Day in the Life of a Grocerant Owner: Jami Wood

By: Cinda Cavich

It’s two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and Niche Grocerant is full of people—enjoying lunch, scoping the shelves for local food products, or picking up a take-out curry and craft cider for dinner.

Owner Jami Wood extricates herself from the small space behind the deli counter and leans against a cooler filled with tasty treats from the island’s finest purveyors, carving out some time in her day to talk about this unique food and beverage business.

Fielding my questions, and those from people walking through the door (“Is this pâté foie gras?” “Can I get some of that salad?” “Are you hiring?”), Wood calmly attends to every eclectic query, making it all look effortless.

Niche opened in mid-2021, a hybrid grocery/restaurant designed to bring artisan food and beverage products to Broadmead, a forested suburban neighbourhood about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria. This is where Wood lives, and she admits it was her love of a certain butcher’s chicken liver pate that spawned the idea of a gourmet grocery and café in her neighbourhood.

“It started out being more of a European idea—the local grocerant where you can pick up grocery items, have a glass of wine, a bite to eat, take-and-bake meals, kind of an all-round community spot,” says Wood.

But opening in the middle of a pandemic—with local farms and restaurants pivoting to direct sales and take-out to stay afloat—led Wood and founding partner Ceri Barlow to revise their plans to help support the food community.

“It made sense to pivot what our vision was for Niche, too,” she says. “Being part of the food security here on the island is incredibly important. So, it developed into bringing in all the wonderful things from around the city, and beyond, to the neighborhood of Broadmead.”

“The offerings are a food lover’s Who’s Who of BC food and beverage entrepreneurs.”

The offerings here are a food lover’s Who’s Who of budding and experienced BC food and beverage entrepreneurs, from craft brewers and cider makers to chefs, butchers, bakers, fishers, and farmers. You’ll find fresh salad greens grown just up the road, frozen pizza from a top city chef, ramen kits, wild foraged foods, and local balsamic vinegar.

“We’re adding new things every day,” Wood adds, noting she now works with 40+ local suppliers for the changeable array of products in the grocery/deli side of the compact space, and the similarly local and seasonal café menu.

It all adds a layer of complexity to running a small restaurant. With several years of hospitality management experience, and three children, Wood seems to have a flair for juggling the demands of this busy food hub.

Before Niche, she spent 15 years running Spinnaker’s flagship liquor store in Victoria’s James Bay, where there were 450 different craft beer skews alone. At Niche, Wood offers several local beers and wines as well as classic cocktails, like the Van Isle Negroni made with Sheringham gin and Esquimalt vermouth.

Wood relies on experienced co-chefs Andrea Mackenzie and Andrea Duncan (a.k.a. The Andreas) to produce the creative menu and Niche-branded pantry items (think tomato jam, spiced nuts, and house-marinated olives), plus curated “grazing boxes,” butter chicken, beef stroganoff, and pot pies for take-out. They’re famed for their lunch sandwiches and creative soups, daily happy hour and snacks, the tasting menu for weekend dinners, and pop-up events pairing local farms with island beverage purveyors.

“They’re famed for their pop-up events pairing local farms with island beverage purveyors.”

Wood directs all aspects of the operation from her “office”—a seat at the bar, next to the pass.

“I do a lot of paperwork, ordering, receiving, pricing—I am the sticker queen,” she says. “I do all the formatting for our menus, I manage our Instagram, all of our social media. I’ve made two pots of coffee today, done some gift cards, [and] paid some bills.”

Wood’s husband drives her to work every morning to help open the shop, often with youngest daughter Olivia in tow. Olivia spent her summer holidays helping out in the kitchen—now famed for her brownies and zero-proof Olivia Wood cocktail, “like a Shirley Temple but way cooler.”

The Niche tagline is “Eat local, meet local”, which is exactly what’s happening here.

“Niche is a word that had a couple of meanings,” says Wood. “A niche is like a cozy space, but it also means finding your place in work and life.”

Happily, for this Victoria neighbourhood, Wood has settled comfortably into her niche.