Getting a restaurant up and running can be challenging, especially when you’re far from home. Learn how these five Canadian restaurateurs found success by honouring their roots and giving back.
Ask any restaurateur what keeps them going, and chances are, you’ll hear a few stories about where they come from.
Especially for restaurant owners who emigrated from other countries, culinary traditions play an important role in keeping them grounded in their new homeland while staying connected to their past.
Opening a restaurant is a feat that requires boundless energy and focus. It is also a labour of love, whereby chefs can nourish their customers — and entire communities — by honouring their cultures’ foods and traditions.
Restaurants as an extension of family
Chieff Bosompra originally opened Aunty Lucy’s Burgers — a hip joint in downtown Toronto — to honour his grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named. “She was my guiding light, someone who always believed in my ideas,” he says.
Aunty Lucy’s pays homage to Bosompra’s native country of Ghana with its smashburgers named after well-known Ghananian destinations, as well as popular regional street foods such as Kelewele, fried plantain.
For Asha Wheeldon, the founder of Afro-Vegan Kula Kitchen, opening her restaurant was a family affair, too. Wheeldon was 11 years old when her family moved to Canada from Kenya. “I learned about working with dough from my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother,” she says. “I want to honour some of those inspirations by offering nourishing, plant-based foods.”
At Kula Kitchen, she leans heavily on the use of fresh vegetables, offering them up with an East African flavour profile that diners love.
And for Akil Jassani, owner of Calgary-based Take it and Go, family is at the centre of all that he does. “Seeing my parents and the struggle that they went through immigrating to Canada, a lot of our work together is trying to push them forward and trying to grow as a family as well as a business,” he says.
Jassani operates Tikka N Tequila, an Indian Mexican fusion food truck, as well as Confetti, a food truck focused entirely on sweet desserts. He honours his Indian heritage by incorporating his family’s recipes into his dishes.
Tikka N Tequila’s samosas are a good example. “Not a lot of people take the time to fold it themselves anymore,” he says with pride.
For Deepak Chadha of Whitby-based Signature Indian Cuisine, family is also at the core of his restaurant’s offering — steeped in Indian culinary traditions. He credits his mother for teaching him the craft of cooking, rolling bread on the kitchen counter. And he credits his wife as his motivation to keep going. “Family is the backbone of where we are today,” he says. “At the end of the day, this is for family, to family, and with family.”
Restaurants build community
Itamar Shani, the chef and owner of Vancouver-based Chickpea, is a restaurateur who has taken the creation of community to heart in all of his efforts. His restaurant’s motto is: “Help us spread the Chickpeace.”
Hailing from Israel, Shani states: “Chickpea is not just a business; we try to create community.”
Having gone through his own rough patch when he wasn’t able to find work upon his initial arrival in Canada, he wanted to make life easier for his workers.
“We encourage individuality so each person can be themself. When I first came to this location, I walked around and talked with people, and immediately felt a sense of community. Main Street has a vibe of futuristic, progressive thinking. I felt welcomed. I opened this place in order to be a part of this new thinking.”
Kula Kitchen’s Asha Wheeldon draws a vital connection between food and people as well. “I’m from Kenya, and one of the first values I learned was around connection through sharing space, sharing resources. Food allowed me to connect with the community.”
Restaurants help give back
Especially for immigrant-owned, woman-owned, and other under-resourced groups, restaurants can serve as an opportunity to give something back to the community. This has certainly been the case for Chieff Bosompra of Aunty Lucy’s.
“I’m prideful of my background, and this is my way of giving back to my country and my community,” Bosompra says. “I want to show kids from different backgrounds that you can jump into a space that’s unrepresented. If you have an idea, something you’ve been wanting to do, just try it.”
Asha Wheeldon feels a similar passion about being seen and represented in the larger community. Wheeldon felt like something was missing after moving to Vancouver. “It was one of the first things I noticed. Spaces seemed to be missing Black voices, Black food, and Black culture.”
With Kula Foods, she is beginning to change that. “I want to create access to healthy and nourishing plant-based foods.”
DoorDash Impact grants can help level the playing field and increase access to opportunity for small businesses owned by women, immigrants, and people of colour. Merchants enrolled in Entrepreneurship & Access programs get connected to resources and benefits such as low-interest capital, technical assistance and education, and opportunities for increased visibility.
Hard work, perseverance, and partnership
These five restaurateurs know what it takes to start and grow a business. As Itamar Shani says: “You have to be patient, stay focused, calm your mind, and then just do.”
A delivery partner such as DoorDash can also play an important role in engineering a restaurant for growth. Kula Foods’ Asha Wheeldon says: “DoorDash has created opportunities by introducing us to a larger market.”
Take It and Go’s Akil Jassani said he appreciated the extra touches DoorDash offered when he was getting up and running. “DoorDash made a great first impression: stickers that we can use to seal our products, gift cards that we can give away to loyal customers, or signage to help out our Dashers to find locations. Those little things go a long way when it’s something you’ve never done before.”
Of course, another benefit of DoorDash is revenue growth — like the 15-20 per cent increase in revenue Signature Indian saw since signing up with DoorDash.
If you’re a restaurant owner looking to grow your delivery services, sign up for DoorDash.