– Words by Joanne Peters Photography by Lia Crowe
We eat first with our eyes.” The expression attributed to first-century Roman gourmand Apicius is well-known in the modern culinary world.
Come across the boards and boxes by Greater Vancouver-based The Graze Company, and the seductiveness of a dazzling spread is real. Imagine an edible artwork that might feature glistening red huckleberries adorning oranges carved into flowers; vivid-pink beet dip, golden spreads and juicy preserves; figs cut in half to display their seedy, rosy flesh; cured meats curled like unfurled roses; dried apricot snuggled next to slender cucumber sticks, fresh blueberries, sliced strawberries and zigzag-cut kiwi.
Gaze at Graze and discover rounds of creamy cheese and cubes of smoked Gouda sitting alongside translucent slices of pretty pink radishes, bright green snap peas and olives of all sorts, all studded with pistachios and almonds and framed perhaps by plump blackberries, slices of crusty baguette, crunchy cornichons and crackers, sprigs of fresh rosemary and other fresh herbs, and fuchsia orchids and purple pansies. And the flowers are edible, too.
Laura Hashemi, CEO and creative director of The Graze Company, built the food venture on the belief that “life is a work of art, and every occasion should be part of that masterpiece.”
Laura, who used to work as a paralegal, lives in West Vancouver and headquarters Graze out of a small storefront in Burnaby. With a young family, including two boys, at home, she wanted to carve out a new path, and Laura recalls brainstorming with her Graze partner at the time (whom she has since bought out) about business ideas and how she has always loved making her own charcuterie boards.
“[Serving charcuterie] always felt like it was a way everyone could sit down together, relax and pick away; there’s not a lot of fuss,” Laura says. “It was always that meal that brought people together. I thought, ‘Why can’t we get this in a to-go box? Why can’t we figure something out, where instead of going to the grocery store to buy a seven-layer dip to bring to someone’s house, we could have something more presentable?”
In 2018, The Graze Company was born. The Original Graze Box was its very first offering and remains on the menu today. Available in four sizes and serving anywhere from two to up to 15 people, it comes with a selection of cured meats (such as sliced fennel salami and rosemary ham), cheeses (possibly Truffle Manchego and Cambozola), fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, olives, cornichons, nuts, chocolate and flowers.
Opening the Dessert Box reveals luxe macarons and marshmallows, seasonal fresh fruit, cookies and cakes, and more; the Gentleman’s Graze Box offers a 375-mL bottle of Masi Campofiorin red wine, charcuterie and cheeses, a jar of artisan preserves, hand-crafted chocolate gold-foiled truffles and gold-foiled cake pops, among other items. Optional add-ons include Graze’s signature, elegantly packaged honeycomb.
There’s a Mini Graze Box for one and a Vegan Graze Box (filled with plant-based cheeses, dips, dolmas, falafels and lavish accoutrements), while elaborate Graze Tables are designed to serve a minimum of 50 guests. The largest table the company has done to date was 30 feet long; it served 500 people.
The Caviar, Champagne, Cinco Jotas Box is Canada’s first-to-market premium charcuterie experience in a box. Presented on a handmade wooden board, it features a bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage 2010; a choice of Northern Divine (BC), Italian Osetra or Italian beluga caviar; and hand-carved, acorn-fed Cinco Jotas Iberian ham, complete with all of the fixings. There are many other offerings and special releases for holidays and events like Mother’s Day.
For Laura, Graze feeds her artistic side.
“Working in a law office and feeling like I’ve always been a creative, there was a feeling I was missing something,” she says. “I wanted to get into something else, and I love that I can be so creative. I love that I can be at home with my kids and spend time with them and drive them to school and be at their soccer games and still be able to say I own this amazing business.”
When it first launched, Graze operated out of a commissary kitchen, which the COVID-19 pandemic promptly quashed. However, the pandemic didn’t have the same terrible impact it had on so many other small businesses. As one of the first Vancouver-based culinary operations to successfully offer an e-commerce model prior to the pandemic, Graze was poised for growth and swiftly pivoted: its DIY Kit became a huge hit. Accompanying the ingredients in the DIY Kit is a bottle of red or white wine, plus instructions for people to create their own masterpiece at home.
“Remember at the beginning of COVID where everyone was having Zoom parties and thought, ‘This is so fun!’? Girlfriends would say, ‘Let’s have wine together!’ So they would organize it, and one person would get the DIY Kit delivered to everyone’s houses,” Laura recalls. “It also came in handy for offices that wanted to keep morale up with workers staying at home; it came to be something a little bit special that could uplift them during that time.”
With a staff of anywhere from three to 10 people—proudly all women—depending on the season, The Graze Company has gone on to open locations in Calgary and the Okanagan, and to build a client portfolio that includes the likes of lululemon, Microsoft, Artzia, Shopify and Rogers. Laura doesn’t source items from big-box stores; instead she buys from local suppliers and artisans, including Cioffi’s Meat Market and Deli and Langley’s Kitchening & Co. Private-label jams and preserves (like Graze’s signature rhubarb-vanilla preserve) are custom-made locally for the company.
Graze has partnered with Vancouver’s popular Keefer Bar for a cocktail kit and collaborated on a pop-up with Holt Renfrew, one of Laura’s proudest moments. She also makes a point of supporting organizations and charities geared toward vulnerable women and children, such as the Sorella House and Starfish Pack Program.
Ultimately, Graze is all about what it means to break bread.
“We bring people together over a shared love of great food,” Laura says. “And there’s that ‘wow’ factor.”