After being barred from board meetings, asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and “ignored” for years, Luke Weller is speaking out against Tourism Kelowna.
The owner of Ogopogo Parasail is spearheading a small group of Tourism Kelowna members who say the marketing organization’s new information centre will cripple their businesses.
The new building will open at the foot of Queensway Avenue this year. One of its services will see staff book activities for visitors through an online system (and collect commissions for each booking it finalizes).
Weller says that will put the centre in direct competition with its neighbours, who sell tickets out of a waterfront kiosk right next to the new centre. That’s a problem, he says, because those businesses are Tourism Kelowna members.
Weller explains that having an information centre booking activities right next door will cut into his businesses dramatically, as people who have just blown their budgets booking tours will pass him and his colleagues by.
Fifty-five per cent of his business comes from foot traffic, and he says Tourism Kelowna is “effectively bringing the entire valley to our doorstep to compete with us.”
“I think competing against your own stakeholders… it just shouldn’t be happening.”
Weller and others—like ail, Kelowna Cruises, HydroFly Kelowna, and Okanagan Adventures—are also angry at what they feel has been poor treatment by the organization, after they have spent years asking it to scrap its booking plans.
Not at the table
At its last meeting, the Tourism Kelowna board reviewed the group’s concerns and voted to move ahead with its booking plans.
No representatives from the complaining businesses were there, and it’s still unclear exactly how their concerns were represented.
Tom Killingsworth, the chairman of the Tourism Kelowna board, met with Weller after the meeting to go over the decision, but the board has so far continued to refuse Weller’s request to speak to them personally.
Weller is incensed by this, and says he is “amazed” the board showed no interest in hearing directly from the people its decisions stand to considerably affect.
Killingsworth says the issue simply isn’t as big a deal as Weller is making it out to be.
“I understand how upset Luke is getting… I understand what his approach is… but what is there to talk about?” he said.
Killingsworth said the information centre will actually help the next-door businesses. The board has already made up its mind on that “so bringing him to the board meeting is not really going to change anything.”
He said he’s “not opposed” to hearing from Weller personally if it’s that important to him, but that he doesn’t “understand what it’s going to do.”
The few vs. the many
Ayn Lexi of Okanagan Adventures says Tourism Kelowna is being “extremely combative” and “not listening to our concerns,” but Killingsworth says it’s not fair to “do for one what we aren’t prepared to do for all.”
“We represent 380 businesses, and we need to be fair to all of them… we can’t just treat these businesses that are going to be next door to us now any differently,” he said.
He reiterated that the board actually believes having the centre next door will benefit the businesses in the kiosk, becuase staff will be pointing visitors in their direction.
“We’re all concerned every time a stakeholder is concerned… but when we reviewed this we don’t see that we’re going to have a negative impact on his business,” he said.
Tourism Kelowna has also offered the next-door businesses a marketing package for the first year, to try and show it’s being a “good neighbour.”
Weller called the package “insulting.”
“That package is worth about $400 to other members. I stand to lose $400 a day easily,” he said.
Commission, or cost recovery?
Weller and Ayn both claim the organization plans to use the money it collects through the commissions to help fund the new information centre.
The organization is putting up the $2.8 million building without financial help from the City of Kelowna, but did receive a $500,000 grant for construction costs from the provincial government.
Killingsworth says tickets sold at the new centre are more “cost recovery” than “commissions.”
“It’s not really a business, we’re just going to cover the cost of having people stand there and talk about a business on behalf of our stakeholders,” he says. “We’re not making money off this thing.”
Staff at the new centre have always booked guests for their clients, and at the new centre will expand that service to start booking for them directly over the internet.
Killingsworth said the centre will charge a fee for the service, but that it will just be to cover the cost of credit card transactions and the booking software.
The matter of the NDA
Weller questions this, and has asked Tourism Kelowna for the minutes from its last meeting so he can both review the numbers and more broadly see how his and others’ concerns were represented to the board.
Tourism Kelowna has been cagey about the request.
In an email, Killingsworth told Weller he would have to get the minutes approved by the board before he can release them. He also said Weller would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement if he wants to see them.
Lexi called the email, which also tells Weller Tourism Kelowna staff will no longer respond to Weller’s emails, calls, or in-person visits “horrible” and “bullying,” and says she was shocked when Weller shared it with her.
