3 Locally Curated Gift Baskets to Consider Gifting

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A few years ago around about this time of year, my friends and I vibed to some Secret Santa action by which I mean we (as a bunch of Millennials from the late 1980s) used a free online generator to draw names so that our gift-giving would be shrouded in perfect randomosity and anonymity – as the tradition goes. We subsequently discussed everyone’s availability and the spending limit as tactfully as possible followed with party hat emoticons (now, “emojis” I’m told) in a group chat made possible by what I’m sure at the time was BlackBerry Messenger. I gave straight cash to the name I drew in the amount of said spending limit – well, cash in a Christmas card with some tasty calligraphy (because what am I, an animal?).

So it’s about that time of year again and in going through the aftermath of the above (read: this year’s Secret Santa organizers carefully articulated a rule about not giving cash, unless of course the filthy cash-giver wants to incur a penalty of three straight shots of alcohol, which in all likelihood would be surrounded by physical manifestations of shaming, such as shaking heads, devilish laughs, and “TOLD YA SO!” shouted in cupped hands at what’s an ostensibly class act Christmas get-together), I want to use this space to drop some two-pronged wisdom: first, do not give cash money because more often than not people hardly think it’s as hilarious as you do. In fact, cash is by some frowned upon and equated with the senselessness of gift cards, which I suppose people are within their right to believe. Second, use said cash money to buy a locally curated gift basket instead. Trust me on this, for who better to take a brilliant gift idea from than me, a sod who in the past for Christmas put humour first and thought foolishly that doing so would be without consequence. I have sinned and I have learned: gift baskets of the following kind are the best insurance against a three shot penalty.

Photo: Paige Harley
Photo: Paige Harley

For the boy friend, your boyfriend, that guy in the profoundly ambiguous middle region, your husband, and even dear ol’ pops, let’s talk about Brewquet. Owned by a cute couple, Paige Harley and Mitch Clements, who in their own words call it, “a war against generic gift baskets full of crap like stale candy and brandless chocolate”, Brewquet is Brangelina for craft beer bouquets and it all started when Paige thought surely, there had to be a more personal way to gift beer to her boyfriend than simply buying a six pack. So she bought an ice bucket and placed the beers amongst some other favourite things to which Mitch, having received the arrangement at work, was the envy of all his colleagues. Then together, in somewhat of a war against both generic gift baskets and the minutiae of rote office jobs, Paige and Mitch turned their mind to what they’d personally like to receive as gifts and if/where they could find the local version of that product. Ideas continued to flow and before long, the two opened up business. “It’s important to us to support our neighbours and keep the dollars in Canada. There are so many wonderful small businesses in BC and to that point, so many driven and passionate individuals behind those brands who we’d much rather build a relationship with than massive distributors,” says Paige.

That Brewquet’s owners are adamant about meeting the people behind some of their favourite treats is precisely what guided their first round of product selection and their entire curating process thereafter; it’s what continues to make them an amiable and well-regarded business to transact with. For instance, Paige and Mitch met with Joel, the owner of Jerky Baron, at the butcher shop. The two bought a boatload from Harlow Skin Co. after they met Crystal in the comforts of her own kitchen with her dog. The couple tasted product with Kevin, the owner of The Nut Merchant at his stall on Granville Island. “We like consumables as they can be shared and practical items as they are useful to life and don’t just serve as fluff to make the basket look bigger. We’re about quality, not quantity and environmental enthusiasm. In fact, the tray we use to hold the items doubles as an ice bucket and all the packaging is either recycled or biodegradable,” maintains Paige.

If this isn’t a business after your own heart, go check out Brewquet website for further details. Then tell me you don’t know at least five dudes in your inner circle of trust who, besides the Parallel 49 and Off The Rail Brewing complements, would love the East Van Brewquet for their biking needs (bike cinch and chain lube, anyone?) or the Yaletown Brewquet for all the good hair and face feels (shave oil and pomade, need ya!). I dare you.

Photo: Alison Page
Photo: Alison Page

In the words of Missy Elliott, to my ladies I present Old Joy Gift Boxes owned and operated by Melissa Mills who has no better story about how Old Joy Gift Boxes came to be other than that seven years ago, she dreamt about what it would be like to run her own gifting company with a focus on fine, local, small-batch made goods that weren’t traditionally found in your typical gift basket. Now Melissa lives her dream from the comforts of her own home, that is, she has a desk in the kitchen and her supplies in the garage (PS: my dreams in contrast have not taken flight like so, nor do I remember what I was dreaming about seven years ago because it was in all likelihood not useful to anyone around me; people, take note. This is a good story with a happy ending right here and I might have only been testing where I could incorporate Missy Elliott into my writing because Old Joy Gift Boxes has options for the man in your life and the tot whose parents want to foster art and creativity).

