Stylized black-and-white photographs of local musicians line one wall, while unique crafts and unusual trinkets fill the others, as well as much of the available space on old-fashioned floor-to-ceiling shelves enveloping the interior of a transformed general store.
Fresh-baked breads, gooey cinnamon buns, as well as a plethora of pies, cakes, and cookies fill the old-style pastry cabinets, while their smells overflow the one-room restaurant and waft out onto the sidewalk whenever anyone opens the front door of the neighbourhood coffee house.
Upbeat Dixieland jazz sounds from the Red Beans and Rice band thrill the crowd that has packed into Porter’s Bistro for one of their increasingly popular Friday jazz nights.
And, of course, rich Murrayville history seeps out of just about every crevice of this historic building – once Porter’s General Store – that is now fast becoming an entertainment mecca in the region.
That’s what Bill Buurmeester, with the aid of his wife Karin, has been striving to create in the historic Five Corners’ eatery since becoming involved in the operation more than four years ago.
It’s the dream of the 53-year-old entrepreneurial chef – and part-time drummer – to create an inviting and comfortable venue where people can gather to enjoy homemade food, live entertainment, art, and camaraderie.
That’s why he invested $20,000 in the past year into entertainment, anxious to create Porter’s Bistro as “the” go-to venue in Langley for quality, live music.
“The Lower Mainland desperately needs venues like this for live music,” he said, proudly showing off his operation and pointing to what he calls his Porter’s Performers wall.
On the wall is a collection of photographs of (primarily Langley) musicians who entertain regularly on the weekend, leading up to a stage space occupying a corner of the store that served as the former Murrayville post office.
He not only hosts the Friday jazz and pasta nights featuring Red Beans and Rice from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., but he also serves up a pre-sold dinner and music package on Saturday nights.
For instance, Langley’s own Exit 58 is performing to a sold-out crowd on Friday, Dec. 1. And later this month, on Dec. 22, Langley’s own Spanish guitarist Doug Towle will present a Christmas show.
“These guys are starving out there,” he said of all the local artists his hires. Buurmeester noted that few people want to pay for music anymore. There’s a growing expectation it should be free, and he won’t support that concept.
While there’s entertainment at Porter’s Bistro at least two nights a week now, Buurmeester’s also finding his frequent Sunday night (5 to 8 p.m.) family package – featuring a family-style roast dinner and all the fixin’s plus more live music – is gaining in popularity. He’s expects it to be full-time by summer.
“And at any given moment, a dance could break out,” he said of the atmosphere at Porter’s on any of his live music nights.
Asked if buying the coffeehouse and turning it into a bistro featuring live entertainment was just a way of ensuring he could perform for the public, Buurmeester laughed.
He does perform with the Dennis Enns Trio, which does periodically perform at Porter’s.
He started playing drums on his mom’s cookie jars when he was eight.
“She got sick of buying cookie jars and finally bought me drums,” Buurmeester said, noting he graduated to playing in a band at age 14 and never really stopped.
While he has a strong passion for jazz, loves playing drums, and is even known to dabble at singing, he doesn’t have any aspirations to make it big in the music industry.
What he is creating at Porter’s is exactly what he’s always wanted. The fact that he gets to cast off his chef’s coat once in awhile and pick up a pair of drumsticks and join his friends on stage is just a bonus.
A Red Seal chef since he was 26, Buurmeester has worked in the hotel and food industry for more than a quarter century. He had his first restaurant in 108 Mile, eventually came down to the Lower Mainland to work at IKEA, then a few years back partnered in a restaurant in White Rock.
In the midst of that, Buurmeester discovered and fell in love with Murrrayville and moved there from Cloverdale five years back. It wasn’t long after that he learned Porter’s tea house owner Karen Porter was closing up and she was selling her business.
It was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. So in partnership with Sharon Shymes, he invested in his neighbourhood eatery. However, after a year, he found he was too busy with the White Rock restaurant to do both justice. He sold his shares in Porter’s to Shymes.
Tables turned a little more than a year ago. Buurmeester pulled out of the White Rock operation. And, almost simultaneously, Shymes needed to step back from the Murrayville business and approached Buurmeester.
“This is my second time around, here,” he said, noting he again leapt at the chance to get back to Porter’s.
Since September 2011, he’s been focusing all his time and resources turning Porter’s into his “utopia.”
His plans include focussing more on the giftware – which is proving more popular than expected because of the unique, arts-and-craft nature (everything from scarves and teapots to candles and clocks). He’s concentrating on creating a large line of daily baked good made fresh in house. To achieve this, Buurmeester said, he invested heavily into new baking equipment for Porter’s. And it’s paying off.
When he came back, none of the baking was done on site. But since taking over, he’s now baking 5,000 loaves a year, not to mention all the other baking. He boasts that pastry sales have already more than doubled.
The chef in him has pushed to enhance the menu, creating quite a following for all the meals – the daily breakfasts and lunches, as well as the weekend dinners.
There was a time, not that long ago, that he knew the first name of almost everyone walking into the eatery. Most of them were his neighhours.
Not the case anymore.
Strangers are discovering the quaint little rural bistro becoming synonymous with music and the arts.