Archive for December, 2012

The Celtic Treasure Chest

Friday, December 14th, 2012

When people dream of early retirement they often visualize travelling, playing golf, catching up on reading and pursuing hobbies.  Steve and Lil McVittie, owners of The Celtic Treasure Chest, reached the point where they could have pulled out cruise ship brochures; however, they chose a different path and followed their dream to open a business and eventually retire. Ten years later they are busier than ever with two additional businesses in the mix.

Steve McVittie has great respect for his British and Irish roots.  His grandmother was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and his father was born in Bedford, England.  He proudly reports that his grandfather, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, was a Surgeon General in the British Army and served as the Honorary Physician to Queen Victoria.  Lil McVittie is of French descent.  Steve McVittie jokingly thanks his wife’s heritage and her love of cooking for his slim and muscular figure.

British food has always been an important part of Steve McVittie’s life. He recalls finding an envelope not too long ago containing an outline he had drafted as a teenager conceptualizing a British store; the dream to create this business had been percolating virtually his entire life.

The McVitties are originally from Alberta. They married in 1966 and moved to Vancouver in 1988.  Steve McVittie built his career around sales which included everything from life insurance to hardware, boats, real estate and printing.  Lil McVittie was an office worker and a buyer for the PNE.

After their careers had peaked the McVitties determined that Dunbar was the perfect neighbourhood to begin their next adventure and opened The Celtic Treasure Chest in August 2002.  Steve McVittie was aware of the history of the neighbourhood. He knew that Scottish, Irish and English immigrants had settled in Vancouver at the turn of the 20th century and they had built many of Dunbar’s homes and named numerous streets. The McVitties made a wise choice to locate The Celtic Treasure Chest in this community as their business has become one of the largest retailers of British products imported from the United Kingdom.

Steve McVittie aptly describes The Celtic Treasure Chest as a British shop dropped into a Canadian location. Food has an amazing ability to ignite memories and indeed many customers share their stories as they browse.  The sight of some of the products may remind you of a good “fry up” and transport you back to your childhood breakfast table. Or perhaps you took a wonderful vacation to Britain and recall a memorable Ploughman’s lunch?  The Celtic Treasure Chest is stocked with a huge selection of groceries to help you recreate these memories.

You will find an amazing deli that offers everything from cheese, to black and white puddings, sausages, haggis and plenty of tasty meat pies.  The Celtic Treasure Chest’s vast selection of specialty teas includes their number one seller, PG Tips.  The shelves are well stocked with a variety of canned goods (including soups, puddings, baked beans, Devon custard and rice pudding) along with crackers, crisps, biscuits, British sweets and chocolate bars.  Jars of pickles, piccalilli, chutney and mincemeat will inspire you to pull out a cook book, or you can refer to The Celtic Treasure Chest’s website for some fantastic recipes.

In addition to the array of groceries, you will find a good selection of imported hand soaps and health care products.  Not to be forgotten are the collections of Royal Family memorabilia, Coronation Street souvenirs, crests, flags, tea accessories and other gift items.

Based on the success of the Dunbar store, the McVitties decided to open a second location in White Rock in October 2004.  This caused a chain reaction as the McVittie’s needed a warehouse to receive the large shipments arriving from the U.K.  They purchased a property in Delta and opened their third shop in April 2010, with a warehouse in the rear for their new company British Isles in Canada Wholesale Ltd.

Steve McVittie is actively involved with CelticFest Vancouver which sponsors the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He has acted as parade marshal for the past eight years.  He is involved with The Royal Society of St. George as a director, and with the B.C. Highland Games as their marketing and promotions manager. Steve McVittie has also served on the board of the Dunbar Village Business Association.

Lil McVittie is the backbone of the company and is well loved by their customers and suppliers. She orders, manages and controls the purchasing and pricing of the stock as it arrives at their stores.