“When I first started the company, my daughter, Daphne was just under a year old and it was definitely the norm to see me barrelling down the street with a gift box under one arm and a wriggly babe in the other,” Melissa says. Melissa would “window shop” as she calls it on Instagram for ideas, get inspired, put the inventive pieces together in a thoughtfully meticulous and beautiful way, and set out on deliveries with Daphne in close tow. Old Joy is lovely and although at present, only a one-woman-show, Melissa is not without help from family and friends especially now that the holidays are fast approaching.

Melissa is inspired by everything and disregards nothing. She’s the world’s best optimist, her worldview akin to someone living Silicon Valley who may have just stumbled upon the next big thing: “we’re living in a land of ideas, of creating and gathering. Inspiration is abundant and often everywhere.” And truly, Old Joy GIft Boxes is the next big thing with something for everyone in an undeniably artsy fashion. Melissa curates her gift boxes with instinct, a purposeful understanding of what’s good in the marketplace, and a dose of charm. “I actually love the initial hunt and find great pleasure in losing myself in the depths of our Canadian-made sea,” Melissa explains (great, so she’s now officially got it all: a dreamweaver, a budding entrepreneur, and a poet). She continues, “I try to intuitively connect with the gift-giver and strive for a hand touch tactility coupled with meaningful nuances, usefulness, and memorable presentation. Once I’ve narrowed down which brands align with my lifestyle, aesthetic, and budget, I either contact the creators personally or visit a stockist.”

Visit Old Joy Gift Boxes to see what kind of craftsman quality goods and decadence you might be sneaking under the tree this year.

Photo: Michael J.P. Hall
Photo: Michael J.P. Hall

Finally, Saul Good Gift Co. – besides being a scrumptious play on the founder’s name, Saul Brown (or in the company’s playful vernacular, Chief Story Teller) – offers a range of gift baskets premised on corporate to Christmas to luxury themes. The end result is a collection of unusual, off-the-beaten-path snacks and confections that spare no expense. A personal favourite is “Key to Vancouver”, which includes, among many others:

Lemon coconut cookies from Hippie Foods in Burnaby;
Olive oil and cracked pepper crisps from Gone Crakers in Surrey;
Vanilla infused local honey from Mellifera Bees in Vancouver;
Bean-to-bar chocolate from East Van Roasters in Vancouver;
Organic blueberry and lavender jam from Missing Goat Jam in Abbotsford; and
Salted caramel and pecan popcorn from Batch Sweet Kitchen in Vancouver.

Saul doesn’t stop at delectables. Another undeniable go-to is “West Coast Essentials”, a gift basket housing linen dish cloths from LISSU in Vancouver and reclaimed wood casters from Drifted in Victoria. This time of year, boxes of chocolate and bottles of wine fly off the shelf with a bow on top and while these are exemplary gifts (a full meal, someone like the writer would go so far to say), Saul says, “Meaningful gifts tell a good story and locally sourced artisan products help connect people with the community. This is the basis from which we built the Saul Good Gift Co.” Rather than being consumed by deals and dollar signs, Saul wanted to showcase that business is about relationships and gifts can be a way to build happiness and appreciate the people responsible for making their companies flourish. A testament to this is the fact that the company has benefitted from its local suppliers in more ways than one: besides featuring their products in popular Saul Good Gift Co. baskets, local suppliers are inevitably ripe in the scene with the other big players. “Whether friends, allies or competitors who also produce great things, our best suppliers have come from word-of-mouth introductions by way of our artisan network.”

Always on the lookout for new products to feature, Saul’s top of list goes to local sourcing from within BC, but orbits farther across provinces for delicious, small-batch, and exclusive goods if the need arises. “Curating to me is the art of following the trail. It’s an iterative process of seeking, asking, and listening. Thus, the company has grown and so too have the supplier networks in other parts of Canada,” Saul states knowingly.

Of course, it’s not all strictly business because Saul has created a reference point for which items get selected and which don’t: “if the item gets devoured and all that’s left over is an empty package, we know it’s a winner. We avoid choosing stuff that ends up as half filled jars in the fridge.”

Feel out the Saul Good Gift Co. website further for yourself and/or download the Saul Good 2015 holiday gift guide for ideas and the company’s latest collection.