Killingsworth says Weller has been very vocal and very persistent in his interactions with Tourism Kelowna staff, and the NDA is a kind of precautionary measure.
“When someone starts to elevate their level of anxiety and I end up having to talk to people in the news about it, instead of having a conversation, I need to understand what their intent is,” Killingsworth says. “It’s becoming so intense that now I have to watch everything I say.”
He adds that the NDA will explain what the purpose of the meeting minutes is.
“It’s a matter of we’ve got work to do… and so I guess it (the NDA) is to try and keep moving things forward in a way that’s comfortable,” he says.
At Tourism Kelowna’s next board meeting is later this month the board will vote to approve the minutes. Weller says he’s waiting to see what will happen next.
If you’ve spent an evening in downtown Kelowna recently, you might have seen a somewhat strange sight: a lad (or lady) pulling passengers down the street, almost like a horse in bridle, in a bright red, two-wheeled contraption.
The contraption is a rickshaw, and the runner will have been from Last of the Old Kind, a newly arrived rickshaw company in the city.
Dyand Sagar and Franziska Fischer are the couple at the head of the business.
LATOK is already a staple on the east coast, having operated in Halifax for about five years. Now, the pair have brought the idea to the streets of Kelowna and are in the process of building a team of rickshaw runners to hit the streets this summer.
“Usually when people jump in a rickshaw the first thing they do is pull out Snapchat or Instagram,” Sagar says.
That novelty and uniqueness that LOTOK is selling.
LOTOK was born in a city famous for its busking culture, and much of the business reflects that fact.
While a rickshaw ride will get you from Point A to Point B, Fischer points out that just getting around really isn’t the point.
“It’s about making it an experience. How you get there doesn’t matter, as long as everyone has a really good time,” she says.
Depending on which LOTOK runner picks you up, that experience can change significantly.
Sagar likes to flirt and joke with his passengers; Fischer, who appears small in stature, often ends up dragging two or three giant dudes through the streets; another of their runners just blazes through the streets, running as fast as he can.
The runners are all in tip-top shape, and the most adventurous of them will pull their passengers along as they run up walls, do giant lifts, or even walk on their hands. Usually, there’s also music, some playful banter, and shouts from people on the street.
“It’s entertainment. It’s not so much transportation as an event in itself,” Fischer says.
The runners all rent the rickshaws from LOTOK, and make their money off donations from their passengers.
That model, Sagar says, actually ends up working a lot better than a set rate (like you would see in a taxi) because passengers wowed by the experience of a rickshaw ride are usually happy to shell out a little extra.
Saar explains that when he tells his passengers he works by donations they usually immediately think of a number in their head.
“Then I get them in, and I tell some jokes, and they’re laughing. Then I lift up the rickshaw. Then I put on their favourite song, so now their song is playing. Now I go and run up the wall…and they’re super excited. So you drop them off and they think, that was worth way more than I thought.”
At the end of the day, however, Sagar says he’s not really in it for the money.
“I don’t really do it for the money, I just do it because it’s a lot of fun,” he says.
Right now, LOTOK works primarily at night, catering to the bar scene. However, they say they will soon start running in the daytime as well.
Along with traditional place-to-place runs, they are also putting together several different rickshaw tours of the city. More information is available on LOTOK’s website.
Because they’re located a little out of the way, and because their customers are mostly military and police institutions, many in the Okanagan know little or nothing about HNZ Topflight.
But the helicopter training facility is one of the oldest businesses in the Okanagan Valley, and has quietly become recognized as one of the best mountain helicopter training schools in the world.
Although it’s now slickly branded and operating out of a world-class new facility, HNZ Topflight can trace its existence back to Aug. 9, 1947, when an open-roofed helicopter flew from Yakima, Washington to the Okanagan Valley.
Back then, a company called Okanagan Air Services used the craft—which was the first commercially licensed helicopter in Canada—to spray insecticides on local fruit tree orchards.
The fledgling company would eventually become Canadian Helicopters, and in 1951 begin teaching mountain flying techniques to Canadian Air Force pilots out of its Penticton facility.
Canadian Helicopters has since grown into a national, multi-faceted company. Through it all, however, the Penticton base has remained one of the premier mountain training operations in the entire world.
“Everything started right here, and the company has turned into a worldwide company,” Dave Schwartzenberger said last month as he gazed at a framed photo of the craft on HNZ’s wall.
