The Potluck Community Co-op is ready for its next step. For the past year and a half the Potluck, focused on ‘good food’ beginning with local and organic, has run a weekly pop-up shop with online ordering. While ‘breaking even’ according to board member Bernie Hoeschele, the little business has been challenged by wanting to offer more convenient hours and a full product line, but unable to afford the space and staff required. Enter Fay Brannigan, owner of Cliffside Country Stores and Greenhouse. Brannigan read about the Co-op’s growing pains in a CBC article on the opening of the new Farmer Robert’s Store, and realised they would be a perfect fit in her new business plan. She is leaving the location she has rented for the last five years and has bought a new property that will allow her to expand from gardening to grocery.
The new location is the old Catholic Church in Hillcrest near the Skky Hotel, and with its vaulted ceilings and many windows its not hard to follow along with Fay’s vision as she describes all of the aspects she hopes it to become: a community focal point that includes the nursery, a grocery store, a café, event and classroom space, and rental space for small vendors. Discussions with Potluck board members revealed a mutual vision for community engagement, and a plan was hatched for her to become the Co-op’s newest member.
True to its nature as a co-op, no action was taken before consulting the members, who poured in their responses over the last week. They voted overwhelmingly in support of the partnership, and October is slated to be a busy month for both parties with doors scheduled to open on November 1.
While the Potluck will cease to operate a storefront itself, they will still carry out online and bulk orders for their members, and members will receive a discount at the new Cliffside store. The larger facility and higher throughput anticipated through becoming Cliffside’s grocery supplier will give the Potluck the potential to increase its product line to include dairy, eggs and meat.
In an interview with Brannigan and Potluck board member Bernie Hoeschele both spoke to a vision that is about more than good food – in addition to the retail and warehouse spaces, there is a hall that the partners intend to open for community use. The Potluck is looking forward to the opportunity to expand on its mandate for community education with workshops on everything from sprouting to canning, and Brannigan foresees community groups having access for their own workshops, meetings and events. She is beaming as she describes how she hopes the building can become a hub for people living ‘up the hill’.
The location speaks to Hoeschele as well, who is optimistic that it will help curb any sense of competition with Farmer Robert’s. “We had a lot of good talks with them, and are on the same page with food, but didn’t have much to offer each other,”he said. “Here, we get to keep being a co-op and staying true to our founding mandate.” So if the profits do start coming in for the Potluck, where do they go? “It’s a Co-op,” says Hoeschele, “We’ll be able to start giving returns to our existing members, and begin putting money into a fund to support local food producers.”
If the increase in demand for local and organic food across the country is any indication, there will be plenty of room for all three businesses to flourish in the years to come.