They used to be proud of being the third longest-established business in White Rock.
But David and Sheana Moyer, of Hillcrest Bakery and Deli, recently came to a startling realization: their family-owned business – which first became part of the scene in the early 1970s – was now the most senior in the city.
With that realization, they say, has come a commitment to do everything they can to make sure they hang on to that title – for years to come.
City residents with strong roots in the community, they’ve weathered waves of uptown construction that forced a costly move to new premises – and now the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic – with a combination of innovation, diversification and entrepreneurial survival instincts.
“It’s still a financial struggle, but we’re feeling confident,” said David – who started with the bakery as an employee in 1988 and had worked his way up to night baker before he and Sheana took over the business in 2011.
“It’s not as if we’re not going to be here,” said Sheana – who also serves on the executive of the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce.
And they’re not entirely joking when they note that granddaughter Hailey – who has just turned 10 and still likes to come in and help bake on weekends – just may have the natural aptitude to take over the business some day.
And one of the joys is meeting customers who recognize the bakery is still offering many of the same favourites – like sausage rolls and smiley-face cookies – that are part of their own memories of growing up in White Rock.
Founded by baker Nick Groot in 1972, Hillcrest Bakery and Deli was always part of the Hillcrest shopping centre, at Thrift Avenue and Johnson Road, which included the popular Buy-Low supermarket.
For more than two decades, starting in 1989, it was owned by British-trained baker Mike Heywood and his wife Vanessa. When they retired, the Moyers bought the business from them.
Distinction of longest-established business in the city used to belong to White Rock Travel and Cruises, which first hung up its shingle on Johnston Road in 1952. But the venerable agency – while still running – left city limits in November of 2018 for new premises at South Surrey’s Windsor Square.
Five Corners Cafe – a converted former post office – has been a cafe consistently since 1956, but doesn’t count as the longest-established business since it has gone through different incarnations with successive owners (among them Gaynes Grill, Saunders Grill, The Plate, Steve’s Submarines and Franklin’s Five Corners Cafe).
Next to White Rock Travel and Cruises, the longest-established business in town was Penguin Meats, established in Whalley in the late 1950s, but a fixture on Johnston Road from 1964.
Even with a move across the street – after its original building was slated for demolition to make way for the Oceana PARC Retirement Living development – Penguin Meats remained a proud White Rock tradition. But that changed this summer when a corporate decision shifted the company’s focus to its South Surrey wholesale location; shuttering the storefront after close of business on Aug. 1.
The bakery had its own across-the-street move in late 2017, taking over quarters in the Saltaire building (15231 Thrift Ave.) due to the demolition of the Hillcrest Mall to make way for the new towers at Bosa Properties’ Miramar Village.
The move involved incurring considerable debt, and transitioning the business to a less-travelled location in a construction zone was bad enough – but when COVID-19 hit in March, David said, “we knew we had to figure out something really quickly.”
The bakery’s wholesale business was hit hard and so were cake sales – nobody was throwing any parties, he said.
But with the challenges have come new opportunities.
“Our home deliveries started doing really well,” David said (the bakery delivers six days a week, free of charge for orders of $10 or more within a 10 km radius).
“We’ve had so many people ask us not to stop deliveries, even after COVID is done, so we’ve decided to keep on doing that. And we started to really update our website and add e-commerce in, which is something we might not have done so soon.”
Mindful of the way locals – including seniors – had relied on Penguin Meats for smaller cuts, Hillcrest has partnered with Bonetti Meats of Langley to bring in smaller quantity orders, with a system in place of ordering Monday for delivery or pick up Friday.
There’s a bonus in that the partnership has made it possible for the deli operation to provide a greater variety of sandwiches, Sheana said.
And the bakery has also been hard at work refining a pet project – creating beer-friendly baked goods and snacks from the ‘spent’ grains from breweries and brew pubs – and a whole range of products are now available.
“It’s been a steep learning curve, but the only way you’re going to survive in business is to be able to change with the needs of the community,” Sheana said.
“We consider ourselves an essential service.”