Schwartzenberger is a former RCMP pilot and flight instructor who now works as the general manager of HNZ Topflight.
In 2012 the Penticton team moved into its new facility, which is an impressive structure filled with cozy classrooms and sunlit common spaces.
“The whole idea was for it to be a world-class facility, and match the training we do here,” Schwartzenberger explained.
Today, a team of nine instructor/pilots train helicopter pilots from around the world, who come to the centre for advanced training in how to fly in the mountains.
The flight school runs monthly mountain flying courses, and any given course’s pupils might include pilots from the Canadian Air Force, the German Army, the Norwegian Air Force, the RCMP, U.S. government agencies, or others.
In the school’s main classroom an instructor sat in conversation with an American pilot. Lining the walls were small models of canyons, mountains, hills, and plateaus, marked with coloured arrows indicating how air moves around them.
Schwartzenberger explained that many of their students are highly experienced pilots, but that it takes a special kind of training to be able to comfortably and safely take a helicopter through mountainous terrain.
“What we teach is we teach about terrain airflow,” he said, gesturing his hands around one of the models. “Any time you put a building or a large object like a mountain in the way, that air vectors up and down and around the feature.”
You need to “know the wind” and be able to identify visual illusions to keep safe, he added, and that’s what they teach at the school.
Schwartzenberger said he’s surprised that many people in the Okanagan don’t really know what HNZ Topflight does, or in many cases that it’s even there.
That’s a shame, he says, because the school’s been bringing a steady stream of international visitors through Penticton for decades.
“It’s amazing what our clients do,” he said with a chuckle. “They do wine tastings, ATV tours, all the tourist stuff—more than I do in a year.”
Along with that, the school is also the biggest tenant at the Penticton airport.
The facility’s pilots also frequently fly on search and rescue missions and help fight forest fires. Thankfully for those pilots, Schwartzenberger said, the school has come a long way from its open-cockpit days.
In partnership with South Okanagan Immigrant Community Services, Castanet Penticton is publishing the stories of 14 local multicultural champions from 10 countries over the next year, once a month. Today we feature one of those stories on Okanagan Edge.
Michal and Martina Mosny reached a crossroads in their homeland of Slovakia. They were operating a small boutique winery and Michal also had another full time job working at a major winery. They were overwhelmed by the workload and had to make a decision about what direction to take with their careers.
“We both decided that we should try something crazy because maybe when we get older we might regret not doing it,” explains Michal. That something crazy turned out to be migrating from Slovakia to Canada. “It has been crazy. From the beginning, everything has gone by so fast. But we’re taking advantage of the opportunity here and going with the flow.”
Having worked in the wine industry, the Okanagan seemed like a logical place for the couple to settle. “We saw a documentary on tv about ‘Wineries Around The World’ and it featured wineries in the Okanagan. We did some research online and saw that the climate was favourable here and there’s wine. So, why not check it out.”
They started a vineyard management company and began consulting and managing vineyards in the Penticton area. Eventually, they connected with a group of investors who wanted to start a vineyard and winery in Summerland.
The Mosnys have experienced some negative sentiments from Canadians who are upset that they’re taking jobs away. But they feel that reaction is normal. “If I was back home and foreigners were taking jobs in Slovakia I would feel the same way too. But it’s never been our intention just to make money and go back home. We want to live here and start a family.”
Michal feels he has something unique to offer Canada in relation to his expertise in vineyards and winemaking. “Here in Canada, I think there is an opportunity to make wines with art and better understanding vineyards and unique wines that represent the Okanagan. The difference is making wines using only what mother-nature gives you. Not using additives.”
Michal was also fortunate to share his expertise in honey wines that are really popular in Slovakia. “I never expected to find honey wines here. So, to get the opportunity to work with them here was very exciting.” The couple believe their biggest success has been the launch of their own label; Winemaker’s CUT, producing a Syrah and a Sauvignon Blanc using Slovakian barrels.
Martina was an elementary school teacher, in Slovakia, teaching gifted students. But because her English wasn’t up to par she worked as a nanny. She also worked with the boys and girls club and as a child care worker with South Okanagan Immigrant Society.
After taking a bookkeeping course at Okanagan College, Martina landed a job as bookkeeper at the winery Michal was managing. But her responsibilities grew beyond bookkeeping. She started answering phones, hosting wine-tastings and other tasks. “After a couple of years, I realized what a great opportunity this was. I could do something very interesting and still grow. I didn’t have to worry about whether I would be able to teach in Canada. That was very important to me.”
