Capital Daily

How To Quit Your Desk Job And Sell Pizza: The Story Behind Stoked Wood Fired Pizzeria

Episode Summary

Co-owner Meagan Symington and her partner, Oliver Woods, left their desk jobs to start Stoked Wood Fired Pizzeria and Market in 2017. It's grown to become a well-loved stop on Highway 14, where the tourists are plenty and the restaurants are few. We hear how they did it, and what their journey has been like so far.

Episode Notes

Co-owner Meagan Symington and her partner, Oliver Woods, left their desk jobs to start Stoked Wood Fired Pizzeria and Market in 2017. It's grown to become a well-loved stop on Highway 14, where the tourists are plenty and the restaurants are few. We hear how they did it, and what their journey has been like so far.

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Episode Transcription

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Tuesday, July 27. Welcome to the Capital Daily Podcast. Today on the show, we take a trip out to Shirley to meet one of the owners of Stoked Woodfired Pizzeria and Market about how they quit their day job and moved across the country to follow their dream. And they haven't looked back since. Highway 14 between Sooke and Port Renfrew offers a seemingly endless array of scenic views. Whether you're off for a weekend camping trip to French Beach, a four-day hike along the Juan De Fuca Trail or a surf session at Sombrio Beach, the 70 kilometre stretch of highway is packed with adventure. However, if you get hungry along the way, there are only a handful of stops to grab a bite. Stoked Woodfired Pizzeria and Market in Shirley is one of those places. Since 2017, they've been serving up pies to hungry travellers and have slowly expanded into a one-stop-shop that sells firewood and ice and a variety of art by local makers. Co-Producer Emily Vance dropped in to chat with Co-Owner Meagan Symington. Emily finds out about how Meagan and her husband Oliver Woods quit their day jobs to start a small business in a remote community on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Here's their conversation.

Emily: Meagan, thank you for sitting down with me today. I appreciate it. 

Meagan: Thank you for coming out. It's really great to be featured on your show.  

Emily: Well, it's awesome to be out here. I love spending time in the Sooke and Port Renfrew corridor. So for people who've never been here, tell me a bit about your menu and the things that you offer. 

Meagan: We try to incorporate as much of the local products and produce as we can. We have a really great relationship with the farm across the street, living the dream farm. So we try to make things as fresh as we can. We also have a little garden out front where we grow our own herbs and berries and different things. So we try to incorporate that as much as possible. As far as the menu goes, we've got, I think, maybe 12 different pizza options, a few fresh salads. In the fall, we experiment with different appetizers and woodfire dishes. In the summertime, it's a little too busy for that. So we stick to the core pizzas and salads. We have a great baker, Myrica, who makes all sorts of desserts for us. So there's always a rotating selection. We've expanded this year to have a lot more ice cream options. So we've got ice cream sandwiches and Sundays, which it's been really great, especially during that heatwave.  

Emily: There are a handful of other products, too, like firewood and books.

Meagan: Yeah, we have a little bit of a market like a local market where we like to have some of the local products made in the area, the surrounding area, and around Vancouver Island in the Gulf Islands. Right now, it's a bit of a condensed amount of items that we have available just because we've been open for takeout or eating outside on our patios. But when we reopen back inside, we will have the full store and market back. 

Emily: I remember now that our podcast host and producer Jackie and I, stopped here and we both got the Vegan Surprise on our way back from covering the Fairy Creek blockades. 

Meagan: Yeah, the vegan surprise is a newer menu item that we added, and it seems like vegans like the surprise element of "Oh, I like everything. I like all the veggies. What can you make for me?" So that has gone over well. 

Emily: Can you tell me a bit about the history of stoked and how it got started? 

