s Good Food will be offering organic Hot Cross Buns for a delicious Easter treat along with their first-rate coffees and teas.

Weinberg’s Good Food #3 – 221 Second Avenue West (interior courtyard of Chilham Village), Qualicum Beach, BC 250.594.4100.