This is the third in our Foodshed Fanfare series, where we celebrate the many wonderful people who reside in the Central Kootenay and who quietly contribute so much to our region’s food systems.
Hollie Wheeler was the first person I met when I moved to Nelson 32 years ago, with a newborn and 2 year old in tow. She was standing behind a table of baby and toddler supplies at an event I found in the Pennywise. I cannot recall if I purchased any of Holly’s offerings but I do remember the connection we had, most likely based on a shared love of good food and the experience of early family life. I was delighted to learn that she and her partner, Sam Lazenby, were starting up a chocolate business a short walk away from my new home. I recall many a visit to the kitchen at the Anglican Church where Sam would be tending the magical machines that produce such yummy creations. Across the room, Hollie applied her design genius and artistic eye to developing beautiful packaging to transport the chocolates from their kitchen to our hands.
Over the years I had the privilege of watching their chocolate business grow, resulting in a move from the kitchen at the Church to their own dedicated chocolate kitchen. In addition to the considerable perk of becoming their unofficial taste tester, I gathered key lessons about surviving as a small food business in rural British Columbia. I learned about the challenges of transportation and distribution from Hollie and Sam. Getting chocolate from their kitchen to the many stores they served around our region in the high heat of summer entailed a lot of early morning trips and creative packaging to protect those precious morsels. I watched them have to rethink and re-calibrate their chocolate mixes as international chocolate suppliers changed their offerings, sometimes due to catastrophic losses for farmers and in ecosystems far across the planet. They always managed to adapt, achieving a consistent quality that has delighted so many for the last three decades.
At one point, Sam and Hollie were providing chocolates to high end hotels in the Lower Mainland, to adorn the pillows and delight the bellies of hotel guests. And their chocolate bars could be found in food outlets across the province. However, the pressure and labour of such a large service area undermined their family’s quality of life. To this day, I admire their courage and respect their decision to resist the business myth that bigger is always better and to scale back their market range to just the Kootenays. This gave them more time with their family and in the lake across from their home, enjoying the quality of life that is so abundant in our region if we are wise enough to prioritize it.
As with any farm or food business based in our region, I am always anxious until I learn that there has been a successful hand off of the enterprise. I am delighted that Hollie and Sam are transitioning into a much deserved retirement. Being the incredibly generous humans that they are, and from long personal experience, they supported the new owners of Nelson’s Chocofellar during the busy season for all chocolate businesses, with peaks at Christmas, Easter and Mother’s day. We are so lucky that Sam and Hollie chose to make this region their home and to create and steward one of our region’s iconic food businesses for so long. We wish them a long and glorious retirement!