Rise Up Marketplace was not named in homage to the Parachute Club’s all-inclusive activist anthem, circa 1983. Or Andra Day’s rousing inauguration day song, for that matter.
The roots of this symbolic new convenience store in Strathcona go much deeper.
The seeds were planted at Calabash Bistro, a groundbreaking Downtown Eastside restaurant and music lounge which, when it opened in 2010, was one of the very few Caribbean restaurants in our fair city.
While germinating, they entwined with the two other new takeout shops I’m just as excited to tell you about.
Twelve years later, Vancouver’s Afro-Caribbean community has been slowly but steadily growing. The Black Lives Matter movement nourished fertile soil. The seedlings are finally sprouting.
And it’s time for celebration.
Rise Up Marketplace
704 Vernon Dr., Vancouver, 604-251-3815, riseupmarketplace.com
In the middle of a torrential downpour on a Saturday afternoon only two weeks after opening, Rise Up Marketplace feels like a buzzing hive of warmth and sweetness.
Chaka Khan’s sultry voice is spinning from a turntable behind the counter, in a cozy space painted sunny yellow, green and red with a sky-blue ceiling.
In one front window, three men are huddled close together, gobbling beef and mushroom patties with childlike abandon and loud moans of appreciation.
In the other window, a mother packs up the remains of shredded jerk chicken and zesty Sloppy George sandwiches on squishy, rosemary-scented sourdough and gently peels her daughter off the Pac-Man station.
In the back room, a young couple peruse shelves filled with skin creams, candles, T-shirts, knit tuques, piri piri sauce and nut butters, all locally made, mostly by small Black-owned businesses.
“Our game is to bring community together and make it convenient,” co-owner Roger Collins later explains in a Zoom call.
“The Black community in Vancouver is small. It needs a place to connect and find the things we need and desire all in one spot. There are some great shops in New Westminster – but that’s a long way to drive for a tub of shea butter.”
Mr. Collins and his business partner, Rajesh (Rags) Narine grew up together in Mississauga, Ont. In their twenties, their stomping grounds were the vibrant, multicultural streets of Toronto’s Kensington Market, on which Rise Up is modelled in microcosm.
After moving to Vancouver in the early aughts, they launched Foundation Radio, an online station and events company, which supported local artists and infused the city with a hot, sticky breath of soul, funk, hip hop and afrobeats.
The radio station later made its home in Calabash Bistro’s basement lounge, where Mr. Collins was, and still is, the music director and co-owner, alongside Sam Willcocks and chef Cullin David.
Mr. Narine was a Calabash Bistro cook, who went on to revolutionize Vancouver’s pastry scene as a co-owner of Cartems Donuts.
When the opportunity came along to take over Vernon Drive Grocery, the location of the century-old grocery store – just a hop, skip and a jump from historic Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s first Black neighbourhood – felt skin-tinglingly auspicious.
At the time, both were going through life-altering episodes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having laid off most of his staff, Mr. Collins was working the Calabash lounge on his own. One night while driving home burnt out and exhausted, he fell asleep at the wheel, crashed and almost died. He was in hospital for four months.
Mr. Narine, who was working a similarly frenzied schedule at Cartems, had developed osteoarthritis. In the weeks leading up a hip-replacement surgery, he was still waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to bake, but could barely walk.
“It was like the universe was telling both of us it was time for a change,” Mr. Narine says.
Bara Caribbean Cuisine
2009-88 West Pender St., Vancouver, 236-427-3920, baracaribbean.com
Worlds keep colliding – and lifting higher – at Bara Caribbean Cuisine, a new takeout stall in the International Village Mall, where Darron Hastick and his team aim to create the Tacofino of Caribbean cuisine.
In the early days of Calabash Bistro, Mr. Hastick was a partner. He’s a big fan of Rise Up, stopping by almost every day for a patty (which, by the way, are supplied by two new Caribbean ghost kitchens, Elbo and Yardie Grabz).
And when building Rise Up Marketplace, Mr. Collins and Mr. Narine would order from Bara.
All three of us highly recommend the doubles, the famous street food from Trinidad. The soft, turmeric-laced fry bread sandwich is loaded with curried chickpeas and brilliantly bright tamarind and mango-cucumber chutneys. The bread holds up surprisingly well for takeout, but you might want to order it unbuilt and assemble it at home.
Caribbean cuisine is a hotbed of friendly debate. Every island puts its own twist on the classics. And local restaurateurs often face scrutiny from customers – because nobody can make oxtail stew or a fry bake and saltfish as good as their moms.
Mr. Hastick, who is also a co-owner of Port Moody’s Taps and Tacos, has a collaborative menu that hops across the islands. The macaroni pie is a Bajan recipe – “a little more cheesy and dense than we do it in Trinidad,” he explains.
But many dishes, such as the sweetly glazed guava jerk chicken, are new inventions.
“The Jamaicans are like, ‘What is this guava jerk nonsense?’ But they all come back and they love it.”
Baby Dhal Roti Shop
2707 Commercial Dr., Vancouver, 604-566-7684, babydhalroti.com
This new Commercial Drive takeout joint, which makes light and fluffy, crumbly split-pea-filled dhal puri worthy of the name, also has a Calabash Bistro connection. Co-owner Roy Hinkson (aka DJ Abel) used to spin for Foundation Radio and threw events in the lounge.
But the real roti royalty lineage comes from his partner, Dana Mohammed. She is the daughter of Shak Mohammed, owner of New Westminster’s D Roti Shak, which is widely considered the best roti shop in the entire Lower Mainland – alongside Rehanah’s Roti & Trinidadian in Port Moody.
When her father had a health scare two years, she temporarily took over the kitchen. When she and Mr. Hinkson decided to start a business together, they considered opening a roti commissary until a storied location on Commercial Drive, home to Jamaican Pizza Jerk for 18 years, came available.
Whatever curry you order, the dhal puri roti wrap is a must add.
But they also do beautifully buttery buss up shuts – a flaky, torn-apart parantha flatbread that requires meticulous folding and resting. Order it as a side for the thick, deeply spiced oxtail stew, which falls off bones in glorious gobs of marrow fattiness.
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