Food Drink and Customer Culture Victoria – Mark Engels interview

I have known Mark Engels for years – and if you are a Victoria resident and fan of great food and drink, then there are few people better to have the ear and opinions of.

Victoria has lots of interesting food people. Many of them with a leading edge sense of what is going on here, some of the things that have been attempted in the past (that have failed) and some things on the horizon.

Which often brings me to one of Mark’s food and bakery ventures. I am a junkie for whats happening and what might be happening in the Victoria food groove. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy having a leg up on the food culture intelligence?

And considering that there are few people as driven as Engels, there are even fewer people that will have that innate 6th sense of the trends.

We spoke at Bubby’s Kitchen, Oscar and Cook St. on Saturday over his interpretation of the gourmet burger and the classic kosher hot dog – and the life and times of one of Victoria’s most beloved bakers and raconteurs, his staff, his customers and the trials and tribulations of running a tight culinary ship.

Mark’s dialog is a contiguous and literate stream, musings include a dissertation on the fragile nature of the food supply, satisfying a seemingly endless queue of regular devotees, customers old and new – all ages, the scaled up version of “Bubby’s Bakery” now in dining form at Oscar and Cook street, and so on.

Mark, Valerie and their business partner Joel are part of a, not so much revitalization, but a fresh stucco treatment of the historic Cook Street Village. The density near village center has gone up some – with the addition of condos near the core, and the relevance of more food services has never been more welcomed. Which is not to say that food choices were never stellar – The Cook street village has evolved with the times. And Mark and company have kept it ahead of the wave as it were.

Mark muses on the broad spectrum of customers in the village, “Look at our customer base down here… young parents, the elderly, urban professionals… somewhat different than Bubby’s at Meares and Cook…” Cook and Meares is almost something of a bakery hipster hang out with way more civil servants, writers, students, etc.

Mark pauses to direct a few staff and frequently interacts with everyone on the team. He continues, “Valerie and I are always delighted when we get that extra-special super passionate staffer – in fact, they all become part of the Bubby’s family in short order…”

As a food writer I am always looking for that special something-something that separates the average food places in Victoria from the gems; like Bubby Roses, Zambri’s, the great cafes, and dozens of others. And it comes down to passion and putting the “perfection” ahead of the profit.

Mark injects, “There are myriad ways of making more money on the process of running a place like this… raising the price of items without reason or justification, or taking the fun factor out of the equation… At Bubby’s the passion comes before the bottom line…”

I get the sense that when the fun ends that Mark will hang up his fedora.

In the meantime, Andrea and I share the Bison burger, perfectly prepared, presented on a bun made in house, with a in-house salsa and aioli – and an all beef “dog” and a bowl of awesome (and very hot) Minestrone soup.