Meagan: My husband Oliver and I had moved from out east. We were living in Nova Scotia. And we were just both working sort of desk jobs, research jobs at a university and kind of wanted to change. And I guess my family history, my dad back in his day in his 20s had a pizzeria. And like, as we grew up, we sort of had pizza night, every Friday or whatever. And then when I got to be older, it was a tradition that I continued, myself, and my partner Oliver, and we would have pizza nights where our friends and it was just kind of a fun thing to do. And then Oliver was at a farmers market. And he saw one of those pull-behind wood-fired ovens. And he, you know, he came back, and he's like, "Oh, man, we could make pizza." And so we decided to make them move back here. I'm originally from the island, so we just kind of scoured the island for a location. And we stumbled upon this place here out in Shirley, and we were coming out here to hike and camp and go to the beaches. And so we solicited the help of my dad, and then we did a major run out here, got the place, started fresh, and opened up the pizzeria, which is now Stoked. 

Emily: I feel like so many people dream of making a big change like that. But you actually did it. 

Meagan: Yeah, it was definitely a big change. We packed up our truck, and we sold everything we had. And we kind of thought we'd be doing a much smaller operation and go into farmer's markets or festivals. And as we looked into it, we saw the pros and cons of both approaches. And we happen to find this perfect location or the location that was perfect for us at the time. And these things grew from there. 

Emily: When you found the property, what was it like? 

Meagan: To say it was a mess was an understatement. It had been turned into or almost turned into a business after business. Some of them are successful, some of them not-so-good ideas that didn't really pan out. But it was quite jam-packed, full of things and treasures. We had to kind of take apart and start fresh. So that was a big learning curve. Luckily, we did have the help of my dad, who is a builder and has been a builder in his past. So he guided us through that which we're very fortunate to have his help. Oliver and I learned a lot and got to play around a lot with different things and make it our own.

Emily: Is this the original building? Or did you build it?

Meagan: This is the original. And then, of course, we got it down to the drywall or the framing and started fresh from there and made changes to the layout to work for the business that we wanted to open up. And then we're slowly making it seem like the project never ends. So we're slowly building new buildings and expanding the deck area, the patio area, gardens and all that. 

Emily: 2017 predates my time on the island. What was here before? 

Meagan: Well, it had been back in its day, sort of a convenience store that sold a little bit of hot food. I was never here during that time. But it was somebody who was looking to start a business but never quite got off the ground. So it had been sitting empty. Somebody was living here but not really running a business for a while. 

Emily: How well received were you when you opened?

Meagan: We had a lot of community support, which was really great. I guess some community members, in particular, the fire chief in the area, his name is Marty Gilbertson. He also owns Foggy Mountain Forge. And actually, he's part of the reason why we ended up here. We were touring the area, and we saw a sign for a blacksmith, and we had never seen a blacksmith in action. So we went to do his tour. He showed us around and told us all about the area had nothing but positive things to say that made us a little souvenir feather, which we still have. And so we just got a great vibe. And ever since the day that we took over and bought the place, he was so helpful with giving us information about the property, lending us machinery, even like countertops around that you see he donated the slabs because it was a tree from his property he wasn't using so he was super helpful in that way. It turns out that my partner, Oliver, has developed a great relationship with him and joined the fire department as well. So that helped to gather a lot of community support. 

Emily: I bet that's everything when you start a business in a small community. 

Meagan: Oh, definitely. And I think one of the things that I think was instrumental, I feel personally, is that all of her being from the East Coast, he's from Nova Scotia, and they're known for their hospitality. They're known for just being super friendly people. So when we arrived here, we popped in on all of the different businesses around, introduced ourselves, and took that East Coast style to the west coast. And I think that went a long way, just with introducing ourselves to everyone, which was nice. 

Emily: Fast forward four years. How has business been? And how are things at Stoked? 

Meagan: It's been challenging with COVID. But aside from COVID, things have been really great. And they've been definitely growing every year. We've been growing along with it. So we feel like it's been happening at a pace that has been manageable for us. I've been noticing a lot more people new to the area over the last two seasons with COVID. People aren't travelling as much internationally. So they're exploring the bit where they live, I guess. And so many people come out for hiking or going to the beach or all sorts of things. So they've been stopping in for a pizza on their way. 

