This is the story about a young couple, Meghan and Steve Clarke, working in Vancouver’s corporate world and struggling to balance two careers with family life and heathy eating. In 2012, the Clarkes left their corporate jobs to cultivate the belief that healthy eating doesn’t have to break the bank and Tractor Everyday Healthy Foods grew out of that seed.
A year later, the couple opened their first location, Tractor Kitsilano, in Vancouver’s Kits neighbourhood. The idea behind the cafeteria-style cafe is a simple one: offer customers healthy and satisfying dishes made with nutritious ingredients. The menu, which changes with the seasons, features salads, sandwiches, soups and stews. Every item is right behind a glass counter where you can see and practically taste how fresh everything is. Tractor was such a hit with the yoga set, families on their way to the park or beach, and young professionals that the Clarkes decided to open a second location in downtown Vancouver’s historic Marine Building in February 2015.
Tractor Marine makes a statement before you even set foot inside. Built in 1930, Vancouver’s Marine Building is an Art Deco gem on the outside. It’s equally impressive inside the bright and airy 2,100-square-foot space that Tractor occupies, thanks to domed, floor-to-ceiling window, heritage architecture flourishes combined with designer details, like a custom designed light installation created by Vancouver’s Tangible Interaction.
We stopped at the new downtown location to chat with Meghan about how Tractor has plowed into Vancouver’s healthful eating consciousness, some of her favourite eateries around town, and her tips for getting kids involved in the kitchen.
How did the idea for Tractor Foods come about?
We were interested in providing a solution for people who were looking for healthy, quick and delicious meals. With two careers and two very young children, we found it challenging to find healthy and appealing meal replacements for home cooked meals. We didn’t have the time to cook when we got home – or I should say, we preferred to spend a few hours with our kids before they went to bed versus cooking for ourselves.
Tell me about how you chose the name Tractor?
Steve used to read our son who was probably 3 or 4 at the time, a book called Otis. The main character in that book was a tractor called Otis. Basically the gist of the story was that old Otis was the most reliable, friendly, efficient piece of equipment on the farm. To be honest, it was really tough coming up with a name. Tractor signifies a connection with farm to table. Basic, reliable, simple, genuine, hard working, trustworthy, etc. All the things our brand is.
What does the menu focus on and how often does it change?
Our menu is heavy vegetarian and the seasons move production throughout the year so the local growing season here is fairly short. Our team works with a small range of distributors to try to source the best available product as the season evolves. We typically change the menu a couple times of year with the seasons (spring and fall). A few of the most popular items are our Kale Radicchio salad, Moroccan Chicken Stew, and grilled avocados
How do you introduce new flavours and foods to your young kids?
Kids and eating can be tough! Our guys are pretty decent eaters. I think one reason is because we have never made separate meals for our kids. We make one meal and that’s what they get. So when we make salmon, salad and roast potatoes, they get salmon, salad and roast potatoes. They eat the typical kid menu items when given the choice, things like mac n cheese or chicken fingers. But we try hard to steer them away from the overly processed options and order off the regular adult menu. Our son is quite proud of the fact that he eats a lot of salad and our daughter likes things like mussels, Mexican and Asian food.
When you cook at home, do your kids help with in the kitchen? Any tips for parents to get their young kids involved in the kitchen and eat well?
Yes, they help when there is time. They’ve been helping since they could stand on a chair at the counter and hold a spoon and mix something in a bowl. We simply try to keep it fun. We give them options for what they want to make then they feel invested in the process. Steve is good at taking them to the market and letting them pick out random items then trying to piece it together at home. It’s not always a cohesive meal, but they are excited and try new flavours. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh food!
What’s in your fridge right now?
A lot of fruit and veggies, fresh herbs, eggs, cheese, yogurt, olives, fish, seafood, pork, prosciutto, maple syrup, peanut butter, hot sauce.
What are some staples in the pantry?
Nuts and seeds, lentils, beans, quinoa, pasta, brown rice, breakfast granola, oatmeal, GluteNull’s Buckwheat Granola Bars and Fruit & Nut Breakfast Bars, crackers, some salty snacks and dark chocolate
What are some favourite farmers markets in the city that you go with your kids?
Kits farmers market. I’ve heard Trout Lake is a great one so we want to try that one.
What about some other summertime activities with your kids?
Bike riding along the new bike route on Point Grey Road to Science World. We like stopping at Olympic Village, eating and playing on the giant birds. Drive to UBC with the kids scooters and walk around the campus. It’s peaceful and beautiful. We ride our bikes and walk in Pacific Spirit Park.
What are some favourite places to go eat with the kids?
Bufala in Kerrisdale, Hubbub Sandwiches downtown. The kids like the pork sandwich minus the jalepenos! Irori Sushi on West 4th near Alma.
What about a fancy dinner on date night with Steve?
We rarely do fancy! For date night we often go back to good neighbourhood restaurants. Nook is one example. We aren’t very good at planning dinners in advance and making a reservation. We like simple, good quality food that is clean and authentic. We really like Fable, Campagnolo, Rangoli. For a special occasion Chambar or Hawksworth.
What’s your favourite bar or cafe and your go-to drink?
49th Parallel for coffee. Local in Kits for a patio beer.