Fall on Vancouver Island is notorious for an endless blanket of grey skies and rain, and as I head downtown to meet-up with my team, this day proves itself to be just that — typical. Fortunately, we’ve got a meeting with someone completely atypical on the agenda for today — a chef with 20+ years in the industry cranking out takeout sandwiches from a shop the size of my broom closet.
Now how does a guy go from working in fine-dining restaurants across Canada and the Caribbean to slinging ham and cheese sandwiches, you ask? Well, the answer is pretty simple — he thought it would be a cool idea. Chef/Owner of The Salt & Pepper Fox, Liam Quinn, also happens to have the kind of friends that push you to your fullest potential because they believe in you.
What started as Liam making lunches for 20 of his buddies out of his home kitchen rapidly escalated into a more serious operation when he bought a car on his credit card and started leasing space at a commercial kitchen in Esquimalt. At first, it was purely a one man show with Liam doing production, packaging, delivery, and running the business himself. All the while he was simultaneously working as GM at Famous Original and trying to build his new location, but it has since grown into much more than he ever could have dreamed.
Fast forward 3 years; Liam now has a whole team of employees working with him. As a veteran of the food industry, Liam knows first-hand how hard this work is on both your body and mind, so he makes it a priority to take damn good care of his staff (all full-timers receive a benefits plan and shifts in the shop are limited to 4 hours). “In an ideal world we would only work four days a week,” says Quinn.
Trying our best not to knock anything over as we shoot photos of the tiny but pleasant space, Liam packs up one of his signature pizza boxes full of goodies for us; sending us home to test out the spoils.
Upon opening the box, my eyes instantly gravitate towards the Korean Roast beef, which is bursting at the seams with fiery orange kimchi. The first thing I notice as I bite into this beauty is the texture of the bread. Crunchy on the outside with a soft and chewy interior, this is the hallmark of freshly baked bread, and you better believe Liam’s team bakes all of theirs from scratch.
The next thing I notice is the mayo which adds a nice creamy texture and a hint of spice from the kochujang (fermented chili paste). While the local shaved roast beef itself is solid and does its job of holding the sandwich together, the real star of the show is the house-made kimchi. Funky and sour, the acidity from this addition does a great job of cutting the creaminess from the mayo. It really brightens up the whole experience. Fantastic combo.
Next up is the Roast Chicken & Havarti, which comes with sage aioli, pickled red onion and cabbage, and leaf lettuce. The flavour of the sage comes through right away to prepare your mouth for the journey ahead as the deeply fragrant and juicy tenderness of the perfectly roasted chicken hammers your tastebuds. On top of adding a welcoming crunch to counteract the meaty texture of the chicken, the pickled veg contributes a slightly sweet tartness. The flavour of the havarti is quite mild but works well with the sage aioli, keeping each bite moist and exciting.
Up last for the sandwiches is The Veggie, which I’ve got to say, I am equally as excited about as I was with the others — especially after hearing Liam’s philosophy on meat. As a vegetarian running a sandwich shop, he regularly faces the paradox of his business bumping heads with his personal ethics, though he recognizes the importance of giving people what they want. He tries his best to source the highest quality meats from local suppliers like Slater’s First Class Meats and The Whole Beast. Either way, he makes sure to always have a few quality veggie options on the menu and this one is nothing to joke about.
With roasted red pepper, marinated eggplant, artichoke, olives, feta, and organic greens all laid on a bed of tangy hummus, this sandwich is a bomb of Mediterranean flavours just waiting to go off in your mouth. Since there’s so much going on, it’s difficult to pick out the individual flavours at first. As the sandwich evolves in your mouth, you start to get notes of lemon, garlic, fresh herbs, and the punch of the olives. The artichoke is quite substantial in texture and acts as the main filling of the sandwich. This one rivals any of the meat-based items in terms of flavour and ability to fill you up.
If bread just isn’t an option for you or you prefer to have something a little lighter on the carbs for your lunch, Liam’s team also pumps out a variety of meal salads, such as the Tuna Soba Noodle Salad. Soba noodles form the base upon which organic kale & greens, shiitake mushrooms, and fresh and pickled veg are layered. 6 slices of seared rare tuna from Finest At Sea lightly dusted with a poof of Togarishi crumbs crown the whole dish.
As I mix the toasted sesame soy dressing into the salad and take my first bite of the fish, I’m pleasantly surprised by how refreshing it is chilled. Unlike the way a lot of restaurants prepare kale, leaving you to fend for yourself against giant stalks of chewy leaves, Salt & Pepper Fox chops the greens into bite-sized pieces, making the whole eating experience more manageable. The shiitakes add a blast of rich umami flavour, while the radishes and carrots provide a moist veggie crunch. Not unlike the flavours you would find in a salad at a sushi restaurant, the dressing is earthy and deep with notes of toasted nuttiness from the sesame and the sharpness of ginger. This dish covers all the major food groups and is most definitely a full meal, so rest assured, you will not be needing a sandwich on the side! Pro tip: make sure to stir it well so the greens and noodles mix together.
Reflecting on my conversation with Liam today, I’m very impressed with how a guy so deeply embedded in the industry has managed to turn his whole career around with nothing but an idea and some good old-fashioned work ethic. Let’s be real — taking a good look in the mirror and being honest with yourself about where you’re at in life is never an easy thing to do — but what is more impressive is the ability to take that revelation and do something about it.
While Liam’s food isn’t reinventing the wheel, his team at The Salt & Pepper Fox are bringing healthy, delicious, and affordable lunch options to your front door with the utmost attention to detail and quality, and you just don’t see that every day. All too often costs are the be-all and end-all behind how food businesses are operated, but according to Liam, it’s “impossible to run a business as an anarchist in a capitalist society, but that’s my goal.”
So what are you waiting for? Head to The Salt & Pepper Fox’s website and place your order today. Delivery is available from Monday-Friday and orders must be made by 3 PM for next day delivery.
P.S. While the rest of us have been sleeping, the folks at Salt & Pepper Fox have been hard at work on their brand new lunch counter/cafe situated in the former Cascadia Bakery on Government St. Doors are slated for opening in January 2018!