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Tofino Local Spotlight: Jay Gildenhuys

Jay Gildenhuys knows the very best way to seek shelter from the storm, especially the sort of storm that tends to batter the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“After being on the water or having walked the beach all day, there is nothing better than a bottle of wine in a cosy room, next to a fireplace,” he says. “Throw in good conversation with locals and you have the perfect setting, in my opinion. That is what I wanted Shelter to be for locals and visitors alike.”

Shelter is the Tofino restaurant he opened in 2004, after he bought a simple old seasonal joint that long-time visitors might remember as The Crab Bar. He gutted the place, expanded it and converted it into a funky new year-round location where guests can enjoy a casual gourmet menu featuring seasonal, organic products, as well as fine wines and craft beers. It’s quickly become one of the most popular eateries in town, and Jay has become a key player in the culinary scene here.

Before opening Shelter, Jay had owned and operated a number of successful eateries in Victoria: a café, a bohemian tea bar, Suze Lounge and Restaurant, and Lucky Bar. But then Tofino called him, and he couldn’t resist the lure of the island’s rugged west coast – and its dynamic food scene, whose success he attributes to the Inn’s Charles McDiarmid. 

“Charles had a very clear vision when he opened the Wick in 1996, which included creating an amazing culinary experience for visitors when they come to the West Coast,” Jay says. And so it was only natural that Jay would approach Charles for support when he came up with the idea of Feast, a Tofino-based food festival. Now in its fourth year, the 2014 Feast is set to be the best yet, with celebrated guest chefs working alongside local foodies at dockside events and other food-centric affairs throughout the month of May.

It’s a great opportunity for visitors to taste local fare and meet local residents, which Jay highly recommends. “Make a point of chatting with these open-minded, accepting and interesting people who have carved out their lives in this place,” he advises. “Become a local by default, even if only for a short time while visiting. You won’t be disappointed.” 

Meanwhile, you can find Jay taking shelter after a morning of surfing in his favourite eatery, the Inn’s Driftwood Café, which he thinks is the best-kept secret in town. “It embodies the Tofino experience – remarkable attention to detail, great homemade breads and jams, wonderful service, AND it is right on the beach! What more could we ask for here in our little town?”

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