Jessica Saial had the rest of her life all figured out.
After spending 15 years at a Toronto investment firm and living amid the city’s towering skyscrapers, she and her husband would retire early and move to B.C.
She would ride horses and marvel at snow-capped mountains and great glacier-fed lakes.
But there was a caveat.
Saial did not plan on retiring for at least another 10 years. The dream to move west was out of her sight for another decade — until the pandemic hit, forcing Saial and her husband to work from home.
“We both sort of looked at each other and were like, ‘What are we doing here? Why aren’t we leaving now?’” Saial said. “We just kept on saying, ‘Why not now?’”
Saial, who had a six-month-old daughter, and her husband started looking for homes in B.C. They connected with a real estate agent, toured a townhouse in Maple Ridge on FaceTime, and sold their Toronto home.
“My husband drove everything out and I flew out with my daughter one week later,” Saial said. “We came to see our home for the first time together.”
After spending years carefully planning for retirement, the couple uprooted their lives.
In just a few months, though, there would be another surprise.
Opening The Nut
In her first few months in Maple Ridge, pandemic closures made it hard for Saial to get a sense of the city’s coffee and restaurant culture.
She volunteered at events, which helped her meet people in the community, but Saial longed to try gluten and dairy-free food options, grab a ginger shot, or buy local artwork.
“I remember saying to my husband, ‘I don’t even remember the last time I had a fresh pressed juice?’” Saial said. “If I wanted that, where were we going to find that?”
So, she decided to open her own shop.
In 2021, Saial opened The Nut on 119th Avenue, a coffee shop that sells locally-made drinks, food, and ceramics.
In less than two years, during a time when COVID-19 forced many businesses to shut down, The Nut grew in popularity, with people from across Maple Ridge wanting to show off their baked goods and art.
By the time the shop opened, more than 50 local businesses reached out and wanted to get involved with The Nut.
Saial started to hold markets — featuring roughly 30 makers — and discovered a love for supporting other people’s work.
“People joke that [The Nut] is like Cheers now,” Saial said. “Especially for people who are like-minded in the community.”
Ingraining into the community, during a pandemic
Saial wanted The Nut to be like a European business.
With years of experience in the corporate world, Saial said that businesses in Europe will often try to support each other.
Owners will make food or objects from scratch and sell them at other stores across town. In North America, however, many businesses are too focused on competing with one another to feature a rival company’s work.
But Saial felt like a European model would thrive in Maple Ridge.
“Maple Ridge is a breeding ground for this kind of space,” she said. “Everyone is loyal to each other and to what they believe in.”
And earlier this year, Saial’s guess was rewarded.
The Nut won “medium business of the year” at the annual Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards in March.
“I think people were looking for something to bring them together,” Saial said. “People were tired of working in a silo. In COVID, that became, really, really clear.”
In the future, Saial wants to continue growing The Nut. Specifically, she hopes to have more markets that support local organizations such as the Ridge Meadows Salvation Army and Foundry Ridge Meadows.
Last fall, Saial partnered with dozens of local businesses to host a market that raised more than $3,000 for Alisa’s Wish, a child and youth advocacy organization in Maple Ridge.
At the market, Saial looked around and saw numerous business owners that she had met over the past year. She remembered thinking about how fast The Nut, the market, and her new life in Maple Ridge had come together.
She spent the whole day crying, shedding tears of joy for a community that she never knew she needed.
“It was such a perfect breeding ground for what [me and my husband] were trying to create,” Saial said.
“Which I think we needed ourselves.”