The one big feature Michal and Martina like about Canada is the friendliness. “When you walk down the street or sit on a bench by the lake, people will say hi and talk to you. You don’t get that same reception back home in Slovakia. There is so much stress and competition there.
Our main goal here is to be happy and enjoy life…and that’s what we’re doing,” extols Michal.
“Coming here and starting from zero and having nothing. I will remember for the rest of my life. I realize I had nothing so I had nothing to lose and I and I find myself being very happy,” says Martina.
Bruce Buffalo, the founder of Maskwacis Fibre, is a man who grew up bouncing around foster homes and struggling to make ends meet. Despite this, today he is driven to help others rise up out of poverty and life circumstances to lead a better life.
Buffalo believes in the power of information and Maskwacis Fibre is on a mission to give the community of Maskwacis something millions of other Canadians take for granted: access to the internet.
Buffalo started in 2016, building Samson Cree Nation community its own public and free high-speed network.
“You have to make a difference when you can and where you can,” says Buffalo. “Just start where you can.”
Maskwacis Fibre, soon to be a registered non-profit society, has goals far beyond traditional online connectivity.
The end game is to sustainably provide connectivity and access to rural and First Nations communities across the entire country and to empower these communities to uncover for themselves that technology can be a powerful force for good.
Buffalo believes connectivity and access is key to promoting continued learning, enabling self-sufficient best-practices, and maintaining a thriving community—but he is hopeful that connectivity is just the first step.
Future plans for Maskwacis Fibre include creating a centre for technology that can act as both a community gathering place, an incubator for budding entrepreneurs, and a training hub for students.
Maskwacis is an impoverished Canadian community grappling with addiction, unemployment, and suicide. Like many other indigenous reserves, it’s a place with little access or connection. There are no landlines, patchy mobile service and no affordable ways to get online.
Convinced that connectivity will open up new job and education opportunities, Maskwacis Fibre has developed a system that offers four free access points in the community. Residence members can connect to the network through a web-based gateway, which also offers some content filtering (blocking inappropriate content).
Buffalo used his home Internet connection as a network gateway, and then built WiFi repeaters to distribute the signal to the surrounding area.
Users can connect to the internet and to apps like social media, as well as voice-over-IP telephone, by logging in on their devices.
The multi-point system now broadcasts a WiFi signal from four antennas located at his uncle’s house, his sister’s house, the community radio station (Hawk Radio), and the local Friendship Centre.
We recently caught up with “Broadband Bruce” to get his thoughts on the digital divide, the importance of a good ladder, and his budding relationship with the University of Alberta.
Q. Why is access to the Internet an issue for your community and what makes you think changing this will have such an impact?
A. They say that 99% of Canadians have access to the Internet but that’s 99% of Canadians who live in towns or cities with infrastructure. Most rural places and First Nations Communities – they don’t have that infrastructure and if they do, it comes with a huge cost. From a connectivity standpoint, there is a huge gap. A lot of these First Nations communities are so low income that unless it’s free, it’s really not accessible.
Q. What inspired you to try and solve this problem?
A. Well, I always lived in a city and had access to the Internet so I learned early on that there were many advantages to having access to information. I want my own kids and the people of my community to have access to good education and I want them to have reliable communication systems. I believe this will improve the lives of the community.
It wasn’t until I started poking around with my own wifi networks that I realized I could do the same for the entire community. Once I started working on the community wifi, I realized, this could actually be something I can do for other First Nations communities across the country.
Q. Once you got your community network set up, what did it feel like to hit the ‘on’ switch for the time?
A. I was sort of happy and frustrated. I was happy because it was running but there was still a lot of work that needed to be done. We are running a very basic system. I think I started out with like $1500, two access points, and a switch. The idea was to just start small and then build from there.
Q. What kind of feedback or reaction have you been getting from the community?
A. People seemed to really appreciate the service when we first got it up and running but we’ve had a lot of connectivity issues and that affects the quality of service we can provide. One of our biggest challenges was equipment but we’ve now got most of our equipment upgraded and got rid of all our old hardware. One of our main challenges right now is creating a relationship with an internet service provider. At the moment we’re essentially using a residential connection but we really need something stronger.
