STRAIGHTFORWARD LUNCH AND PLAYFUL PASTRIES. SIMPLICITY CAN BE GRATIFYING.
Confetti cruller, chocolate malt cronut, creme brûlée doughnut, honey matcha croissant. The unique pastry themes and ever-changing flavours behind the glass display at this Kitsilano vanguard are the subject of wide-spread buzz. In a city where bakeries seem to be both mushrooming all over and bursting at their seams, Their There manages to stand above the crowd. Where else can you get a glass of permaculture-cultivated, skin fermented, barrel aged, BC Pino Blanc with your Paris-Brest or pumpkin cronut? (A croissant-doughnut for the Comedians-in-Cars-Getting-Coffee-uninitiated.)
The vibrant café, run by an accomplished team behind award-winning AnnaLena, which sits down the block, seems to be a yin to its yang. While welcoming to all with a sneaker-focused informality, the AnnaLena restaurant nevertheless radiates grace and class, ceaselessly transcending high cuisine. The table d'hôte style tasting menu and sit-down dining experience at AnnaLena epitomizes art and design, detail and complexity. Conversely, Their There is a day-haunt; a lunchtime hangout with a communal concept. It aims to unite the neighbourhood in everyday fare, wowing them with how gratifying pure simplicity can be.
AnnaLena founder and executive chef Mikey Robbins takes a step back, putting his gusto behind the minimalist sandwich menu, focusing on staple, yet well-sourced ingredients. He helps out our option-exhausted generation with far fewer but substantial savoury menu items. Jeff Parr, AnnaLena’s interminably courteous and personable GM, steps in as the café's beverage authority. With profoundly researched coffee, wine, and brewery collaborations, Parr's efforts add a European feel to the café. Parr focuses on natural wines and local, small scale vineyards, bringing care and a conscientiousness rarely seen in a wine list. Centre stage is Lucy Kirby who heads Their There's pastry concepts. After an impressive run at Hotel Georgia's Hawksworth, Gastown wheat-king Nelson the Seagull, and Toronto's seasonal-focused Buca, Kirby has unleashed a clear talent through this autonomous kitchen opportunity.
Robbins, Parr, and Kirby are the antipode of braggadocious; so much so, that details on ingredient sourcing had to be solicited. In an era when, without inquiry, chefs are quick to boast where they stock from and maunder on why, the trio behind Their There's menu makes it apparent that thoughtful, principled, integral sourcing should simply be the norm. After an easy CV check, it's clear that the depth they've each always taken in their approach to food is just a matter of how they would prefer to eat themselves—rather than being something remarkable. Despite, or perhaps because of, this personal modesty, the quality behind Their There’s goods remains at a standing vastly apart from other Vancouver bakeries and cafés.
When pressed for details on the reasons behind the deliciousness of their pastries, Kirby was gracious to offer her thoughts. "My philosophy of being a pastry chef and working in a kitchen where I have complete creative freedom is to keep everything constantly changing. I find that if you stay stagnant, people (like myself) get bored," the chef explains. "Having different flavours popping around every now and then gets people excited." Kirby is also offering more savoury items for those who aren't hungry enough for a full sandwich, or who just want to pop in quickly, then run back to the office. "I like to keep my pastries nostalgic and playful, so no one gets intimidated by a perfectly glazed cake or some crazy chocolate decor with no flavour that is only there for look." Kirby strives to create items that her patrons want to "just dive right in to and get messy" with, she says. Goal accomplished.
I asked Kirby about produce; does she ascribe to the belief that local ingredients are worth the extra effort? They clearly don't order Sysco in bulk; something that many love about this team. "In the summer when sweet fruit and veggies are in prime season, I order from local farms and the Okanagan solely because [that’s] the best time of year for certain things, she explains. "It's important to use the best ingredients when they are readily available. In the winter months, I tend to steer more towards warm flavours: nuts and chocolate." Everything she bakes is made in-house, with few exceptions. "I obviously don’t churn my own butter, so things like milling flour and making butter are done by others." Kirby sources Canadian flour, and she says she only brings in "the best butter at 83-84% butter fat".
