Meeting at Johannes and Kristina van Bommel van Vloten’s home with their business partner Spencer Croteau, our morning began outside in the lightly drizzling rain, which reminded us that fall is swiftly approaching. When we heard the ding of the oven, we all gathered in the kitchen and huddled around the warmth of freshly baked cookies, made from their grandmothers recipe.
After spending time in their humbly styled home, a style similar to their coffee shop, Oldhand, we followed Spencer on his way out and headed to the trio’s newest business venture, Little Brother.
TFV: Where did the vision for Little Brother come from, and how did it happen?
LB: The vision for Little Brother started in Spencer’s head some years ago. He was working as a chef in Edmonton and moved to the Valley to be closer to his family, who live in Chilliwack. He started working at Oldhand with us and we began talking obsessively about food, what we liked, how we imagined a one day restaurant to look. It started to take shape over tags on Instagram, and one day we just casually started looking at spaces downtown. The Mitch Miller’s building became available within a few months of this wild idea entering our heads and soon enough, we had signed a lease.
TFV: How did the three of you meet, and when did you start working together?
LB: We met Spencer through him working at Oldhand and really started connecting over food during our “Shoot the Moon” events we held at Oldhand in January. These became a series of cocktail nights where Spencer took the lead on making late night snacks like bread and butter, chicken skins, and brought to the table some new and interesting ways of cooking and plating vegetables and we knew this was something special we could do together. We started working on the Little Brother concept back in February, and by May we had keys to our restaurant.
TFV: As business owners yourselves, what is one thing you’d tell inspiring entrepreneurs and restauranteurs that they can learn from?
LB: Work with people that have strengths that you don’t have! It takes so much more work than you’d ever imagine to open a restaurant. It’s business plan writing, meetings with banks, construction, painting, menu planning, a zillion trips to Home Hardware, visiting farms, comparing napkin pricing, crying together in the back alley when you think you can’t do it anymore, and many bottles of wine.
TFV: What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
LB: Fave dish is probably Bread and Butter. Sourdough and cultured butter and some Maldon salt. Or the amped up version which is the Croque Madame. Brioche, good ham, good cheese, a fried egg, and mornay sauce.
TFV: Who doesn’t love bread, butter and eggs?
LB: Gluten free/dairy free/vegans haha! But other than them, nobody. It’s an old world, European, basic set of foods, but so perfectly simple.
TFV: Who are some of the local providers that you use for the food and drink that you offer?
LB: We use 18 different suppliers for the restaurant. Local Harvest and Lepp Market for all of our seasonal vegetables, Lepp and Gelderman farms for beef/pork, Maple Hill for poultry and the most beautiful eggs, Farmhouse Cheese in Agassiz, Birchwood Dairy, Your Wildest Foods for chanterelles, sea asparagus and other foraged things, F.I.S.H. for wild sockeye salmon, to name a few.
TFV: Tell us a little bit about your lives outside of Little Brother and Oldhand Coffee (is there such a thing? ☺)
LB: HAHA what life outside of Oldhand/LB? We are lucky to have our two darling girls that keep us sane and require us to take breaks from work. They need quality time and we are lucky they pull us away from work in the best possible way. We also have an amazing community of family and friends that kindly bring us food or host us for neighbourhood bbq’s during this crazy time of our lives. Spencer works nearly 20 hour days, so that only leaves time for perhaps a few texts with friends and short visits with family now and then. But that’ll change.
TFV: Macchiato or latte? Soft poached or hard? Short pasta or long?
LB: We prefer black coffee, or teeny espresso drinks. We all drink our coffee black, but Spencer is known to start the day with a cortado. Soft cooked eggs, always. Pasta of any kind.
TFV: Who in food inspires you?
LB: The greats, Rene Redzepi, Thomas Keller, David Chang, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Ina Garten.
TFV: Is it true that you, Johannes and Kristina, had your wedding in the same space as Little Brother is now?
LB: We sure did! 11 years ago. Cuuuuute.
TFV: In your own words, how would you define community?
LB: We would define community as the people that know you, love you, make you feel safe and cared for. The people that you might not see all the time but that feel like family.
TFV: What are your favourite seasons here in the Fraser Valley? Why?
LB: Our favourite seasons are the shifting seasons, spring and fall. The world wakes up in spring and starts to bring rest come fall.
TFV: Who are some of your favourite locals from the Fraser Valley to follow on social media?
LB: Some of our fave social media accounts are (not kidding!) the Fraser Valley account because every week we get new tours of the valley, seeing places we’ve never seen before through a different set of eyes each week. Our friend, Jess Delves, because she always makes our businesses look so good and she’s such a cheerleader of ours! Sharalee Prang too because she’s a wonderful photographer, but she also volunteers at MCC in Yarrow and her little videos of her quiet moments there always make us laugh. Special shoutout to our neighbours Habit (who bring us smoothies!) and Polly Fox (who keep us laughing). We share the same garbage bins, so there really are no secrets between us.
TFV: If you were a destination, where would you be?
LB: We’d like to think of ourselves as somewhere you might stumble into on a great bustling street somewhere in France. A lot of the food you see on the LB menu is French inspired, so transporting ourselves there doesn’t feel too far off.
TFV: What’s one thing you want people visiting the Fraser Valley to know about your home?
LB: The Fraser Valley is an amazing place to live. The agricultural bounty is incredible here. We live within an incredibly short distance of so much great food. We are grateful to have personal relationships with so many farmers and food producers in the Valley. It’s a delight to barely ever use chain grocery stores anymore, but rather, support families that are doing so much to bring food security within our reach. We would never want to live anywhere other than here.
When we arrived at Little Brother, the space was still. Hidden from the outside by the covered windows, all was dim except for the bright glow coming from the kitchen in the back. There we found Spencer already busy kneading dough in preparation for their upcoming opening. Once Kristina, Johannes and their children joined, everyone gathered around a table full of anticipation and nerves for what would come the following days.
A few days later, the day of their soft opening, we popped in to capture the newest establishment, Little Brother in full swing. With every seat full, the space had a captivating energy that brought their vision to life. We can’t wait to see what affect this charming brunch hotspot will have on the heart of Downtown Abbotsford!