Whiskey Creek Bakery & Bistro transforms into tranquil rural retreat

Strolling through the garden at Whiskey Creek Farm looking back toward the dining pavilion, the Shoe String Café.

August 17, 2022 – “It was just a house sitting on rock,” says Lori Gillis, when she bought a few acres of land 15 minutes from Qualicum Beach.

That was 32 years ago says the organic market gardener and trained pastry chef.

Today, Whiskey Creek Farm is an organic oasis offering a trio of unique guest accommodations for people seeking a private tranquil get-away in the heart of rural Vancouver Island.

Tucked in the foothills of Mount Arrowsmith near Cathedral Grove on the road to Tofino, Whiskey Creek Bakery has long been a destination eatery for locals and visitors alike, but the farm’s roots go much deeper.

A petite dynamo, Lori is known for her warmth and sparkle — and for her signature rustic decorating flourishes.

Lori says she didn’t have any soil, so she built her own from scratch. Literally.

Recalling her first years at Whiskey Creek Farm, she says, “You couldn’t dig a hole to plant anything. Everything was rock!”

Manure from the farm’s horses and chickens was composted and added to the sand and rocks that, over the years, eventually formed the base from which Lori grew a farm market business. “I picked rocks for 17 years!”

In the best tradition of sustainable farming, Lori explains that she amended the farm’s soil organically with home-grown blood and bone meal from the chickens she raised, making productive use of every part of the bird. “All natural additives,” she says.

Beneath all that rock though, there is a silver lining.

Guest cottage featuring Lori Gillis’ signature rustic glam decore.

The Mount Arrowsmith region here on the east coast of Vancouver Island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It was designated in 2000 to protect a large second-growth coastal Douglas fir ecosystem in the watersheds of the Little Qualicum and Englishman Rivers from being developed.

Whiskey Creek Farm boasts an aquifer-fed artesian well that pumps 80 gallons per minute of pristine water from the Mount Arrowsmith watershed says Lori.

WWOOFers helped too.

Always seeking opportunities to encourage sustainable agriculture, Lori contacted World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

This international movement was formed to link visitors with organic farmers, promote a cultural and educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming and sustainability practices.

WWOOF is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Young people from around the world who wanted to travel and learn how to farm sustainably signed up, drawn to the beauty and location of Whiskey Creek Farm. WOOFers worked for months-long stints in exchange for room and board.

Chicken karma

But, the real key to Lori Gillis’ success? Chickens.

Mural at The Cluck Stops Here.
Mural on the outside of the building that had been used for Lori Gillis’ former abattoir business The Cluck Stops Here.

One flock of chickens grew into… well, another flock and another, then many. You might say the business grew organically because before long Lori had a thriving business selling free range chicken.

Rather than subject her chickens to long and stressful transportation to a slaughterhouse, she decided to establish a licensed abattoir to process chickens right on the farm. As word got out, other farmers in the region began to process their birds in her facility.

Ever the creative entrepreneur, Lori gave the butcher shop the cutest cringe-worthy name, The Cluck Stops Here.

No longer in the business of selling chickens, Lori says the building now provides valuable storage for the farm’s continual evolution into new business areas.

An avid collector of vintage finds and “kitsch,” Lori has a keen eye for unique and provocative by-gone era items which soon became a draw as well.

In a fitting homage to chickens — and karma — she turned the Whiskey Creek Farm into a gallery of all things chicken related.

Build a bakery and they will come back for farm-to-table dinners

The bakery at Whiskey Creek Farm.

Did we mention Lori is a trained pastry chef and cake decorator?

“I thought I could make use of my former trade” here on the farm, she says modestly. The Whiskey Creek Bakery was born. Well, not that easily, or quickly.

“I bartered with neighbours and local businesses” she says, to reduce the cost of building the bakery.

Slowly, bit by bit, the bakery took shape at the farm.

Gluten-free baked goods were the big draw with health-conscious patrons, but it was her mouth-watering creations that soon brought high praise and repeat customers.

Then another new chapter of her life began.

Partnership blossoms

“We met online about nine years ago” says Lori of her now-husband, Brian Krishka.

“Neither of us had considered online dating before.” To their surprise, they hit it off. “Then he asked me to marry him! We’ll celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary this August.”