Q. Do you have any community or Industry partners?
A. We are currently working with Dr Rob McMahon and his electrical engineering students Tushar Sharma and David Garrett from the University of Alberta. Dr. Rob has done a lot of work on the First Nations Last Mile Connectivity and First Mile Connectivity projects for communities. This is a program to provide connectivity for communities who otherwise would not have access.
My system in Maskwacis is a First Mile system that provides Last Mile connectivity. I love working with the University and the students because we are able to help and learn from each other.
Q. What is next for Maskwacis Fibre? What are some of the challenges you have yet to overcome?
A. We currently do not have a backup system and we really should have one. Equipment is also always a need. We are hungry for equipment over here. Access point, point-to-point equipment, mounting equipment, hardware—we need it all. We are also coming up on the end of our pre-paid system fees so we will be looking for ways to fund this and efficiencies in how we partner.
Maskwacis Fibre is also receiving mentorship from Nicole Rustad, Founder & Chief Impact Officer of Kelowna-based VortoVia for guidance on business aspects and successfully operating a non-profit society.
A “luxury” cab company in West Kelowna is trying to change the way people in the city think about taxis.
Pawen Auleth, a part-owner of WestCabs, says he and his partners started the company in July to “fill in the grey areas” they felt were being missed by taxi companies serving the Westside.
“We really believed that the dollar value that was being spent on taxi cabs here wasn’t justifying the service that was being offered,” Auleth explained.
Since taxi rates in B.C. are pre-determined by the provincial government WestCabs couldn’t charge less than anyone else.
So to give people the most bang for their buck the company instead invested in more luxurious cars, “better drivers,” and better service.
They also try to make things less expensive by cutting down on the number of cabs large groups have to take. WestCab’s Mercedes GL350, for example, can take six passengers at once.
Auleth says parts and service for their higher-end vehicles thins WestCab’s profit margins, but gives people a better taxi experience.
“This is kind of our way of providing a cheaper service,” he said.
“West Kelowna has been suffering for taxi service for a while, so whatever nobody has been doing, we are doing,” he said.
So far, Auleth says the strategy is paying off; WestCabs started with a fleet of five vehicles and has since expanded to 12.
While Auleth contemplates further expansion at WestCabs, he admits he’s keeping an eye on the looming arrival of ridesharing platforms in the province.
Auleth said that, while he’s concerned what apps like Uber could mean for passenger safety, he’s “not worried” about the company’s arrival in B.C. affecting his business.
“We think that if they do steal our business, they deserve it. We don’t think they can provide the level of service we are providing,” he said.
He believes Uber is “tarnishing the entire system” of safety checks and certification that exist to keep commercial vehicles safe, because Uber drivers don’t have to adhere to the same safety standards as other commercial drivers.
The B.C. government has committed to allowing ridesharing companies like Uber into the province, but hasn’t yet laid down rules governing their drivers.
Auleth believes the safety and professional concerns surrounding companies like Uber will mean people will still choose taxis.
“In the beginning, we will fell a little bit of heat, because when anything comes and it’s something new people will try it, but I’m pretty sure within a month or so people will find out who the right person is for them,” he said.
Business guided by ‘heart’
Part of the reason he’s confident he won’t lose customers is the fact that he and his partners run their business “based on heart.”
“We believe service cannot be done without sacrifice. We’re sacrificing our margin, and we’re trying to service people by heart,” he said. “Our team is following the rule of heart.”
More information on WestCabs is available online.
For years, Lana Donaldson carried a tattered piece of paper folded into her wallet. On it, the logo she had designed for the mobile bannock truck she hoped to one day open.
Donaldson, who works at Glenrosa Middle School in Aboriginal education, says she’s had the dream for years, but with young kids and her job wasn’t sure she’d ever make it happen.
“It’s kind of been a dream of mine to have this for a very long time, but there’s always the usual barriers like money, how are we going to fit it into time, and so many questions,” she recalled recently.
But now, after years of dreaming, she’s finally going for it.
This summer, Donaldson is teaming up with her husband Paul, as well as their boys Tanner and Ryen, to open a mobile food truck that will serve the Aboriginal fried dough.
With Nomadic Bannock, the Donaldsons are taking Lana’s secret family recipe and serving it up in “somewhat gourmet flavours” like sun-dried tomato and dill; onion and chive; and sweeter flavours like apple pie, and cinnamon and sugar.
