During the early 2000s, a 19-year-old musician had been helping run the stalls of many Jean-Talon Market farmers, summers and winters, just to to make ends meet. A few years later, in 2007, the Atwater Market had been looking for producers to fill vacant booths. This became a golden opportunity for the man who dreamed of being his own boss and who, he willingly admits, very much enjoyed working in Montréal’s public markets. Thus was born the Ave Greene boutique – formerly Les noix du marché – led by its founder, Mathieu Lévesque, a true nut enthusiast.
Although he’s no longer a musician due for want of time, Mathieu Lévesque still has the look. The forty-year-old arrives at his kiosk wearing sunglasses, tousled hair and a certain je ne sais quoi in his stance: he’s looking for his first morning coffee. But his deft interpersonal skills betray his rocker attitude. Before he starts his day, Mathieu warmly greets his few early customers and catches up with his employee – Alex is manning the cash register today – and then carefully examines the new arrivals.
Even though he knew nothing about nuts to begin with, Mathieu chose them as his favourite product, because he was, and is still looking, for something new. “Nuts were poorly represented in the market at the time,” he says. “I was simply looking to introduce something new that’s nutritious and tasty. That’s when I thought of nuts.”
He describes himself as self-taught, having learned “on the spot”, by meeting people and asking questions. You just have to talk to him for a few minutes to realize how Mathieu is an incredible listener, how he’s truly interested in what someone is saying and how his natural curiosity leads him to always want to know more. If Mathieu Lévesque didn’t know anything about nuts 15 years ago, he can talk about them for a long, long time now!
The entrepreneur has hit the nail on the head with his focus on nuts. Rich in fibre, healthy fats and protein, nuts have become a staple food for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, but also for any foodie looking for a nutritious snack, a crunchy topping to add to their lunch salads or their cheese platter.
Ave Greene is the place to find hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts and many other types of nuts, solo or mixed; raw, flavoured or plain. There’s really nuts for everyone! Among the most popular are the rosemary/nut mix and the tamari/nut mix. “It’s definitely an everyday product,” says Mathieu Lévesque, who’s noticed that his customers buy from his kiosk on a regular basis. Like the business’ offerings, Ave Greene’s clientele is diverse, much to the delight of its owner.
What makes Mathieu’s nuts unique is the way they are cooked. There are two ways of cooking a raw nut: frying it in oil or roasting it. The latter is the method used by Ave Green. “I roast my quality raw walnuts slowly, in small rotating vats, in my partners’ roasting chambers. They are real experts in this field,” he explains. “A heat exchange takes place that cooks the nut. The nuts are polished by the vat, the salt or the seasonings, which make them crunchy and tasty. That’s micro-roasting, a bit like roasting coffee beans. It’s healthier, tastier. I always say that it’s important to respect the product.”
What’s the best way to enjoy these delicious nuts? With a twinkle in his eye, Mathieu Lévesque lists some of them: “I love using them in cooking for their nutritional value. They add texture to my dishes. I serve nuts as an aperitif, on a plank with cheese and cold cuts, or for dessert. I always add them to my granola at breakfast, with nut butter toast.” And don’t get him started on the subject of dried fruit! He has just as much to say and with just as much passion!
Nuts, More Nuts, But Not Just Nuts!
“Nuts were my gateway to a whole host of related products,” says the enthusiastic entrepreneur, who also offers fabulous homemade nut butters, nut drinks, dried fruits from around the world plus his delicious, creamy fruit compote. Recently, Mathieu Lévesque has also added a section of fine imported products, such as caviar and truffles, as well as a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks.
Who knows what hot nuts new product he will soon add to his shelves? Stay tuned!
Three words to describe Atwater Market?
Essential, passionate, producers and consumers alike! And comprehensive, the market is truly a representation of Québec’s food supply under one roof.
What motivates you on a daily basis?
I love meeting people, I love it when people come back to the shop and tell me about their previous purchases.
The must-have product at Ave Green?
The maple pecan: it’s Québec’s praline. I’ve been lobbying like a nut for local restaurateurs to adopt it!
SEE ALL FAMILY PORTRAITS
Producers, merchants and artisans together make up the Montréal Public Markets’ extended family. For years, often for generations, they’ve been getting up early, experimenting, sometimes starting over, nurturing, harvesting and flourishing! Day after day, they stand proudly behind their stalls as if by their own dining-room table, inviting us to feast. They’re the heart and soul of the markets – their very essence – and the reason we keep coming back. The Family Portrait series aims to pay tribute to all the pillars of our public markets.
This project is funded in partnership with the Ville de Montréal
Text by Virginie Landry, Caribou magazine
Photos by Bodoum Photographie