When I moved here a few years ago, one of my first priorities was to seek out wonderful provisions. Discovering The Bench Market, within walking distance to my new home, was a revelation.
I quickly stocked the larder with locally roasted coffee, and foodstuffs, luscious treats and condiments made by savvy culinary entrepreneurs from B.C. Not only a market, “the Bench” as it’s commonly called, is also a casual breakfast and lunch eatery, a regular meeting place for locals and visitors alike, a warm and inviting neighbourhood joint that fits the bill on so many levels.
The driving force behind this delicious pillar of the community are owners Stewart and Heather Glynes, who are celebrating 15 years of business. In an industry plagued with forever shrinking profit margins, this is no mean feat.
To stay ahead of the curve, today’s restaurateur must apply a multitude of skills to maintain a viable and successful business. From consistency and affordability to being social media and PR savvy to community engagement and environmental concerns, it’s an increasingly difficult marketplace to stay top of your game. The Bench Market seems to have business acumen in spades.
Open seven days a week, mornings commence at 5:30 with the sweet alchemy of freshly baked fruit-stuffed muffins, chocolate-studded cookies and other treats – including donuts on Fridays – filling the air before doors open at 7.
“Our strength is our consistency,” says Stewart, who began his tenure here as a head chef before, along with his wife Heather, purchasing the Bench 10 years ago.
Over the last decade, the couple tweaked and fine-tuned the space to make it their own. For example, the front parking lot was turned into coveted summer patio seating, and accommodation at the back of the heritage property was transformed into a much-needed 600-square-foot commercial kitchen to expand their menu, catering and take-home meals.
The market aspect of the Bench was also fine-tuned, freeing up more seating space and adding a stand-up freezer for their signature line of to-go soups, thin crust pizzas and ready-made lasagnas.
To stay fresh and current the Bench offers leadership training, education and recipe development for the staff. Depending on the season, the Glynes employ up to 25 staff, including six in the kitchen, a full-time barista and several spirited cashiers.
The young kitchen brigade is encouraged to stretch their reach with specials such as chicken schnitzel or trending stuffing sandwiches and the daily soups. And with ace ingredient sourcing, product knowledge is key for all staff members
Growing with the business means keeping one's finger on the pulse. For the Glynes, this included a recent field trip to Grand Forks to visit the farm of Jerseyland Organics, where they learned about their cheesemaking process and tasted products, including yogurt served with the Bench’s housemade granola, and cheeses featured on the menu and offered for sale in the cooler.
Stewart also attended a course at Vancouver’s Canadian Barista & Coffee Academy. The knowledge he gained was shared with his staff over a coffee cupping session with Backyard Beans. The team learned the subtle differences between beans, the logistics of making great coffee and the intricacies of maintaining a high-powered espresso machine.
Breakfast fare is a big focus on the menu, with morning and all-day choices, and weekend egg Bennys. Lunch is woven through with salads, soups and daily features, including vegan and gluten aware options.
The chicken panini is one of the Bench’s mainstays at the lunch hour, a lusty number with ethically sourced chicken on ciabatta with basil aioli, creamy cambazola and housemade Okanagan apple chutney. It’s toasted and pressed to order achieving peak exterior crispiness, holding a soft and gooey interior.
In keeping with the times, the new vegan bowl provides superfood power with three chickpea fritters around a kale salad and half an avocado drizzled with house ginger-miso gravy, accompanied by a three-seed covered tomato and crispy coconut crostini.
And the trendy avocado toast on multigrain supports two sunny-side-up eggs lavished with a sundried tomato spread and side of salsa and fruit salad.
Caffeinated coffee drinks are fuelled by Summerland roaster Backyard Beans, another mainstay of the menu, where Canadianos – not Americanos – rule. And local Teas & Weaves supply the teas.
There is a strong sense of place and community at the Bench. Poised at the gateway to Naramata Bench wineries, customers – including cyclists, hikers and wine tourists – can pop in pre- or post-tour and pick up grab-and-go items or purchase local cheeses and picnic fare.
Avidly involved in many local charities, the Glynes estimate they have donated $50,000 over the last 10 years to various organizations in the city.
Building community extends to their suppliers as well, focusing on small, independent producers. Vancouver-based Two Rivers Meats, renowned for their ethically sourced meats, was one of their original suppliers and continues to provide the protein components on the menu. And besides the Penticton Farmers' Market, the Bench is the only outlet for the coveted artisan loaves from Farmersdotter.
“They totally get us,” says Farmersdotter baker Yve Kosugi. “They’ve both been really wonderful, supportive business owners, who totally get what we do.”
Jerseyland Organics and Popular Grove cheeses are also featured, and you can buy their products along with Upper Bench and Pulse vegan cheeses from the cooler.
That alignment with like-minded producers extends throughout the shelves and freezer section, where Heather, also the manager and PR maven, has deftly curated the fine foods of our region.
It’s my go-to place for Two Rivers bacon, farm eggs or ethically-sourced chicken, a last-minute cheese and charcuterie board for guests, or to try a new and delicious product. (The new Okazu chile miso from Vancouver is the bomb!)
Environmental concerns include working towards zero waste with all the spent coffee grinds and kitchen scraps going to a local farmer, who in turn supplies the kitchen with herbs and produce in the summer, and free-run eggs in the cooler for regulars like me. And biodegradable bamboo cutlery and platters are used for takeaway orders and catering.
To celebrate their 15-year milestone, special features and promotions will be rolled out throughout the year – watch for them on Instagram.
“Total success is not achieved on your own,” stresses Stewart. “There’s always a great team rocking it out with you.”
With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable