Le Marche

September 17, 2014

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Sitting pretty on a quiet street corner in the back streets of Vancouver’s Mt Pleasant district is an unlikely business. There is no foot traffic, only a gentle stream of cars and no other stores in sight. Cherry blossoms form a pastel canopy down streets of weatherboard homes with pitched roofs. Small red-faced children ride their bikes past the old man sweeping maple leaves into piles on his front lawn. Upon first glance, the weathered bottle green exterior of one stately 1904 building blends perfectly with its residential surrounds. This family home however is unique, as its doors are kept open for extended “relatives” – made up of neighbors, customers and friends. Le Marché St. George, as this place is known, is the corner store and cafe that has become the heart of the neighborhood.

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From the very outset, Le Marché St. George has been about family. Owned and run by husband and wife duo Pascal Roy and Janaki Larsen, Le Marché is the realization of a long held dream. Pascal explains that they bought the property as a place where they could live and work, while raising their then new-born daughter Lola. Originally in disrepair, the couple lovingly restored the building’s store front, three apartments and generous back garden in such a way as to preserve its heritage character. Decades worth of peeling pastel paints on the walls have been left untouched, loved for their accidental impressionism. The original fireplace with its ornate brass facing is a centerpiece and mantle for antique collectibles and found objects. Inside and out the building is a testament to its past, adjusted to become a comfortable sanctuary for families and friends.

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Le Marché St. George is a complete anomaly in a city dominated by strip shop zonings and business-free residential areas. As with most brilliant ideas, Pascal and Janaki’s determination to open up shop in the middle of “nowhere” was originally shunned. Initially the local residents and the council thought they were crazy, and without the building’s grandfathered convenience store permit, Le Marché would not exist. Although they had the right to operate a business, Pascal explains it was still “challenging to change society’s expectations of a convenience store.” Pascal recalls when the council took a first look at the shop plans; “They just stared at them and asked where the lottery machine was going!” Thankfully like all brilliant entrepreneurs, Pascal and Janaki stuck to their instincts and are now the proud owners of an internationally renowned cafe with serious local heart and no lottery machines in sight.

The key to their success it seems, lies in their apparent nonchalance for success. They have approached every aspect of their self-described “mom and pop shop” with casual integrity, spirit and good nature; creating an incredibly restful and inspiring place that feeds the soul. Neighbors gather on benches strewn with sheepskin rugs, enjoying creamy macchiatos and buttery almond croissants while the French radio plays. Kids play in the garden, petting the puffed up heritage hens that provide Le Marché with plenty of fresh eggs and entertainment. People from around the city come by bike for crêpes, small goods or just to take five in the Le Marché oasis. It’s a perfectly imperfect place that for many has become a home away from home. According to Pascal, even the local kids (of which there are many!) know to come to Le Marché if their parents need to run an errand. The local community’s initial apprehension has now completely dissolved, Pascal explains; “Le Marché is now a deeply integrated part of the neighborhood.”

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Infused with effortless style, it’s not surprising that Le Marché’s co-owner Pascal hails from Montreal, Canada. Pascal is a genial character whose face seems permanently stuck to a gentle smile. A trained Doctor of Chinese Medicine, he exudes equal measures of eccentricity and sincerity that seem to have seeped into the very walls of Le Marché. Pascal’s wife Janaki grew up on the fairytale Canadian island of Salt Spring and brings a soothing, earthy energy to the scene. Coming from a family of artists, Janaki says she “appreciates the tradition in art making.” As a self confessed “textile junkie” with a background in art direction and a talent for ceramics, Janaki is largely responsible for Le Marché’s aesthetic sensibility. Janaki explains that her knack for “conveying a story through objects” and love for “minimalism and simplicity but not sterility” is apparent throughout the building. Antique collectibles can be found beside dried plants, piles of linen and her own hand made ceramics. Although painfully beautiful, nothing at Le Marché is contrived. The intriguing hand selected elements within its walls seem all in their right place, until the next time you visit when it’s anew with the couple’s latest curio collections.

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The undeniable European style of Le Marché certainly comes from Pascal’s French-Canadian roots, but also from the couple’s shared admiration for European’s ability to make “mundane experiences beautiful.” Pascal explains; “In Europe going grocery shopping can be an all day affair, I wanted to address the simple pleasure of buying beautiful food in a beautiful, intimate environment.” The shopping experience at Le Marché follows this mantra, with tantalizing offerings such as locally farmed produce, artisan maple syrup, hand made sausages and organic skin care. Janaki and Pascal are particularly proud of their singularly produced goods. Janaki explains; “It’s tough in this economy to make one thing with the best ingredients possible. There is a lot of passion that goes into the products we sell.” The couple is also passionate about local food, selling “garden overflow from neighbors” as well as seasonal boxes from Innercity Farmers.

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Everything about Le Marché St. George seems to nurture; from the cafe’s calming setting to the quality of the food, to its support for local producers and the sense of community it instills. As if this isn’t enough, Le Marché is also a venue for live music events, markets and pop-up shops that celebrate local talent and creativity. Le Marché is as alive as the families it feeds, changing with the seasons and the years, as new ideas, recipes and people move through its walls. No matter what Le Marché is serving on its shelves or plates, it always serves the soul. Whether you’re popping in for some milk, a delicious crêpe lunch or just to soak in the atmosphere, you will leave satisfied and revived.

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Enjoyed ‘Le Marche’? Check back next week for the another instalment from The Journal, Issue Three. Or to find your own complimentary copy of The Journal, visit Herschel Supply stockists around the world.