Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
Last August, eight months before old-fashioned general store Black Market Provisions held its grand opening on March 21, a pair of black-and-white signs reading "something tasty coming soon" went up in the windows at 550 Osborne St., the former home of Pollock’s Hardware. A few weeks later, couple Angela Farkas and Alana Fiks, owners of Pop Cart, Winnipeg’s first gourmet frozen-treat pushcart, heard through the grapevine their pending, bricks-and-mortar venture was already a hot topic of conversation on Reddit. More to the point, due to its sinister-sounding tag, people who lived nearby were wondering what sort of nefarious goods the new owners were intending to peddle, exactly.
"There were all these rumours floating around that we would be a cannabis bakery, and that the reason we were taking so long to open after acquiring the space last summer was because we were waiting for the (marijuana) laws to change," says Farkas, standing behind the counter of their brightly painted space, stocked with an array of locally produced gift items and foodstuffs including, of course, their own line of popsicles and ice cream. "The day we opened, all kinds of people popped in saying they’d heard or read we were going to be an edibles shop, and were so relieved to find out that wasn’t the case, at all."
Around this time last year, Fiks, a construction site project manager, announced it was "time to (poop) or get off the pot" in regards to their seasonal, frozen treat biz. Founded in 2015, Pop Cart was a highly successful operation, there was no question about that. But because they found themselves constantly on the move, schlepping supplies from one commercial kitchen to another, Fiks felt unless they landed a permanent place of their own, they should seriously consider parking their pushcart for good.
"Both of us are clean freaks and organizational freaks, so sharing space with other people was really tough for us," she explains, pointing out they first started dreaming about running a quaint, neighbourhood store of their own a decade ago, when they were living in Vancouver. "So last spring we basically had a come-to-Jesus moment when we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re either doing this — and really doing it — or we’re not going to make popsicles, any longer.’"
The first property they seriously considered was on Lilac Street, just north of Corydon Avenue. Looking back, they’re overjoyed that deal fell through, they say in unison, because not long thereafter they heard from a family friend of Fiks’ who, at the time, was managing Pollock’s Hardware’s Osborne Street outlet. He informed them Pollock’s wasn’t intending to renew its lease at that location and if they were interested in the space, he would be happy to put in a good word for them with the landlord.
"As it turned out, there were 17 offers on this property, including ones from people offering more than what was being asked," says Farkas, a pastry chef by trade. "I don’t want to call our landlord a hippie, but he kind of is. He lives in the country and from what we’ve come to understand, he’s the sort of person who’s more interested in having tenants he can trust than making $1 million."
Here’s the scoop on their store name; two summers ago, Farkas and Fiks added artisan ice cream to their arsenal. Unsure how it was going to go over with their clientele, they kept it a secret at first, only letting friends and family know of its existence via Facebook. It didn’t take long for word to get out, however. Soon, strangers were approaching their cart, whispering, "Psst, I heard you might have some ice cream?"
"It was like we were selling it on the black market or something, so the name stuck," Farkas says with a chuckle.
In order to stand out from the frozen treat crowd — thanks to neighbouring businesses Chaeban, Mama Joe’s, Park Line Coffee and Little Sister Coffee Maker, South Osborne has turned into a veritable Ice Cream Row, of late — Farkas and Fiks are currently marketing vegan and dairy-free ice cream only.
"We made the switch (to vegan and dairy-free) when we opened the shop, our thinking being that everybody around here is offering something a bit different," Fiks says, adding Soups & Scoops was another name they briefly considered for their store, owing to the fact they also stock eight varieties of soup, all of which is prepared in-house. "We don’t use any chemicals or preservatives and not to toot our own horns but I think it’s the best vegan ice cream I’ve ever tasted. And that’s coming from somebody who really, really likes regular ice cream."
"At first we were worried people were going to be peeved we don’t carry dairy ice cream, like we did on the carts, but so far everyone’s been more excited than disappointed," Farkas chimes in. "Plus we’ve been getting lots of calls from different restaurants — even people associated with the convention centre — saying, ‘We need dairy-free and vegan ice cream for our customers. Can you provide any?’"
As for the other food items on their shelves, a long list that includes Smak Dab mustard, Flora & Farmer preserves, Decadence chocolates and freshly baked loaves of bread from Eadha Bread and Hildegard’s Bakery, it was a bit of a no-brainer choosing what and whose products to carry, they agree. After four years spent working side-by-side with scores of independent makers at pop-up events and farmer’s markets all over the province, they had what amounted to a shopping list in their heads, well ahead of their first day of business.
"There’s nothing in our shop that hasn’t been tested by us; it’s all things we either have in our house on a regular basis or have pined over for a long time," Farkas says.
"She’s right; we’re never going to bring something in just because we think it’s going to sell or to stock an empty shelf," Fiks pipes in. "There’s nothing here we don’t or wouldn’t eat on the regular." (Last week, the women, who still intend to roll their pushcart out from time to time – they’re already booked for the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July — polled their 4,000-plus Instagram followers, asking them what they’d like to see for sale in the store, down the road. Based on their responses, plants, planters and gluten-free baking are definite possibilities going forward.)
Also, a couple days after they opened, a woman who told them she has lived in Riverview "forever" mentioned that back in the 1950s, the building they’re in housed a candy shop by the name of Henry’s Confections, "or something like that," Fiks says.
"So the minute I have some spare time, I’m going to do a deep dive and find out if that’s true or not. And if it is, I suppose we’re going to have to start carrying candy, as our little homage to Henry," she says, winking at Farkas.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.