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.
Things had been humming along for Keith Hamer and Tony Perkins for close to a decade.
The pair had built a solid business selling bulk food to local restaurants, but after finding unexpected success with an off-the-cuff Facebook promotion last summer, things got a lot more interesting.
As Hamer recently explained, he and his business partner were looking to drum up sales over the summer and decided to put together a small flyer, featuring a selection of some of their high-quality proteins.
They slapped it up on Facebook, and Hamer says within two weeks they had about 600 new customers.
“It was unbelievable, it really was,” he recalled.
The pair was psyched with the sudden surge of new buyers, but Hamer said they knew they had hit on something more significant when about 80 per cent of the newcomers came back to buy again.
“I remember we said to each other, OK, maybe we’re onto something here,” Hamer said.
They ran the promotion for the rest of the summer—Hamer chomping at the bit to go all-in, Perkins cautioning a more measured approach—and as the customer base kept “growing and growing,” they eventually committed.
They built a website, bought some residential-appropriate cube delivery vans, created a web of delivery routes, and Valley Direct Foods was born.
The company essentially works like a traditional restaurant wholesale supplier, with one key difference: it sells directly to consumers.
“Really, what we’re doing is the same thing we’ve been doing with our restaurants. We’re taking that and we’re applying that right to the consumer,” Hamer says.
That means anyone in the Okanagan can go to Valley Direct Foods’ website, order whatever high-quality bulk food they like, and have it delivered directly to their door.
Because they’ve worked hard to secure partnerships with local suppliers, Hamer says most of the food they sell to consumers is local and delivered fresh—which is what he believes has driven Valley Direct Foods’ success so far.
“The end users, they care where their food is coming from. I’ve been in the business a long, long time, and it’s been mostly about eating as much as possible for as little as possible, and I’m really starting to see the change,” he says.
Valley Direct Foods is a local company, selling products from other local companies, and Hamer says people are hungry to support that kind of initiative: people don’t mind spending a little bit more money if they know they are feeding their families a better product.
He says he also believes Valley Direct inadvertently tapped into another niche—quality food delivered directly to your door.
“I really believe with all my heart that’s the way shopping will be—more and more, people will want stuff delivered right to their door,” he says. “We definitely want to be the guys that do that, and we plan on including as many local businesses as possible.”
A newly launched Kelowna startup hopes to harness the power of the web to transform the way people in the community buy and sell used books.
Local Reads is the brainchild of book-lover Camille Jensen, who says she started the online service to fix what she saw as “problems” with the book market.
Often, she explains, people buy a book, use it once, and never think about it again. After the first readthrough, those books gather dust on a shelf, or worse, end up in a landfill (because of the glue in them, books generally can’t be recycled).
More industrious readers might schlep their old books to a used book store to offload them, but Jensen argues that can be a time-consuming process.
On the flip side, she says, because most used book stores have little or no online presence, finding a book you want can also be annoying.
Of course, used books abound on the internet, but ordering from a big online retailer can come with its own set of issues for local-minded consumers.
Jensen explains that shipping books in Canada is quite expensive, so almost any used book you buy here will come from quite far away.
“I really started to realize how difficult it is to buy used books in your local community,” Jensen explains.
She believed she could fix that problem, so she brought on co-founder Dan Arbeau to build a platform that would allow local people to quickly and easily sell their used books to other readers in their community.
“In some ways our whole market never went online, so we thought, OK, there’s an opportunity here for a local response using big technology,” Jensen says.
Essentially, Local Reads is a classifieds section for used books. Users list the books they have for sale on the site (descriptions and pictures are automatically generated for users by the site), and other users can browse the selection.
All the payments are handled online, and after buying a book users can pick it up from the nearby seller.
“There’s a lot of books out there, and this is a way to not only help get some value out of them, but also have a little bit of a green aspect as well,” Arbeau says.
“If it was easier to buy used, I think people would,” Jensen added.
With that philosophy in mind, Jensen and Arbeau officially launched Local Reads in September, and now say they have well over 500 books listed on the site.
