When Jonathon Gee started Wild Forager Catering in January 2019, he knew he was taking a leap of faith.
“It happened so fast, I really had no time to think about it,” he said about the start of the company, which he runs with his wife Erin Goosen.
The first month they started, they were contacted to do the catering for CBC’s production of Still Standing, which was filming in Harrison Hot Springs.
The business snowballed from there, with Gee and Goosen taking on local weddings and events like Seabird Island’s community dinner and the Magic of Christmas event.
Gee would rent out Agassiz’s Agricultural Hall to use its kitchens, and would occasionally set up little events of his own, like the soup pop up at the 2019 CP Holiday Train.
“By the end of 2019, we were doing 500-people dinners,” Gee said. “Then bam. COVID hits out of nowhere. It sent our whole industry for a topsy turvy.”
Suddenly, Gee lost all his bookings from spring until the fall. People cancelled or pushed back the dates on their event.
When casinos closed, Gee lost his side job as well.
“It’s been tough for me, because I had that other income that was keeping us up,” Gee said. “It kind of put us in a tight situation.”
Wild Forager took out a loan to keep going, and Gee applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Summer came, restrictions loosened for many British Columbians, and Gee found himself in the kitchen again — this time cooking for weddings of less than 50 people, and other smaller events.
Of course, COVID meant he had to change the way his business did its business.
Tables at his events were six feet apart, and staff served meals from the buffet rather than guests getting them on their own. Plates were cleared when everyone was finished eating, and everyone is wearing gloves and masks — “just like a restaurant basically,” Gee said.
When cases started climbing in the fall, and then provincial health orders restricted gatherings across the Fraser Valley and beyond, Gee’s business suffered another blow.
“When we started hurting, we were like, what can we do?” he said. “Everybody’s doing the pick-up, so it’s one of the changes we saw come through the industry.”
Gee’s version of a pick-up dinner is Wild Forager’s pop ups, where patrons can pick up a meal cooked by Gee at the Agricultural Hall and eat it in their own home.
|A greek dinner from Wild Forager’s Jan. 22 pop up event. (Tanya Jeyachandran/Contributed)|
These had started before the pandemic as a way for Gee to try out different menu options and exercise some creative flair, and picked up again when the pandemic made large party catering impossible.
So far, Gee said the response to these pop up dinners has been “fantastic,” with around 40 people calling to reserve their meals at each event.
In February, Wild Forager will be hosting a pop up dinner each Friday, plus one for Superbowl Sunday (Feb. 7) and Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).
Gee is also looking into other ideas for his kitchen, including partnering with local farms to create freezer meals or dinner kits. He is already working with Agassiz’s Creekside Dairy to bring local meat into his dishes.
Although these new endeavours might be exciting, they’re not what Gee had envisioned when he first started Wild Forager.
But, he said, “we made do. Made changes.”
Soon, Gee hopes Wild Forager may be able to grow beyond the Agricultural Hall and get into its own brick and mortar building.
“It’s scary, because there are so many unknowns with the pandemic, but everybody faces those,” Gee said.
“We have to do the best that we can and just ask for the community’s support.”