“As someone who grew up in Creston, it’s special.” - Greg Benty
Descend into the valley during the warmer months and you’d have to be asleep not to notice: Creston just looks like the picture-perfect farming community.
Between the Selkirks and Purcells, the fertile stretch of fields that make up the region is one of BC’s prime agricultural centres. Dairies, orchards, vineyards, wheat, honey: When it comes to food, this town of 5,300 grows, produces, or raises it.
But up until this spring, there seemed to be something missing. Or, at least, that’s how it felt to Tanya Wall, along with her fiancé, Ralph Casemore — the former a multi-generational Creston local, the latter a multi-decade transplant. And the duo decided to do something to bridge that missing piece.
And I was in Creston to find out what their plan was.
I was greeted by Greg Benty on the stairs of a brick-clad building along Canyon Street, a main corridor through town. We’d been communicating via email about this visit to Casey’s Community House, where I now stood. While digging around online, I gathered that Casey’s had something to do with food, but, as Greg shook my hand, the specific role it played was still a mystery to me.
It began to unfold when he led me indoors.
The brick work continued from exterior to interior, interrupted by multiple garage-style glass doors — thrown open to Canyon Street — and an expanse of wood flooring. Rustic pieces and custom-made metal lighting mixed with refined leather seating. The space was unlike anything I’d seen in Creston. In fact, there were few places I’d seen that had successfully pulled off an upscale feel while simultaneously remaining casual.
Standing in that space, I began to understand that what was being created anything but run of the mill.
Greg took me on a mini tour of the space, pointing out the finished spaces and describing what they were going to be used for, as well as some ideas the team had for the unfinished areas. But the purpose of Casey’s Community House finally stepped to the forefront when he introduced its story as a community project started by two people who loved the rich roots of their agricultural valley home.
That story deepened when Tanya met us on the stairs, motioning for us to follow her to one of the tables. Dishes were just being placed for us. I was eager to try the menu, but more eager to sit with Tanya and hear the vision of Casey’s Community House from her own perspective.
We dove in — both into the food and into the idea behind Casey’s. Building into Creston’s town slogan, “Growing Together”, Ralph (owner), and Tanya (operations manager), recognized an opportunity to build more robust paths between the local food producers and what ended up on local forks.
Already advocates of their community in their everyday lives, the mission seemed like a natural extension for Tanya and Ralph. As we divvied up appies — asparagus wrapped in pasture-raised, heritage pork schinkenspeck (akin to prosciutto) and bruschetta topped with goat cheese and jewel-toned strawberries — Tanya’s passion for this undertaking is made clear through both her words and the food.
Biting into one of those bacon-wrapped asparagus appetizers, I immediately note a difference: there is a green freshness in the asparagus that I haven’t tasted from my grocery store, even when I am buying in season. Tanya shares the reason: It was picked fresh from Creston’s own Sutcliffe Farm, then wrapped with the heritage pork schinkenspeck created by another Creston local, Root and Vine Acres.
“Our menu is in-season,” Tanya says when I asked about the menu, and explains that means certain things won’t be available at different times of the year. “People have lost appreciation for their food because there is too much convenience; we just walk to the store when we run out of something. We no longer know how the foods got from the farms to our shelves.”
She’s serious about knowing where Casey’s ingredients come from and about educating its patrons on the same. Ticking through a sample list off the top of her head, Tanya lays out the origins of a few items on the menu: local-grown flours to create buns and baguettes, wines from Creston’s vineyards.
“We’re looking to bring in liquors — such as apricot and cherry liqueurs using fruit grown here — as well as vodka and gin from two Creston distilleries.” Tanya then continues, describing the origins of the main meal that’s just been placed before us: Kootenay River Beef, topped with cheese from Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co/Kootenay Meadows, bacon from Root & Vine Acres, and local potatoes that were responsible for hands-down the freshest-tasting french fries I have ever put in my mouth.
She and her team want to keep as many of those ingredients as close to home as possible. “If a food truck pulls up to our back door, that’s money going out of the community,” says Tanya. “If it’s a local producer pulling up to our door, that’s pulling our community together.”
In short: “We want to exhaust as much as possible of what’s available here before going outside of Creston.”
Exhausting what’s possible locally goes beyond food. It also includes what went into creating the space we enjoyed our food in. Dozens of Creston contractors, artisans, and volunteers pulled their talents and time together to support and help shape Casey’s in preparation for the opening weekend.
“The community is literally invested in this,” says Tanya.
The effort became so popular that, during opening weekend, the doors had to be locked because of reaching their 200-person capacity. Twice.
“We probably had 1,000 people over the weekend.”
But the heart of this business’ mission doesn’t seem to be about personal gain. “It’s not about profit,” says Greg, piping up of his own accord. “[Tanya and Ralph] care about everyone who comes through the door. They want the money to stay in the community.”
Hearing these heartfelt and unrehearsed words from one of her employees, Tanya gets misty-eyed, recognizing the mission is no longer just her’s and Ralph’s alone, but now belongs to all of the Creston locals who are sharing in making Casey’s vision a reality.
“They aren’t just repeating our words,” she says. “These are things they believe.”
Words and photos by Gina Bégin.
Gina Bégin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.