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Feast Café Bistro owner Christa Bruneau-Guenther says the restaurant prides itself on its commitment to inclusivity: affordable menu items, employment and compensation practices, and food donation programs.Patrick Ryder

Feast Café Bistro is more than just a family style restaurant in Winnipeg. It’s a pillar of the city’s Indigenous community, it’s a bridge with the past, and it’s an opportunity to rebuild culture through food.

Owner Christa Bruneau-Guenther says the restaurant prides itself on its commitment to inclusivity, which extends from its affordable menu items, to its employment and compensation practices, to its food donation programs.

“Food is medicine, it’s healing, it’s wholesome — it gives you a sense of pride and self-worth when you understand who you are through your cultural food,” she explains. “Our food pathways have been rooted in trauma, so being an Indigenous woman, mother and home-cook-turned-chef, I feel a responsibility to create new positive narratives around traditional food and cooking.”

Ms. Bruneau-Guenther’s restaurant, and all of its contributions to the local community, faced an unexpected challenge in early 2020. While many small businesses in Canada were impacted by the pandemic, the food-services industry was particularly vulnerable, especially companies owned by women.

According to Statistics Canada, businesses that were majority-owned by women were more likely to see revenue decline by 30 per cent or more at the start of the pandemic, and they were less likely to be able to take on debt to get through the crisis.

Research conducted by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub found women were also more likely to lay off staff, to shut down, to discontinue or to quit as a result of the pandemic.

“I couldn’t get out of bed the first few nights [of the pandemic] because of the staff,” Ms. Bruneau-Guenther says. “They worked hard to get to where they were, so that was the number one concern.”



Feast was ultimately able to survive thanks to the support of the communities it serves. Within a few days, Ms. Bruneau-Guenther established an online fundraiser to raise money for the restaurant, and used the funds to create and deliver meal kits to those in need.

“Much of Canada’s economy and workforce can be attributed to the collective power of small businesses,” says Nishant Raina, small business lead for Mastercard Canada. He explains that Canada’s economy is built on small-business owners, who comprise 98 per cent of the country’s employer businesses and are responsible for 37.5 per cent of its GDP.

“As we build a more inclusive and diverse small-business community in Canada it is extremely vital to support women-owned small businesses, because their success is our success.”

Cash flow and access to capital remain top of mind for the country’s women-owned small businesses. While many are optimistic that the threat of pandemic-related shutdowns are largely over, they fear the uncertain economic climate that lies ahead.

“Mastercard is helping small businesses navigate some of these challenges, because the ecosystem of support is very important for the small-business community, and Canada is a very small-business-driven economy,” Mr. Raina says. “Mastercard has and will continue to provide small businesses the support and technology to help them grow.”

For example, Mastercard offers cash-flow management tools to provide small-business owners with greater visibility into their financials, and free cybersecurity tools to protect them from digital threats. The company is also a founding partner of Digital Mainstreet, an initiative that helps small businesses reach customers online.

Mastercard recently partnered with Pier Five to provide five women-owned businesses with $10,000 each in funding. The recipients will also receive an invitation to share in a Priceless Experience that will bring these women together from across the country to learn about small-business management from their peers and Mastercard experts.

In October, as part of small-business month, Mastercard is shining a spotlight on women-owned small businesses in the culinary industry as part of its “Secret Sauce” campaign. “In this campaign we showcase the ‘secret sauce’ that women small-business owners have, with a specific focus on grit, resilience and kindness,” Mr. Raina says.

“With Mastercard providing a platform to women who are working in the culinary industry, it can open a dialogue so that we can talk about some ideas to have a better work environment in the future,” says Arianne Faucher, who co-owns Baumier, an organic wine and small-plate restaurant that serves locally inspired dishes in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains.

Ms. Faucher adds that the gender-based discrimination she experienced as a chef is ultimately what inspired her to open a restaurant alongside a long-time male colleague in 2020. “My colleague was doing the same job, but he was making more money, and that’s something we wanted to avoid in our restaurant,” she says. “Getting respect for your work in the kitchen as a chef is a lot harder for women.”

Ms. Faucher’s primary advice to other women is to trust your instinct, and to know your worth.

“If you’re not feeling right about it, get out - don’t put up with not getting respect because you think you’ll learn something. You need to trust your gut, believe in yourself, and you will be successful.”

Fact and figures from the following sources:

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Mastercard. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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