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New-look Naked Sprout is all about the Whistler locals

Since taking over the plant-based café and eatery, Marie-Christine Boulet has lowered prices and upped portion sizes for the local lunch crowd
Marie-Christine Boulet, owner of Naked Sprout in Whistler Village.

They say those who can’t do, teach. It’s an old adage that Whistler’s Marie-Christine “MC” Boulet used to follow to a tee. That is, until her students in Tamwood International’s food-and-beverage program kept asking her the same question: When are you going to start your own restaurant?

“I’ve been working in the food-and-beverage industry for about 20 years. I’ve done everything, man. From dishwasher to line cook to server to catering, I’ve done it all,” Boulet explained. “I also helped create the f&B program at Tamwood, and .. to be honest, the whole time I was teaching, I was wondering, and my students were asking me why I didn’t have my own business. I always wanted to do that, but in Whistler, it’s not easy.”

Staring down the same potential challenges any small business in Whistler has to contend with—exorbitant lease rates, rising supply costs, a lack of available labour—Boulet had placed her dream firmly on the backburner.

And then, last year, the Naked Sprout, the plant-based vegan and vegetarian café in the heart of Whistler Village, went up for sale. Boulet knew she had to shoot her shot.

“I wrote a business plan five years ago that was really similar to Naked Sprout: a vegetarian, vegan café; a small quick-service place. I wrote it all and then pushed it away, because I figured I couldn’t make it in Whistler—until I saw the Naked Sprout was for sale.”

Boulet and her 13-year-old daughter—who also works at the café (“She’s our most senior employee,” Boulet laughed) toured the space, and it was quickly became clear that it neatly aligned with the Quebec City native’s vision.

“The first thing my daughter said when she walked through was, ‘It’s so you, mom. It’s your vibe. Go for it,’” she recalled.

Since taking over last April, Boulet and her small team have maintained the emphasis on fresh-pressed juices and organic smoothies that Naked Sprout was long known for, while also beefing up the food menu (or the vegetarian equivalent), and trimming prices to attract the local lunch crowd.

“I didn’t scrap everything and restart on Day 1. I think the shop was working before,” she said. “What needed to be improved was affordability, food quality and food portions.”

The resulting menu of simple, homemade soups and sandwiches is not only among the best bargains you’ll find anywhere in the village—you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the café’s $12.50 lunch special, featuring a grilled sandwich and soup of your choice—but is jam-packed with tasty, locally sourced ingredients that Boulet calls “healthy comfort food.”

That means everything from the sauces to its offerings of hearty soups are made completely from scratch, and, when that’s not possible, Boulet brings in Whistler-made products such as fresh bread from Rising Knead Bakery and coffee from Slopeside Coffee Roasting Company.

“I’m trying as much as I can to source and help support other small businesses,” she said. “I know all my suppliers like that. It’s awesome to see and know who makes your food.”

In a town chock-full of health-conscious eaters and athletes, Boulet goes to great lengths to cater to whatever tastes and dietary needs her clients bring to her, no easy feat in a restaurant industry that has grown increasingly resistant to modifications. (You’ll also be happy to hear, like I am, as someone who suffers from Celiac disease, that the café doesn’t charge extra for gluten-free bread.)

“We accommodate pretty much any dietary restriction,” she said. “For me, that’s the best part: when someone comes back telling me, 'I’m Celiac and I’ve never had that good of food in a small café.’ It’s not just the food, it’s the energy, the vibe, and the atmosphere that makes the 12 to 14 hours of work I’m putting in everyday worth it.”

Another change Boulet has implemented at Naked Sprout is ramping up its sustainability practices. It has completely eliminated single-use plastics, all of its packaging is compostable, and the café has managed to reduce the waste it sends to landfill to a single small bag per week, and it reuses all its veggie scraps to make soup stock.

“It may not sound like much, but in this shoebox of a kitchen, I have to think it’s another achievement,” Boulet said. “Yes, it’s more expensive for me. The cost of all compostable [items] is awful. But I couldn’t do it any other way.”

For the uninitiated, Boulet recommended a sandwich the likes of which I have never seen on a menu before: The Broccoli, made with charred broccoli, red onion, red cabbage, date spread and roasted garlic aioli, served on garlic focaccia bread, a sweet-smoky-savoury combo that tends to surprise even the most skeptical eaters.

“The char of the broccoli works really well with the sweetness of the date spread,” she said. “To see the look on faces after their first bite, it’s awesome.”

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