Steve and Lil McVittie work exceptionally long hours, beginning their days at 4 a.m., as they travel across Metro Vancouver to their three shops.  They can usually be found at the Delta or White Rock stores while their affable and highly competent manager Andrea Boyle oversees the Dunbar location.

There appears to be no sign that the McVitties will slow down any time soon. They recently took a well deserved vacation to the United Kingdom. While there, the couple celebrated the ten year anniversary of The Celtic Treasure Chest over a pint of Guinness and a Ploughman’s special at Dublin’s Temple Bar, three blocks from where Steve McVittie’s grandfather was born.

The Celtic Treasure Chest
5639 Dunbar Street
(604) 261-3688

Plastic Utensils

Friday, December 14th, 2012

The streets of downtown eastside Vancouver were completely deserted just before nine o’clock Christmas morning. We were on our way to volunteer at “The Door Is Open” day shelter on East Cordova St. where patrons are served a hot meal on Christmas day.

We arrived to an onslaught of sight and sound. The lunch room was crowded with long tables covered in bright red and green tablecloths and neatly surrounded by plastic lawn chairs. Gold tinsel was looped across the ceiling and strings of Christmas lights flashed along the walls. Dozens of volunteers moved about purposefully, carrying boxes and trays, filling the kitchen and jammed in a side storage room. We felt awkward and in the way.

A smiley young woman stopped and offered to find us assignments. In upstairs back rooms volunteers were making sandwiches and packaging desserts for the hundreds of bagged lunches to be distributed in the city that day. Our three teenagers were placed on the sandwich assembly crew and the rest of us led back to the small storage room. There our younger girls joined a relay of volunteers putting items from the upstairs “lunch rooms” into plastic bags. Our nine year old son was asked to tally the completed lunches being placed into boxes. My husband, while supervising the tallying, helped carry the boxes full of lunches to vans waiting in the back alley.

I was wondering what to do when a volunteer accidentally dropped a huge tray of potatoes and gravy near the kitchen serving window. He stood horrified. I quickly offered to clean up, happy to be useful. This was like a familiar mealtime mishap at home except for my being cheerful.

At 10:30 the lineup of guests began to shuffle in. They were of all nationalities, dressed for outdoors, many elderly, a surprising number of them couples. Most were quiet and polite, a few chatty and outgoing, fewer still brusque or obviously unwell. Many patrons responded in kind to greetings of “Merry Christmas” with a smile while others avoided any exchange.
Volunteers poured into the room to help with greeting, food service and clear-away. My kids helped or stood shyly against the walls. I felt a pang watching a middle aged man carefully spoon his meal into a clean yogurt container. A head volunteer greeted guests loudly, some by name, bustling around like a maitre d’. These people so often overlooked were today the guests of honour and this man was intent on being their host.

Across the crowded room I noticed an elderly gentleman wearing layers of coats sitting motionless at the end of a table, a plate full of food in front of him. I wondered why he was not eating, just sitting still, staring ahead.

My nine year old son beside me suddenly straightened up and walked off, making his way around the room to a box full of napkin-wrapped plastic utensils. He took a set and continued around to where the man sat.

My son held the utensils straight out at the man in the unadorned gesture of a boy. The old man stared at them a moment, took the utensils, unwrapped them and slowly began to eat. My son walked back around toward me with a satisfied look on his face.

The room swam through my tears. Maybe I was just tired or maybe the moment was as beautiful as it seemed. This simple act was at the heart of the charity we all desired to extend that day, stripped down and pure. Imagine that we all might see each other so clearly and provide for each other so practically, plainly, intently.

I stood there in that crazy space feeling that all of us were truly together, the polite rumpled guests, the gravy-dropper, the old man waiting for utensils, my young daughter almost fainting in the lunch relay room, the rambunctious Filipino choir, the man with the clean yogurt container, the gregarious head volunteer, all together under the tinsel.

Though a gulf seems to divide our lives, at that moment I felt how little it is that separates us.