There is a tendency among the inhabitants of any buzzing metropolis to turn their noses up at the surrounding cities and suburbs. It’s easy to pick on someone smaller than you.
Abbotsford, the Fraser Valley city of 135,000, doesn’t have the best reputation in the sense that it doesn’t really have one at all. Vancouver dwellers know little about the flat sprawl surrounded by mountains, but an influx of young families, many coming from B.C.’s shining star, are setting up shop in Abbotsford and elevating it to a starting level of, well, hip.
To tour Abbotsford today is to witness a city on the cusp of cool. As Vancouver’s housing prices continue to rise, and the unaffordability conversation starts to sound like a broken record, young newlyweds and new parents are not just picking up and settling somewhere cheaper—they’re creating the lives they had before in new places, antler decals and all.
A discussion of Abbotsford’s coming-of-age must, then, begin with Oldhand Coffee, which was opened just over a year ago by Kristina and Johannes van Bommel van Vloten. Both veterans in the Vancouver coffee scene, having previously managed locations at Elysian and JJ Bean, respectively, the couple knew upon moving back to Abbotsford from East Vancouver that they wanted to open a coffee shop geared towards their aesthetic and demographic. A former sushi restaurant, the space is now all whites, rustic woods, and Bows and Arrows coffee. The couple’s daughter, Else, was just nine months old when they opened, and can often be spotted cruising around the cafe, charming everyone in sight. “She’s definitely the cafe baby,” says Kristina. Aside from caffeine, Oldhand offers a variety of baked goods, including the traditional Norwegian skolebrød, a sweet roll filled with custard.
But good baking abounds elsewhere in the city, and the steady line of customers at Duft & Co Bakehouse could point out an exciting treat, or three. Founded by another couple team, Tyler Duft and Cassandra Crocco, Duft & Co offers an array of baked goods, from sweet cinnamon buns to ham and cheese croissants (the latter of which Duft says is the best thing on the menu, and after tasting one it is hard to disagree). Duft and Crocco met while working for the Toptable Group in Vancouver: he worked at CinCin, and her at Thierry. (In fact, while Crocco was at the Alberni Street staple, she was the only baker approved by Thierry himself to make the macarons.) Now Crocco runs the bakery portion of Duft & Co, while Duft heads up their other offerings, including as soup and sandwiches; charmingly, they operate under the daily sell-until-we-sell-out model, meaning one should go early for the best selection. Duft says Abbotsford had a bit of a “deficit” for cool, high-quality places (and had “no good bread!”), but he recognizes the changes echoed by establishments such as his own. “We’re a little more in our teenage years as a city,” he says. “We want to give people more options. It’s cool to see the public get excited about what we’re doing.” The going has been so good since they opened last February that they are opening a licensed restaurant, Duft & Co Brickhouse, directly across the street.
Also downtown is Spruce Collective and its sister store The Market at Spruce Collective. Run by four women, the main Spruce Collective offers a selection of clothing, vintage wares, local artisanal jewellery, and home décor items. At The Market down the street, a full antique collection offers everything from books and trunks to sofas and 1960s Life magazines. Another female-owned business is Mint + Moss, a floral design company focusing on locally foraged greenery. Rounding out the businesswomen trio is Bonnie Friesen of Faspa and Company, an Abbotsford pop-up and catering company using the best of the local produce. Abbotsford is a city of farmers and farmland, and instead of bucking the small town stereotype, Friesen embraces the growers and all they have to offer. She says there is “such an abundance” of farm-fresh food in the city, and that it “is a thrill to be a chef and work and cook where I do.” A sample meal from Faspa and Company includes a spring salad with Agassiz Farmhouse chevre with roasted radishes and beets, brown butter rhye crumble, baby greens, pickled mustard seeds, and chive crème fraiche; and a Yarrow Meadows Farm duck confit with herbaceous risotto with rice from the Artisan Sake Maker, spiced peach preserve chutney, fiddleheads, and cauliflower purée.
Newest to the city is Field House Brewing, which just opened a few months ago and is already packing its small tasting room nightly. Founded by former Vancouver-based creative Joshua Vanderheide, Field House has a wood-burning fireplace and an outdoor licensed “beer lawn”. “We’re excited and encouraged by the things going on in Abbotsford,” he says to a small group of assembled guests for a private dinner, which takes place literally among the tanks (the space can be rented for special events). “There’s a new influx of interesting things.” The brewery’s IPA is a good place to start, and it may certainly be tempting to fill a growler to take home.
Due to its small size, and the related excitement with each new opening, it is not unrealistic to spot the Field House team stopping for a bite at Duft & Co, or the Oldhand folks saying hello at Field House. It is a true community, a tiny but expanding group of people determined to make the place they settled in not just the place they settled for. And no one can make fun of that.
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