They’ve also made an agreement with High Browse 2nd Hand Books, which is the first used book store in Kelowna to use the Local reads, listing several of its titles online.
Arbeau points out that Local Reads has the potential not only to make it easier for individuals to sell books to each other, but help historically technophobic used book stores create a better online presence.
“Books, and people who love books, are a community of their own, and we’re kind of excited about that element with Local Reads, and where that could go,” Jensen says.
For more information, check out Local Reads online.
Cameron Jack was just 17 when he first stepped into the carpentry shop at Okanagan College.
Two years and two levels of apprenticeship training later, Jack is inspiring others around him to follow in his footsteps while he continues down the path of a family member who inspired him.
A member of the Okanagan Indian Band, Jack is one of eight students who completed the Construction Craft Worker (CCW) 2 Aboriginal Journeyperson Preparation program this month.
He and his peers were recognized in front of family, friends and community members at a ceremony in the Trades Complex on Dec. 15.
“For me, the highlight of the program has been seizing the opportunity to become a mentor,” says Jack. “I’ve been able to be a role model for some friends who are now going to the college for trades and culinary arts. I’m really proud I was able to inspire them to do that because the college has definitely made a difference in my life and I’m excited to see the impact is has on theirs as well.”
Jack and his fellow students represent seven distinct bands and First Nations from across Western Canada – from the Adams Lake Indian Band, Neskonlith Indian Band, Okanagan Indian Band, Ulkatcho First Nation and Westbank First Nation in B.C., all the way to the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba.
Friday’s ceremony closed the loop on a two-year educational journey for Jack.
This time last year, he was crossing the stage in the very same spot to pick up his CCW Level 1 credential (he was among the second class to graduate from Level 1 of the program since it began in 2015). It also brought into focus for him a much longer tie to the trades within his family.
“My great grandfather built the house we live in by hand,” notes Jack. “So it means a lot to me to be on the same path as he was.”
The 19-year-old won’t have to wait long to begin his new career. With both credentials under his toolbelt, Jack will start work with local construction company Wibco in the new year – a connection he made during his training this fall.
The program was made possible through a partnership with BC Hydro and with support from the Okanagan Training & Development Council, Aboriginal Skills Employment & Training Services, Canadian Home Builders’ Association, New Relationship Trust, and Okanagan Kids Care Fund Society.
The organizations provided tuition and books, tools, lunches, safety gear and transportation, meal allowances and accommodation, day care support and living support for out-of-town students.
BC Hydro provided the funding for an Aboriginal Trades Transition Planner – a Red Seal electrician – who was on hand for cultural, academic and employment support. The students also worked with Aboriginal peer mentors, one-on-one tutors, Elders and the College’s Aboriginal Services team to keep up their grades and their spirits during the program.
“It has been incredibly rewarding for us to follow the achievements of the students in this program,” says Steve Moores, Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship at Okanagan College. “I’m very proud of the students, for their hard work and dedication, and am appreciative of BC Hydro and all of the employers and organizations who have invested in these students and in the program since it began.”
Opening doors to the workforce for Indigenous students from all over the province was one of the key factors that propelled BC Hydro to partner with the College on this intake and last fall’s intake of Level 1, notes Nadine Israel, Indigenous Program Specialist – Southeast Region for BC Hydro.
“By starting here and preparing candidates, working closely with the Indigenous communities, BC Hydro is being proactive in training our future workforce and the workforce needed by our many contractors and the communities we serve across B.C.
“It’s wonderful to see community members like Cameron and his fellow students seize those opportunities.”
More information about the Construction Craft Worker program is available at okanagan.bc.ca/ccwab.
When the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and his crew first discovered how to fend off scurvy in 1497, it took hundreds of years for the citrus cure to become common knowledge.
So if a revolutionary and life-saving idea takes centuries to catch on, how does one man with a sweat-wicking dress shirt make an impact?
Jeremy West has asked himself that question many times—and has spent the last two years working towards an answer.
