In a nation whose restaurant industry has been devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lance Verhoeff has ambitiously expanded. In doing so, Verhoeff has helped an already thriving destination — historic Fort Langley — adapt to contemporary tastes and ensured it has diverse ones.
Verhoeff, who has Olympians in his family, is the driving force behind Trading Post Brewing — a gem of a craft brewery — and a new partner with its neighbour, The Bench Wine Bar, a French-inspired bistro that far exceeds expectations.
When the pandemic struck, The Bench was less than a year old and the impact of the public-health crisis hit hard. At the same time, Verhoeff’s parents were opening their own long-planned winery operations in the Fraser Valley and the opportunity to team with The Bench made sense from a financial standpoint and for the altruistic goal of supporting the community.
“It gives us a place to sell our wine. That’s a big reason to do it for sure. But it’s also about finding a way to help out where you can,” Verhoeff says about the investment in The Bench.
An affable entrepreneur, Verhoeff applied his business degree to his passion for craft beer. He teamed with brewmaster Tony Dewald to craft German-style beer and recruited Andi Cruise, who has a fine-dining background, to create the food program. Trading Post has grown rapidly from its brewing facility and tasting room several kilometres away in the City of Langley to taking over a nearly 200-year-old building in Fort Langley and turning it into a gastropub.
“It’s really where the Trading Post name comes from,” Verhoeff notes of the property.
The site of the original colonial settlement in British Columbia, Fort Langley has had a turbulent history, which can be explored at the national historic site that is a short walk from town. These days, the streets where the original trading post stood is charming and easy to adore. Its tidy, cozy heart is lined with locally run businesses and family-friendly shops. A kitschy candy store with rare flavours of the past — Pink Elephant popcorn, Big League Chew bubblegum, Pez of all sorts — is a happy distraction for kids. A new-age store at the main corner of Glover Road and Mavis Avenue is built to resemble an apothecary and has the best-smelling hand-sanitizer I’ve inhaled through the pandemic. The business’s name is TAP True Aromatherapy Products and Spa, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The store has lots of items that will please your zen-sibilities. Down Glover Road is a boutique hat shop with similar fashions as you would find in downtown Vancouver but with less bustle. A municipal park and the eye-catching community hall, which celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2021, add to the appeal of the popular street.
A significant railway stop over the years, the town is frequented by freight trains that scream through every two hours or so. At night it’s a nuisance. In daylight those locomotives light up the landscape and become part of the appeal.
It is the quality of the dining, though, that will make you most pleased you came. The Bench is a winner. Its truffle popcorn ($6), confetti-ed with grana padano, is addictive and the smoked salmon tartare ($17) is so tasty I immediately envisioned a return visit once I finished the plate. The sustainably sourced salmon is blended with cornichons, capers, and dijon mustard, and — in a nod to France — is topped with an egg, though it is hard-boiled and not raw as traditional tartare recipes call for.
And Trading Post is the rare Canadian craft beermaker that has put as much attention and care into its food program as its drink menu. It reminds me of Spinnakers, the pioneering brewery in Victoria that has been serving farm-to-table food since long before that was a colloquial term. Verhoeff wanted a Bavarian-type beer hall with west-coast flavours and that’s what he’s created. The tacos come in four per order ($16-$18) and are outstanding. Lots of salads, handhelds, and usual pub options (chicken wings, yam fries) round out a thoughtfully curated menu.
Trading Post also has an eatery in Abbotsford and in June launched in the South Okanagan Valley, where it has landed a coveted spot at the District Wine Village, the new facility that brings numerous wineries into one place to augment the wine-tourism offerings of the region. Verhoeff’s brother, Rudy, and his wife, Kyla Richey, both volleyball Olympians for Team Canada, have taken over the Valley Commons, a winery that operates at the District Wine Village, and Stoneboat Vineyards, a mainstay among the viticulture industry in the Okanagan. The Verhoeff family’s partnership with the wine village helped Trading Post become the only brewery in the space.
Still, the business’s attention remains primarily on maintaining its strong following in Fort Langley and bringing more attention to the Fraser Valley’s bounty of food suppliers and their products.
“We focus on the quality of the beer and it’s what we’ve always wanted to do,” Lance Verhoeff says, “but we are so lucky to have such outstanding food producers around us and we want to be able to support them, too. It’s important for the entire area. When people come here, they can be surprised by how good it is. Until they realize just how much agriculture is around and then it makes total sense.”
Fort Langley Dining Highlights
Mangia e scappa: The owner of this bistro near the west end of Mavis Avenue hails from Italy and promises diners an authentic taste of her home country. She doesn’t disappoint. The flavours do taste like you would find on the outskirts of Rome. The pizzas ($17-$20) are the thing to get. They’re made in a wood-fired oven and use 00 flour, which originates in Italy and is credited with creating the best crusts for pizza and calzones.
Blacksmith Bakery: A superb bakery that makes stellar pastries. Each time I’ve been here I order Kouign Amann ($4), a hard-to-make pastry with origins in Brittany. It’s buttery soft and decadent, a touch of France 7,500 kilometres away. The croissants are even better and the breakfast dishes are reputedly favourites in town.
Republica Coffee Roasters: The coffee at Blacksmith is good, what you get at Republica is next level. Located in a renovated alley off of Glover Road, Republica is a new addition and another example of a culinary business that would blend in harmoniously in a large city. It resembles many upmarket cafes and delivers meticulous, pleasing coffee concoctions.