You walk into Crescendo, the shop at 311 First Street West, and enter a little corner of Italy—or Greece, or Spain. Casks of oils and vinegars hang from the walls, replicas of ancient agora, the Greek-inspired wine and oil pottery jugs that you see in travel brochures from the Mediterranean.
The lighting is sunny, the walls of spice and herbs sparkle, and the faint aroma of olives and oregano reminds you of summertime. Little bowls of oil and vinegar are there to taste—oil and vinegar, with cubes of melon and cheese to taste on a skewer. “Look, taste, enjoy,” is the general idea. As in small shops in Europe, personal service is part of the experience—Daniel or Elvira see to every order, filling the size and shape of bottle you choose—or one you bring in—with your choice of olive or nut oil, or one of a range of balsamic vinegars, or a packet of spice or herbs. The jars of spices, different salts, the cooler of cosmetic and health oils, the rows of bottles waiting to be filled, are reminders that like good food, aroma and presentation are part of the pleasure.
Daniel Weber and Elvira Brunner are among the growing list of 21st C pioneers attracted to Revy by a
lifestyle that’s both laid-back and invigorating. “This is a place where we can live our dream,” says Daniel, not in the least abashed to be seen as a romantic. “I am always looking for more space, and here I found it.” The two met six years ago on a riverbank in Switzerland, and five years later here they are in BC, having left secure jobs with the Swiss federal government to emigrate.
“I had visited Canada on holiday many times,” Daniel says. “Mostly northern Ontario, to hunt and fish, with a friend who’s an outfitter there.” Elvira too had traveled—around the world, once, for a whole year, and at other times to Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa and the United States. Their families—both mums are coming this summer to visit them—were not too happy about their departure. Friends at home were more than sceptical—go to the Canadian mountains to sell oil and vinegar—“Are you mad?” they asked.
“We wanted a complete change,” Elvira says. “We are both people who like to make other people happy,” so retailing a food product that’s authentic, “green” and delicious appealed to them. “When you have an idea, a dream, you can let it go, or you can take it to the limit,” says Daniel. Canada has been very positive for them. They have their house in the mountains, and Elvira has managed to buy a horse—two really, since the mare came with a foal—her own lifelong dream.
Crescendo is the first of what will be nine franchise shops in BC and Alberta. Elvira and Daniel had been keen customers of the parent company in Switzerland, Vom Fass, and were able to purchase the license for Western Canada. The olive oils are Mediterranean, but the vinegars are made in Germany, and all products are backed by the very strict rules of EU food standards of authenticity and purity. In Europe, the shops sell a wide range of spirits and liqueurs as well as oil and vinegar, but Daniel and Elvira have replaced this part of the business with herbs and spices. As well as edibles, many of the oils they sell have health and cosmetic purposes. Daniel and Elvira both use cedar and argan oils for health, and say they are immune to colds and flu. Argan is an oil harvested only by Berber women’s cooperatives in Morocco under Fair Trade practices in which goats play let’s just say an interesting role.
Are Crescendo products expensive? The bottles are re-usable, and with the vinegars and the spices, a little goes a very long way. The oils are infused at source, and the casks protect them from the rancidity that can affect regular oil products. When you consider what most households spend on ketchup, bottled salad dressings and bottled sauces of all sorts, a tablespoon of quality vinegar as flavouring seems a bargain—as well as being free of preservatives and for the most part of sugars. The olive oils are mainly organic, all cold-pressed virgin oils with no chemical additives. A price comparison of other specialty oils and vinegars shows that at the retail level, Crescendo prices are in the same range as other imports. Yes, cheaper olive oil is available. But I’ve certainly seen more expensive oils and vinegars at Whole Foods, Meinhardt’s and Pusateri’s. And Crescendo’s balsamic vinegars just can’t be had elsewhere, at any price.
So the big question is: will they stay, or are Daniel and Elvira homesick for Europe? Revy’s a long way from both Switzerland. Elvira and Daniel look at each other (it’s clear that they’re very much in love, and my interview with them is interlaced with their frequent glances at one another as well as a kind of sexy undercurrent of—well, joy) and stifle wide grins.
“Not at all homesick,” they say. They have been delighted with the friendliness of Revelstoke people, and their helpfulness towards newcomers starting a somewhat unusual business. “You can’t imagine, “ Elvira says, “in Switzerland, for people starting a new shop like this, other retailers would not be very welcoming. Here, everything about doing business is so different, so open.” Elvira shares in Daniel’s belief in making your dreams come true. “You have to just do it.”
Sound familiar? To me, it sounds just like Revy.