They’re terribly good!

By Rita Button

I had a good time one afternoon in February talking with David and Vlasta Booth, the new owners of Terrible Truffles at Birdcages Confectionary, the oldest grocery store in Victoria.

Filled with their usual optimism, David and Vlasta took possession of the Birdcages Confectionary on December 1, 2016. They loved it immediately. When they rolled out the flower stand for the first time, David remarked to his wife, “It feels like we’re opening up the neighbourhood.” And they value the neighbourhood in their new business.

The Bird Cage Walk Confectionary on Government Street served thousands of civil servants and the folks from the hood since 1915. The beautiful old girl just changed hands and has been given a new sophistication.

Sketch & caption by Rick Thomas

They’re enjoying the sense of community: “So many people we will get to know, so many people always dropping in to the store,” they say simultaneously. Rarely is the store empty. This pleases them, but what also pleases them is the diversity of James Bay and the ease with which people can find what they need within two blocks—the bank, the pharmacy, the coffee shop are readily available. And so are the flowers and the chocolates at Terrible Truffles at Birdcages. The truffles really are terribly good; I couldn’t resist and bought the artist’s palette that David made in memory of his portrait painter artist Mom. It tastes even better than it looks.

They’ve had a fairly smooth transition, partly because they’ve kept two of the previous owner’s employees, partly because the previous owner drops by occasionally, and partly because they love the store, the people and the location. Along with the two previous employees, their son Spencer works in the store as well.

While they want to be the “go to” place for chocolates and flowers, they also want to serve what the neighbourhood wants and needs. One of the surprises was the amount of bird seed they sold in December. They bag the barley from the big sack—often it’s the youngest daughter who volunteers for this job. She fills the bag, stamps it with the logo, and puts it on the shelf. During the cold spell, it threatened to become her full-time job!

It’s a local story of family and history. The former owners, Barbara and Craig, raised their children while running the store. Now David and Vlasta are raising their family. Vlasta wants to create a wall of history to illustrate all the owners and iterations of the store. She’s also the wizard who packages the chocolates that David makes. My favourite container is the wooden cigar box custom made to fit twenty-four truffles. It’s beautiful!

Now, instead of setting up in all the outdoor markets and craft fairs, David hopes to create a popular chocolate destination at the store that is only two blocks away from the inner harbour. If he gets people to taste his wares, he will have no problem in being a part of the family’s success as they venture into this new phase of their lives.

David has been making chocolates since he was sixteen years old. Recently, he sold them at the summer markets, such as Ship’s Point, and at Humboldt House, the bed and breakfast they owned with Vlasta’s mother. After they wrapped up the bed and breakfast business last June, they started looking for a new opportunity to sell David’s chocolates in a place where people could easily access them year-round.

In his apprenticeship years, David actually cooked for Prince Philip at Government House. That was before he spent two years in Montreal learning to make traditional French pastries with Patissier Guy Lafont at La Brioche Lyonnaise in Montreal.

Both have lived in Victoria most of their lives: David graduated from Spectrum in the Culinary Arts program while Vlasta graduated from Oak Bay Senior Secondary in the academic program. At the store, their mission is to offer as many local products as possible such as Cowichan pasta, Estevan tuna, Bean Boy Homous, That’s Amore Caramel Popcorn from Duncan, Farm Fresh Eggs from Lockwood Farms in Cobble Hill, Level Ground coffee, Island Smokehouse Beef Jerky from Sidney, products from local bakeries delivered daily, along with a weekly delivery of local roses and gerbera daisies from Eurosa Farms. David wants to add to the community feeling of the store by telling you that he knows the guy who roasts the coffee he sells, or the fisherman who caught the tuna that ended up in the Estevan smoked tuna can. At the same time, both of them see the value of choice, so they stock the ordinary products as well.

They’re pleasantly surprised that the store is comfortably busy. Winter hours are 7 am until 7 pm, although in the summer, they intend to remain open later. But don’t wait for summer! Head up to 503 Government Street to feast your eyes on the chocolates and the flowers. You might leave with some sensible pasta and tomato sauce, but you’ll return for the chocolates when you remember someone’s birthday, or crave something sweet.