Good morning! Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.
The pandemic has been a cudgel that has smashed through norms in every facet of Canadian life. But while some industries have been flattened and are struggling to recreate themselves, some restauranteurs in Vancouver are finding opportunity and a path to success that was difficult to find before COVID-19. Food writer Alexandra Gill has found some of those people are bakers and chefs of colour, people who would have had a tough time competing against the advantages some of the large chain restaurants and established proprietors have long enjoyed.
The biggest beneficiaries are Vancouver diners.
Alex introduces us this weekend to Asha Wheeldon, the chef-owner of Kula Kitchen, who was struggling to find new retail outlets for her Afro-vegan stews and sauces. Alex writes that countless closed doors had already led Ms. Wheeldon into catering, where she was just beginning to crack the lucrative wedding market. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she lost all her contracts overnight. After a major pivot, Ms. Wheeldon now sells her frozen sakuma stew and jarred pili pili sauce through several online shops and virtual markets, including this weekend’s BIPOC Foods Vancouver Pop-Up.
Since mid-April, she has also spent every Saturday afternoon zooming across town to deliver preordered family style meals – which include large steaming containers of portobello-potato curries over toasty rice and beans, leafy bunches of collard greens and cardamom-scented mandazi doughnuts – direct to customers. The home-delivery model, which allows Ms. Wheeldon to give back to the community by selling products for fellow food startups and to donate 5 per cent of proceeds to local social enterprises that support Black lives, isn’t just the most rewarding experience she’s enjoyed since launching Kula Kitchen three years ago. With an average of 300 orders each week, it’s also the most profitable.
Ms. Wheeldon, who came to Canada as a teenager from Kenya, tells Alex: “I can’t stop thinking about what my mom always says about Sadaqah: Give what you have and it will always come back.”
There is also Mona Ong Johannus and her niece Tess Tham, who cook ambrosial laksa curries, next-level chicken wings strewn with fragrant slivers of lime leaf and exquisite nyonya kueh rice-cake desserts through Bibik’s Singaporean + Peranakan Pop-Up. About a year ago, they began holding occasional dinner parties at YVR Prep, a commissary kitchen in Burnaby, where they rent space for $25 an hour. Their dream was to someday open a restaurant or takeout shop of their own. Now they make an astounding 65-per-cent profit margin on 100 home-delivered meals a week.
And there is Dan Villasin, the new owner of Coco Cakes YVR, who began baking up a storm after he was furloughed from his job as a massage therapist. Mr. Villasin’s rainbow-coloured mochi cakes, a modern fusion of traditional Filipino recipes, were a home-delivery hit through Instagram. He has since moved into a commercial kitchen, hired two part-time workers and is earning more money (all poured back into the business) than he did as a massage therapist.
This is his first food venture and he doesn’t have any baking background or culinary training.
“It’s insane,” the 22-year-old cake maker tells Alex of his first food venture, which has become a full-time business. “We launched on Instagram on April 19 and just exploded.
“COVID sucks. That’s for sure. But it’s amazing how it has created all these new ways of doing business.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST
RETURNING TO SCHOOL: On Wednesday, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said that when schools open on Sept. 8, students will be grouped into cohorts called “learning groups” in efforts to mitigate potential spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure quicker contact tracing. These learning groups can include up to 60 people in elementary and middle school, and up to 120 in secondary school. The students won’t necessarily be in the same class, but will be able to interact during breaks and in common areas such as libraries and playgrounds.
Alberta announced its plan for school last week. Classes will resume in September under near-normal conditions, with some safety protocols in place. Students will attend full-time while teachers juggle larger class sizes and school boards search for money to pay for increased safety measures.The announcement set off a heated debate. Some teachers and parents worry that classrooms could become COVID-19 hot spots; the province argues that, while some infections are inevitable, it’s possible – and necessary for the economy – to get kids back into school. While many parents and students across Canada hope to return to school, Albertans are the most likely to keep their children home, according to a survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies on July 27.
KELOWNA’S COVID-19 CLUSTERS: Health officials are issuing a stern reminder about COVID-19 safety in Kelowna, B.C., as a cluster of cases linked to Canada Day events has now evolved into widespread community transmission. In the first week of July, revellers flocked to the Okanagan Valley city and packed private parties in vacation rentals, resorts and houseboats. In the following weeks, dozens of people who attended these events began testing positive for coronavirus. As of Tuesday, contact tracers had confirmed 79 cases. But it soon became apparent that the virus had spread even further. Along with four new confirmed cases on Thursday, the “Kelowna cluster” now comprises 130 COVID-19 cases – more than half of all active cases in British Columbia. In comparison, the city had just four cases in late June.
