Community Supported Restaurant a first for Cowichan Valley

Taking a page from the popular Community Supported Agriculture programs offered by several farms in the Cowichan Valley, Cobble Hill’s Unsworth Vineyard and its chefs are trying the same concept in their restaurant this winter.

The Community Supported Restaurant came out of conversations between Christle Pope, one of Unsworth’s chefs, along with her husband, Steven Elsken – who also run Farm’s Gate Catering – and Heather McLeod of Makaria Farm. Unsworth was quick to throw its support behind the project.

"This allows us to continue purchasing vegetables from local farms like Makaria, as well as running the restaurant when we don’t have the busy tourist season and keeping our staff on," said Sarah Cosman, the vineyard’s general manager.

Unsworth had been the site of Amusé Bistro until that operation’s lease ran out and they decided to relocate. They weren’t sure what to do until Pope and Elsken approached them, wondering about moving in.

"We’ve been operating our food truck with the same concept for the last few years, and our catering expanded, so we needed more space," Pope said. "When the opportunity came up at Unsworth, it seemed like the perfect fit for us."

After a successful first summer at Unsworth, Pope and Elsken have added the CSR concept on two nights a week over the winter.

The CSR will run from Oct. 1 to May 31. Membership includes six three-course meals for two people for $300 or three meals for two for $150 that can be enjoyed on Thursday or Sunday evenings. A menu is emailed out each week so members can decide if they want to make their reservations that week. Members can keep supporting the restaurant and enjoying the food even if their initial purchase runs out.

"If they go above and beyond their six meals, they can keep coming in for $25 a meal instead of $35," Cosman noted.

The first menu that went out earlier this week includes an appetizer of corn fritters with ancho chile sauce and kohlrabi slaw, a main course of pan-roasted chicken with country ham and savory au jus, with polenta and quinoa cakes with broccolini, and for dessert, warm rice pudding with dulce de leche and apple squash compote and biscotti. All of the food is homemade, and as much as possible is sourced locally.

Even without much publicity, the program has already been a hit.

"So far, the response has been pretty good," Pope said. "People seem to be excited to support us and the concept."

McLeod, who has run a successful CSA program out of her farm for several years, is thrilled to be part of the CSR project.

"This is a great way for members of the community to show support for a wonderful local business and get the benefit of eating fabulous food," she said.

"It’s fun to go to a restaurant and see our carrots or our Swiss chard on the menu. It feels like everything has come full-circle."

McLeod has searched for similar ventures in Canada, but has only been able to find one, in Ottawa, meaning the Unsworth CSR is likely unique to B.C. "From what I could find, this is the first one in Canada," McLeod said. "How great is that for Cowichan to have such an innovative program happening here? I’m so proud that a Cowichan business is one of the first to do it in Canada."

Anyone interested in participating in the CSR can visit unsworthvineyards.com or by call Unsworth Vineyard at 250-929-2292.