They’ll also serve popular favourites like Indian Tacos and Bannock dogs.
“So many people have asked me for the recipe over the years, and I kept saying ‘umm, well there’s a reason I can’t give it to you and you’ll just have to wait,’” Lana admits with a chuckle.
For years, Lana (along with her colleague Carrie Briglio) has been serving her bannock as part of the bake sales she puts on with the students at Glenrosa.
With feedback from that “test market” under her belt, her kids now old enough to come along, and enough money saved to get the infrastructure they need, she and Paul decided the time was right to make her dream a reality.
“(This was) just something we wanted to do, and make come alive. So many things in life we sit back and think, oh I should have done this, or I’d love to do this, but there’s always lots of excuses, and we thought, you know what, let’s just make this happen. So we did it little bit by little bit,” she says.
Once they got things moving, the couple sat Ryen and Tanner down to watch the Netflix movie, Chef, which is about a father and son teaming up to run a food truck.
“They were so inspired by that, and now they can’t wait to do this,” she said.
Not long ago, Lana and Paul purchased the truck, and just this week got it decked out with the Nomadic Bannock decals.
They’ve already got a few gigs lined up for the summer, as well—first at the Peachland World of Wheels, and later at Westside Dayz.
Lana says she can’t wait to get out and show people a food that’s such an important part of her culture.
“There’s so many visitors that come to our town… that it’s kind of part of the history here that when they come here they may not ever have had bannock before, and they want to try bannock,” she said. “And we’re like mobile culture, we can share wherever we go.”
For more information, check out Nomadic Bannock on Facebook.
After more than half a decade in Canada, Martin Paris was tired of not being able to find a good baked potato.
Freshly baked spuds are sold from food trucks and takeaway diners across Britain but have never taken hold as a quick and healthy lunch option here in the Great White North.
So when he heard a radio ad for a local business competition, he thought, why not?
“I just basically followed my passion,” Paris told Okanagan Edge recently, after winding down the lunch rush at his newly opened restaurant, Jolly Good Spudz.
Paris is originally from the U.K., but has been in Canada for six years. He first came over to do a stint working in the hospitality industry, before he met his girlfriend, Ashley Lewicky, and made the permanent move.
For a long time he worked in the construction industry, but then he learned about an entrepreneurship competition called the Enterprize Challenge.
“I just heard the thing on the radio and was like ‘eh, I’ll see what it’s like,’” he recalls.
So he started putting together a rough pitch for bringing a British staple to the Okanagan. He remembers the process being a ton of work, and at one point he was ready to drop out.
Then, he passed the first round of judging, and things got a little more serious.
Months of business planning, market research, and two more rounds of judging later, he had won the competition and was awarded about $20,000 worth of cash and prizes.
Feb. 1, after some major renovations to his newly rented space, he opened Jolly Good Spudz to the public.
It’s set up similar to Subway or Pita Pit, where customers order from a menu of pre-built potatoes or build their own from a list of ingredients Paris has on hand.
Alongside British classics like baked beans and tuna, customers can chow down on spudz topped with pulled pork, chicken curry, chili, guac, and even poutine.
Paris said as soon as he opened Brits started coming out of the woodwork, but Canadian have also come enthusiastically on board.
“People love it,” Paris says. “We’re struggling to keep up.”
Lewicky, Paris’ girlfriend, also works at Jolly Good Spudz.
She said she thinks Paris’ spudz are so popular because they live in the perfect place between comfort food and foreign cuisine.
She explains that creatively topped baked potatoes served quick-service style aren’t common in Canada, so they appeal to people looking for a different lunch or dinner option.
However, everyone still knows what a baked potato is, so less adventurous eaters aren’t scared off.
Add that novelty to the healthy alternative some of Paris’ spudz offer, and Lewicky says she can see the appeal.
Paris jokes that he was motivated to pursue his dream because he was just “sick of construction,” but it’s no coincidence that dream was to serve potatoes.
Back in the U.K., his mom and auntie owned their own little restaurant, and the license plate from their potato delivery car hangs above the door to Jolly Good Spudz’s kitchen.
When beans and baked potatoes aren’t enough, he says, it’s a pretty good reminder of home.
In a three-book deal that went to auction with several U.S. publishers, Deanna Kent and Neil Hooson will be working with Imprint, a division of Macmillan USA, on their middle-grade book series Snazzy Cat Capers.