SASKATCHEWAN MURDER: Cindy McEwen said her 21-year-old son Logan Ring was the type of person who cared enough to put other people first, including her, even while the young father dealt with his own methamphetamine addiction and dealing cannabis illegally. The last thing he texted about was getting a new vehicle. That was in November, 2016, after attending treatment and just days before his body was discovered in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, north of Swift Current. Five people all known to each other and to Mr. Ring were charged with his killing, including a family of three: Tanisha Perrault, who was 19 at the time, and her separated parents, Collin Perrault and Jolene Epp. Details of what happened the night Mr. Ring was killed have been subject to a publication ban as each of the accused answered to their charges since their arrests three years ago. Tuesday marked the final step of the court progress, with Ms. Epp pleading guilty to accessory after the fact to murder. The judge accepted a joint submission by the Crown and defence for her to serve one year and 251 days behind bars.
ALASKA LOOPHOLE: Canada is cracking down on U.S. citizens passing through British Columbia to Alaska with newly announced rules that include travellers having to display signs in their vehicles identifying themselves as Americans and naming a date for their exit from Canadian territory. The new rules took effect on Friday.
INDIGENOUS INVESTMENT IN ALBERTA: The Alberta government has appointed a CIBC executive to lead a Crown corporation that will provide $1-billion in loan guarantees to Indigenous groups seeking to buy into resource and infrastructure projects such as pipelines. Alicia Dubois, who identifies as Indigenous and is currently the vice-president for Indigenous markets at the bank, will become chief executive of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., or AIOC, on Sept. 1. The Crown corporation was a United Conservative Party platform promise from last year’s election – part of a series of measures designed to promote the province’s energy sector, encourage Indigenous participation and overcome opposition, including from some First Nations.
ROCKY RAMBO WEI NAM KAM SENTENCING: A man who blamed his addiction to video games for killing a randomly chosen Vancouver couple has been sentenced to 25 years before being eligible for parole by a judge who rejected a Crown appeal for 50 years. Justice Laura Gerow told a B.C. Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday that 25 years was sufficient because few multiple murderers are released on parole and, in any event, the parole board would not release Rocky Rambo Wei Nam Kam, now 27, unless it was safe to do so. In September, 2017, Mr. Kam, who had recently arrived in B.C. after earning an economics degree in Alberta, went roaming a Vancouver neighbourhood, and invaded the home of Dianna Mah-Jones, 64, and her 68-year-old husband, Richard Jones. At trial, a psychologist testifying for the defence said Mr. Kam may have been in a “gaming consciousness” when he committed the crimes so he could not form intent. However, Justice Gerow noted there was no evidence that Mr. Kam suffered from mental disorders.
VANCOUVER TRANSIT RIDERSHIP NUMBERS: In the world before COVID-19, Vancouver’s increasingly successful transit agency hit a peak in 2019. According to its just-released report for the year on ridership, the transit system – one of the star performers in the U.S. and Canada – saw a record high of 453 million boardings and one more year in which the proportion of additional rides far exceeded population growth. Now, TransLink senior managers say it could be as long as three to five years before the system gets back to those levels, with the region facing the potential for a second wave of shutdowns, a longer-term recession, and some degree of permanent work restructuring as office jobs and education shift online.
OIL SECTORS WANT OTTAWA TO RETHINK SUPPORT PROGRAM: Canada’s oil and gas producers say a series of federal liquidity-support programs designed to help the sector through a pandemic-caused crisis are ineffective and overly prescriptive. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an oil lobby group, is pushing the federal government to rejig the programs launched through Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada, along with the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility program, and help the energy sector “before it’s too late.”
BAIL HEARING DELAYED FOR RIDEAU HALL SUSPECT: The man accused of ramming through a gate at Rideau Hall while heavily armed is staying in an Ontario jail for another three weeks. Corey Hurren was arrested July 2 and has not yet had a bail hearing. He had a brief, virtual appearance in an Ottawa courtroom Friday morning, only to have Aug. 21 set as the date for his next appearance.
Kelly Cryderman on federal money for Alberta: “This month, the minister’s communications staff sent unprompted e-mails to The Globe and Mail including a data chart for the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. This is a federal program offering interest-free, partially forgivable loans to help with COVID-19-related financial hardship for small- and medium-sized businesses. The chart shows that of the Western provinces, Alberta businesses have received more loans and money than those in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined. But those who make the argument on these data points, that Albertans should just be quiet and be grateful to exist in such a country where we bail each other out, are wrong.”
Gary Mason on mask rage: “Among all of the intrusions into our lives for which COVID-19 is responsible, none seems more divisive and angst-inducing than the wearing of masks. The thought of putting a piece of cloth over one’s face has the ability to turn some humans into the vilest form of themselves.”
Adrienne Tanner on the turmoil in Vancouver’s NPA party: “When it comes to flushing an opportunity down the drain, the latest shining example comes from Vancouver’s venerable right-of-centre civic party, the Non-Partisan Association. After electing a near majority of five councillors in 2018 to sit on a hodgepodge council devoid of organizing logic, the NPA seemed well-positioned to win in 2022, all else being equal. Except they just can’t seem to get along.”
Joseph Quesnel on including First Nations communities in pandemic-response planning: “As Canada moves from pandemic crisis response toward recovery, the innovative natural-resource economy must play a central role. And as a result, Canada will need First Nations as full participants and partners in the natural-resource-based recovery.”