I think back to Their There’s pumpkin pie cronut, an item with more Instagram posts than most babies or dogs have. Green pumpkin seeds sitting atop eight or nine fluffy billows of pure, white icing, atop sweet, flaky layers of delicate, yet buttery cronut. The item lived a short few weeks bookending the fall season—but could come back any day, which adds to the magic of it all. Kirby explains that, with playful seasons do come playful takes on classic, festive dishes. Most pastries are available for order as well as for take-out at the café. Their website lists a reliable order menu, but they do venture into requests. "Every now and then for [the] holidays we will do special order items like whole pies for Thanksgiving." She's excited to do so because it gives them a switch up: an opportunity to learn and do more.
Arguably, Their There's wild-fire reputation began on social media. Before experiencing the humming luncheonette itself, the most telling sign of the day-time eatery's popularity can be seen through their Instagram stories. Rather than create content that grandstands on its beautiful pastries, artisanal coffee, and uncomplicated, public-approved sandwiches, Their There showcases its patrons' own Instagram posts. (Note, once again, this pattern of humility.) The shared images showcase adoring comments coming from very happy and very full bellies. There's no need for the social team to explain how great their delicacies are: just read through their many mentions!
This modus operandi is exemplary of what proprietors Robbins and Parr set out to create: a doors-open roost where habitues could fill up and catch up, a place for community. Grand slam. In visiting Their There on multiple occasions—both to visit with friends and to take photos for this piece—the room bustled unlike anything 2042 West 4th Ave has ever seen before. The former occupant, Mission, was one of the most progressive and exciting restaurants I had personally ever experienced in Vancouver. Though mysteriously, the room was rarely—if ever—at full occupancy. So when the team behind AnnaLena was rumoured to be opening a second project in the abandoned 2042 location, worry of the 'doomed space' myth set in. But Their There proved it to be just that: a myth. The persistently bustling cafe is now a favourite—not just among flocking foodies excited by biodynamic varietals, but also by gourmands salivating at the sight of their exclusive sandwich, doughnut, and cronut themes.
Understanding the importance of having a standalone bean for your espresso, before launching Their There, Parr chatted with all the coffee people in his world and Portland’s Heart kept coming up. He traveled down to Oregon to test them out and do further research, deciding that, yes, Heart was the one. “We were really looking for a balanced roast that could meet a wide array of palates and felt that Heart’s stereo blend really nailed it,” he tells me. “After reaching out initially, we really quickly developed an amazing working relationship.” Offering the company's various heirloom beans brought up from Central America, South America, and Africa and roasted in East Portland, There Their impresses coffee connoisseurs who flock to the café to try out Heart, one of the more difficult-to-spot bags of beans.
“I want to create food that you want to just dive right in to and get messy.”
-Lucy Kirby, pastry chef
The day-time café is so similar in decoration choice to evening dining room AnnaLena, yet so dissimilar in terms of ingredient complexity and plating, so I asked Robbins for some thoughts behind the interior design of his bright and playful luncheonette. He explained how he wanted to find a balance between industrial and contemporary; how he loved the raw, upbeat cement with paint splashes transitioning to the clean white tiles. The same Bearbrick themed collectibles and notes of his upbringing decorate Their There. His own shoe prints are pressed onto the grey floor in the same pink paint that colours the back hallway and matches the pops of pastel in the chair highlights. "When I design things I go in with a plan, but I always leave room for things to change during the process," Robbins explains, which is lightly revealing about the humble man behind such wild artistic accomplishments—both in the room and on the plate.
Their There’s sweets-heavy day-café had long been unleashing a plan for the space behind the wooden walls it opened with. The surprise revealed a pop-up burger joint that rotates local, craft breweries and offers natural wines late into the night. Stay tuned for our upcoming post on HUNDY: the new burger and fries concept hiding away within the Their There café until 5:30pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and recently-added Sundays!