Emily: Yeah, Stoked is one of the few places you can stop and get a bite between Port Renfrew and Sooke.

Meagan: Yeah, there's not too many of us out here. But the businesses that are out here are pretty unique and very community-minded, a lot of family-oriented businesses, which is nice. 

Emily: Can you tell me a bit about your staff and where everybody lives and what the relationship is or what it's like to work here? 

Meagan: Well, most of the staff do live in the Shirley area, Otter point and Sooke. We're lucky that we have a great group of people, who the majority of them have been working here since the beginning or almost since the beginning. And then we've been adding maybe an employer to every year, and it just kind of works out that feels kind of like a family. Yeah, everybody hangs out on their days off and has beach days together. And so we're very fortunate in that sense. 

Emily: That's awesome. What's it like to live out here? 

Meagan: Well, we love living out here. You've got beaches at your disposal, hikes, and you can go camping. The possibilities are endless.

Emily: So you've been here for four years now. How have you watched this area change and grow?

Meagan: We have noticed more and more people coming out to the areas, a lot of younger families coming out here, or people looking to get out of the city have a bit of a lifestyle change. So we definitely have noticed a fair bit of growth. As you saw today, the road construction is a major project taking place over the next couple of years here. So I feel like that could be signs of things to come, but at the same time, it's still secluded enough that. It's a nice area to live in and work in, I guess. It can be tricky, challenging. You don't have the same conveniences as living in a city, of course. But we all make it work for sure, and cell services are coming in October. 

Emily: What do you think about that? 

Meagan: Oh, well, I can see some positives and negatives. So I kind of like the idea of having no cell service and being out there and being, you know, a little disconnected. And I think people move out here to be a bit more connected to nature, or sort of out of the city out of the hustle and bustle. That said, as I mentioned, my partner, Oliver, is on the fire department. And one of the issues that they experience is, when they go on calls, their radios don't often work out here. So if you get past the little zone where they work, they can be disconnected to their chief or other essential services, which inevitably ends with wasting taxpayer dollars or dangerous situations that could have been avoided. So if there were cell service here, I think it's coming from here to Port Renfrew, which will definitely help with first responders' ability to do their job. 

Emily: Yeah, I feel that way. I understand search and rescue and emergency services. It's so important. But there is something really magical about knowing that once you're going once you're west of Sooke. Your phone's off, and you don't have to kind of answer to the pings and buzzes of every day. So lastly, what are your plans when it comes to Stoked? Like, how do you plan on growing and changing the business as the years go on?

Meagan: Oh, that's just been our work in progress that just happens as it happens, where we're currently, you know, we've had issues with no covered outdoor seating, especially during COVID. So we're in the process of building a nice, covered outdoor area that will be a little bit warmer for people who still want to sit outside. We're always expanding our store and looking for more interesting local products. There's always more and more people making things and products, too, coming to the area. So it's nice to feature them. And then just hanging on for dear life. 

Emily: If somebody is listening to this and they've never been here. Why do you think they should come? 

Meagan: Oh, well, it's a great experience. It's a great day trip to come out. Go check out the forests out here, go to the beaches, do some hiking or camping. There's a lot of trails in the area. And then, once you're finished with your big adventure for the day, what's better than sitting down for a nice hot pizza or a cold beer or a cold pop, maybe an ice cream. Yeah, just relax with your friends or family afterwards. 

Emily: Sounds good. You're selling it to me. If somebody right now is stuck in a job that, you know, they're not too thrilled about, and they think they want to totally change things, start their own small business, what would you say? 

Meagan: I would say go for it. Life is short; you may as well take the chances and live your dreams. If that's your dream job in a small business, then why not? A lot goes into it. There's a lot of work that you maybe don't recognize or foresee coming, but it's worth it in the end.

Emily: I'm glad to hear that it's been worth it. Meagan, thank you so much for having me here and taking the time. 

Meagan: Well, thanks for coming out.