Walking into Food For Thought and speaking to the owner, Nancy Maher, one quickly realizes that it is much more than a health food and speciality store.
The fire that destroyed the old location, just over a year ago, forced Nancy to move into the newly renovated and spacious location on the corner of Colonial and Gower Street (with lots of free parking). Since the move, Food For Thought has become part of the surrounding community’s routine. It has also become a safe haven for many of the individuals who live close by, as Michelle a customer who lives across the street stated when she stopped to talk during the interview. This safe haven was clearly exhibited when a mother who lived in the area came in looking for her son. Nancy reassured her that the child was just down the road at his friend’s house but had left his backpack behind the counter. The mom gathered the child’s things and went on her way. Sure enough, halfway through the interview, the child showed up looking for his things and a lollipop. He gave Nancy 25 cents for the lolly and headed on home. This is the type of space that Food for Thought is. Not only can you get local eggs, honey, greens, jams, and coffee (among other many other local and international products), the store has become just as much a staple in the community as their products are in our diets.
Food For Thought started, as Nancy tells it when she returned from travelling abroad and started working at a store on Pilots Hill called Mary Jane’s. This store was where she started to make long lasting business relationships and friendships with local farmers and businesses. Mary Jane’s eventually closed and Nancy left for BC for a few years. When she returned to find no one had filled the gap in the health food niche she thought, “I’ll have one temporarily until someone else comes along and opens a big one.” She opened a small location on Duckworth Street. “I was there for probably 13 years and no one ever came along and opened up a big health food store.”
It is from the strong relationship’s Nancy has built with the community that enabled her to open up again so quickly after the fire. “Around the same time that the fire was happening, the Shortall family, Chris and his father Steve, were already looking at this building…[the fire] pretty well clenched it that I would move in here…I think it is brilliant that they are the people that I pay my rent to because they are my main supplier…It’s very nice to have landlords that you can talk to just like I could talk to my own brother. I don’t even think I could have a store…if they didn’t exist. We are a really good team.”
Not only would the store not exist without Nancy’s strong community connection, the store would also be missing a part of its history. “Actually the only thing that survived the fire…is a sign out on the Gower Street side in the window. It is a wooden sign I had salvaged from the Mary Jane’s building when it closed on Pilot’s hill. That was the very original Mary Jane sign. I ended up getting that sign back because Kate, who works at Piatto, just happened to be working the day that they came to take away all the rubbish and rubble. She went out and said ‘Can I have that sign?’ and they gave it to her. That’s why that sign survived. That sign came from Pilots Hill [in the 70s] and is now back here in 2015. It really did come around full circle.”
So if you are looking for a store that has a sense of history and community that not only carries local products but difficult-to-get international and ethnic products Food for Thought is the place for you. Nancy will even whip up that perfect spice blend for your favourite recipe you can’t seem to find anywhere else.