You can have the biggest marketing or advertising budget in the world, or you can have successful word of mouth. In the case of Bruce Wood, it was word of mouth that brought me knocking on the door of Bruce’s Kitchen one sunny afternoon on Salt Spring Island.
Word spreads pretty quickly in a small community like Ganges when there’s a new restaurant to be tried. But to take advantage of the tourist season on Salt Spring it’s nice to know that people are talking about you. I started hearing about Bruce’s Kitchen a couple of years ago, just after Bruce Wood opened his little cafe that is part of the strip mall right where the Saturday farmers’ market takes place in Ganges. More than a couple of people told me I had to go there. I tried at least twice to go there on visits to Salt Spring, but my timing was always off. I even met Bruce at food events on Vancouver Island. Finally, I caught up with him at home a few weeks ago, on one of his rare days off. I found out he came to Salt Spring from Ontario for family reasons. No place to live, though, and no job. But under his belt, a lot of experience in the restaurant industry: “As a chef I can always find work, so it wasn’t long before I started working at the Rock Salt Cafe on the south part of the island. But as I was working there I started to realize I didn’t want the rush of a restaurant anymore, working on the line.” Serendipity stepped in when Bruce met a businessman who wanted to start a food venture and Bruce’s Kitchen was born…a cafe that concentrates on take out, catering, a few seats inside and outside and lots of local, seasonal food. His partner wanted out after a year, so he sold his portion to Bruce.
Bruce’s kitchen is just a larger version of what you may have at home. Lots of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, open shelves holding plates and bowls and Bruce’s preserves, a self-serve coffee and tea station and a huge chalkboard with the daily menu…as Bruce really cooks with the seasons and what he can source on Salt Spring. His main goal is to give his patrons a real sense of community. “So on the menu we use local fruits and vegetables, cheeses and meats. We keep things very seasonal and are teaching people that you shouldn’t eat strawberries in February and asparagus in March. And I think it’s working, because we get the same people coming in all the time. Earlier this year I had a bit of a scare and I was in the hospital for a few days and it was so wonderful to have some of my customers coming in to visit and bringing plants, really happy to be supported at that point.
In turn, Bruce supports the community by working closely with the cooking apprenticeship program at the local high school and serving on its advisory committee and he’s very proud of the people from that program who come and work and learn from him at the cafe.
On my visit to Bruce’s Kitchen, I ate two of my favourite things…pizza and salad, together. A very generous portion of flatbread covered in housemade sausage, roasted tomato and feta cheese, with a lightly dressed green salad served right on top of the pizza which was actually great eating it together like that. The other main special that day was a quiche made with ‘Sally’s Braising Greens’, local leeks, cheddar and ham…the staff were also making sandwiches, and serving up vegetarian chilli with homemade cornbread and free-range chicken pot pie. If you visit, make sure you leave with some of Bruce’s preserves or his great house-made ketchup and mustard.
Bruce’s dedication to quality and local ingredients is really paying off. In June the restaurant was included in the Frommer’s Guide to Vancouver Island, The Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands as one of the region’s 15 Best Restuarants. The guide marks it as a ‘Special Find-those places only insiders know about’. Now you know about Bruce’s Kitchen, too. Tell him I sent you…