Walk under Aubergine’s black-and-white striped awning on Gladstone, Street and you’ll find local, pesticide-free and conventional produce, local meats and specialty foods — South African, gluten-free and Kosher to name a few.
On most days, you’ll also find owner Leon Zetler behind the till.
This tall, tanned South African came to Canada in 2000 and brought his passion for produce with him.
“I’ve always been in the food business,” says Zetler.
Not surprising, considering his parents’ background as farmers and their continuing strawberry and pepper farm in South Africa.
His first foray into the Canadian food market was as an organic produce specialist for a company in Vancouver. Then he took on the role of produce broker for seven companies on the Island.
“It’s not only doing sales,” says Zetler, “but ordering products from around the world, invoices … it was just too stressful.”
So, Zetler left the brokering business and opened Aubergine Specialty Foods’ first incarnation in Oak Bay in 2005.
Business was great, but Zetler soon found that he was working six or more days a week.
“Retail is a tough job,” says Zetler. “You’re a slave to your business.”
So he took a break to spend more time with his family. But it wasn’t long before he had the itch to get back into the game. In September 2010, he opened Aubergine Specialty Foods’ doors again, this time in the heart of Fernwood.
For Zetler, Aubergine is the corner store reinvented. In his 600-square-foot store, it’s all about affordable, high-quality options.
“Customers want value for their money,” says Zetler. That’s why he goes to such great lengths to ensure quality.
In the spring, Zetler visits the farms that supply his produce. When summer is in full swing, he’s at the farms daily to select the produce he wants on his shelves.
When he’s not out at farms, he’s placing grocery orders for products from around the world, roasting coffee, and even mopping the floor. He does it all. M