A marine biologist, Brian studied salmon and rockfish but has taken like a duck to… the farming and guest hosting life.

He retired four years ago, and doesn’t miss the commute. “Now, I’m the barista here,” he says with a grin on his face.

The couple’s relationship blossomed into another Whiskey Creek Farm venture, — hosting Farm to Table dinners.

Lori and Brian designed the self-standing dining pavilion on the property themselves, incorporating eco-friendly design and construction techniques, using wood from trees felled from the building site footprint.    

In a nod to her thrifty, up-by-the-bootstraps approach to life, Lori named the new dining pavilion the Shoe String Café.

Step inside though and it’s anything but. Rustic elegance comes to mind, with splashes of eclectic references to other eras. A manual typewriter greets guests at the entry, while 50s-style stilettos in sparkling hues grace the tables holding miniature flower arrangements and, of course, chickens in every imaginable representation.  

Inside the Shoe String Café designed and built by Lori and Brian.

The charming saffron-hued interior sports wooden floors and windows on all sides overlooking the surrounding gardens. A wood-burning stove sits in the middle of the room, a welcome feature in cool, rainy winter weather.

In addition to the farm-to-table dinners, this unique setting has been the scene of many weddings and private parties for families and local businesses.

The weasel, the windstorm and the pandemic lead to new horizons

Life at Whiskey Creek Farm was not all roses and sunshine every day. It had its share of thorns too.

In the wee hours of the morning a few years ago, the couple was awakened by “a racket in the hen house,” said Brian, “unlike anything” they’d heard before. Entering the building, Brian said, he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Dozens of chickens lay bleeding and dead. The hen house was eerily silent, the remaining live birds cowering in fear.

Guest accommodations include this travel trailer overlooking the water lily pond.

Scanning the building, suddenly he saw a weasel’s head poke out! “Without thinking, I just lunged at it like a madman,” said Brian, determined to stop it from doing more damage. To his astonishment, Brian managed to corner and grab the animal, ending the mayhem. Quite a departure from his day job processing data about fish habitats.

A massive windstorm ripped through the Whiskey Creek area in December 2018, stronger than had been experienced in decades. It took weeks for crews to restore electrical power across the region, and to clear the roads of fallen trees.

Whiskey Creek Farm suffered extensive damage, but thankfully no one was injured. Lori’s elderly mother lived on Whiskey Creek Farm in her own private quarters, and was present during the brief but destructive storm. Strong winds snapped several big trees on the property causing some property damage.

That’s where life on a farm comes in handy. Unlike their in-town neighbours, Lori and Brian are equipped with generators to supply electricity, but damage from the storm required lengthy, extensive clean-up. “One huge maple tree in the centre of the property came down,” said Brian, causing some damage to several buildings.

Resilient as ever, the couple welcomed happy customers back the following spring. The next year the Covid pandemic struck.

As the pandemic dragged on, Lori says working around ever-changing Covid restrictions was becoming too onerous, prompting a major pivot. Since their “slice of heaven” (Lori’s pies are legendary) was a proven ideal and idyllic setting for weddings and private parties, Whiskey Creek Farm “seemed like a natural fit” for vacation rentals. The couple took advantage of the pandemic-imposed “down-time” to convert some of the buildings on the property into short-term rental accommodations.

Lori Gillis and Brian Krishka.

Now, guests can enjoy a peaceful, bucolic get-away in one of three very different guest accommodations sprinkled around the gorgeous farm garden setting.

Transitions continue. “Mom died this spring,” says Lori. The couple have decided to retire from this business, and Whiskey Creek Farm is now for sale.

“We’re planning to move to a small town in a warmer climate.” Lori already has plans to sell baked goods to the locals, and Brian wants to continue his interests in working with wood and nature photography.

Lori says, “Whiskey Creek Farm started with the passion to offer the community a source of natural food, using old method organic practices with the vision of farm to table sustainability.” Now, for her next venture, she says, “I’d like to pass on my knowledge and experience to others.”

Whiskey Creek Farm

1229 Walz Road, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia V9K 2S8

Book guest accommodations:

Phone: 250-752-3082
Email: info@whiskeycreek.ca

Contact real estate agent:

Jeff Meyer 250.885.2047
Vancouver Island Real Estate Group