The heavily illustrated series features more than a few references to Kelowna, and focuses on Ophelia von Hairball, the world’s top cat burglar, and her adventures with the Furry Feline Burglary Institute (FFBI).
The couple has already retained the rights for television, games, and film, and hope to build their IP after the launch of the books.
“It’s been surreal,” Hooson says. “Our agent set up early morning phone calls from New York with these amazing publishing teams that wanted to work with us. We felt like we were in a dream. It still feels like that.”
Kent said they chose Macmillan’s Imprint because the publisher, Erin Stein, had a lot of opinions about where to take the series and some interesting suggestions.
“We actually chose the person who had the most and toughest feedback for us. Stein has worked with and grown world-class franchises. We’ve learned so much about the value of healthy collaboration from our Kelowna community, so it was a natural choice to pick Stein at Macmillan—we knew we’d learn the most from her and her team. And we have. They’re incredible, and we’re lucky,” Kent said.
Kent and Hooson previously worked together for almost a decade at Disney. Hooson now works at Yeti Farm Creative studio, and Kent works out of the Innovation Centre with Montreal based Carebook Technologies.
Although they have careers and a busy family (four active boys between the two of them), the couple says they get “extra” creative projects done because they hate wasting time.
“Early mornings, even later nights, and yes, even on the bleachers of Kelowna gyms when kids are practicing sports—we concoct, scheme, and execute fun side projects.” Kent laughs, “You’ll seriously see me with a notebook or on a laptop during all my son’s volleyball and basketball practices. That’s how I wrote most of the first Snazzy Cat book.”
With the couple’s book deal only freshly minted, Kent says she and Hooson have a brand new idea that they plan to start working on soon.
“We’re going to explore the Accelerate Okanagan program as an option to help us bring this next thing to life. It’s a big concept we’ve distilled into something interesting—it’s been percolating for a few months, but we’ve been busy with the book series. Innovative things are happening every day in every corner of this city. There’s enough creativity, optimism, and grit here in Kelowna to compete in the biggest markets.”
Book one of Snazzy Cat Capers launches Sept. 18, with two more books in the series released on a nine-month schedule.
Their agent, Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency, has just made deals with two of her other middle-grade book projects to 20th Century Fox and Nickelodeon Studios. Kent and Hooson say it would be amazing to see their own characters starring in an animated series one day—for now, the couple is focused on the Snazzy Cat Capers books and dreaming about the next thing to make.
When Kelowna’s Pick Thai restaurant opened in December it wasn’t just the culmination of months of painstaking work, it was the final step that allowed one chef to achieve her dream.
Sita Bunchuwong, the owner of the Bernard Avenue Thai eatery, says her mom Pam had wanted to run her own restaurant for decades.
“It was always my Mom’s dream to open a Thai restaurant. Because she isn’t just like any Thai person who can cook, she is a chef,” Bunchuwong says.
Pam finished a master’s degree in culinary arts in Thailand, and for the last 20 years has been working in the industry.
In Thailand, she worked for one of the biggest companies in the industry. After 2006, when she came to Canada, she and Bunchuwong worked in a few West Kelowna restaurants, and also ran a hockey-arena concession stand.
Bunchuwong says she, her mom, and her brother used much of that time to practice their English, in preparation for opening their own restaurant.
“Thai people, we don’t speak English very well,” Bunchuwong said with a chuckle, “and for me to pick up from not knowing English at all, I wouldn’t really be able to work.”
Thai Fusion closed last year, and Bunchuwong says that, after their contract running the concession was up, her family decided to finally take the plunge.
They leased their Bernard-Avenue property with the intention of opening up in the summer but faced a major setback when they discovered the terrible conditions the previous tenants had left.
“If you were here before, you’d be like, wow,” Bunchuwong said, shaking her head. “You couldn’t image how much work we put into here–it was so disgusting.”
Unable to find a contractor on short notice, she says the family essentially built Pick Thai from the ground up: they took out the entire floor themselves, scrubbed and painted the walls, built a new countertop, and replaced most of the kitchen equipment.
“We spent so much time here, this is like my home,” Bunchuwong said, adding that, when they finally opened Pick Thai it was like a dream.
“It was like, wow, this is happening. Mom had been dreaming to open her own restaurant forever, and it was like a dream come true.”
*Edited Jan. 25, 2018.