Before he founded the new Kelowna startup 6AM WorkShirts, West says he spent a lot of time reading about the “science” of diffusion—how ideas spread, and what helps an innovation take off—in his feverish pursuit of lessons on how to become a successful entrepreneur.
West, who moved from Edmonton in 2015 to work at the newly opened Cactus Club in downtown Kelowna, says he was learning a lot about the business world from his job, and trying to soak up as many lessons as he could.
“I was kind of following that path, but I always kind of wanted to do my own thing, you know, I wanted to be the owner of Cactus Club, not just an employee of Cactus Club,” he said.
The summer of 2015 was a hot one, and West biked to work almost every day. He worked long hours in a baking-hot restaurant, which was even tougher when he was sweating through his dress shirt after a ride to work.
He kept looking for a better shirt, but was never able to find anything. Then, one day, it just clicked.
“I went for a bike ride up Knox Mountain, and I noticed that all of my cycling jerseys had a secondary material on the sides—and I kind of just made the connection,” he said. “I realized these jerseys are built for performance, so why couldn’t I just put that into a dress shirt?”
He went to Winners and bought a cheap Reebok athletic shirt, then took it and one of his own dress shirts to a tailor.
That trip eventually yielded the first 6AM WorkShirt prototype: a professional-looking dress shirt with special sweat-wicking material sewn into the sides, designed for people who bike to work.
He started wearing it to his own job and realized it worked, so he began refining it. West says he spent a year or more combing through wholesaler fabric catalogues looking for the perfect materials, continually refining his design.
Eventually he landed on what he wanted, and took it to a pattern maker in Vancouver, whom he continues to source the 6AM WorkShirts from today.
The shirts look much like a simple, traditional dress shirt, except for the pair of seams down the front, where the dress-shirt fabric turns to sweat-wicking fabric.
West said his shirts look just like a traditional dress shirts under a jacket, but are also professional enough to wear on their own. In fact, he says he designed the shirts specifically not to look exactly like an everyday button down.
“You kind of notice that there’s something going on there, which is cool. I wanted there to be an observable difference,” he said.
Harkening back to Vasco de Gama and his scurvy cure, West said it was important to him the shirt’s innovation be visible. It’s just one part of his strategy to ensure the idea has the best chance to diffuse.
West only officially launched the 6AM WorkShirts website a few weeks ago, there’s lots of diffusion left to happen, but the shirts are available for purchase now.
As he heads into the new year, West says he plans to do everything he can to push the product beyond his network, including a Kickstarter campaign sometime in the spring.
For more information, check out 6AM WorkShirts online.
An up-and-coming Kelowna startup believes its new mobile gaming software has the potential to churn out a whole new generation of casual video game athletes.
If you’re not a big gamer, the words “casual video game athlete” might fill you with confusion, or even disgust. But, if the team at RewardMob has its way, that will soon change.
That’s because RewardMob has created some clever software that allows mobile phone developers to add a system of tournaments and leaderboards to their mobile phone games.
Even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably spent at least a few minutes plunking away at Candy Crush or Angry Birds between meetings. RewardMob’s software helps take those ubiquitous phone games you probably don’t think a ton about, and imbue them with a new competitive edge.
RewardMob CEO and co-founder of Todd Koch asks you to imagine competing against everyone else playing those games, not just for fictional, in-game currencies, but for actual, real-world prizes.
Over the course of a RewardMob tournament, players earn points simply by playing the games. The more points they earn, the higher they rise on the RewardMob leaderboard. At the end of the tournament, the top competitors win real-world prizes, like cash, gift certificates, or swag.
Koch says that, if the handful of games already using the software are any indication, this system of incentives dramatically increases the amount of time players spend on the games, and turns them into a kind of casual eSport that anyone with a phone can take part in.
Most non-gamers are only vaguely aware of the concept of eSports, but for a large and ever-growing segment of the population, they are a pretty big deal.
Essentially, eSports are video games played at a professional level. Much like traditional professional athletes, eSports athletes earn salaries, undergo strict training regimes, and take part in competitive tournaments.
The phenomenon has grown significantly over the past five-to-ten years, and the biggest eSports tournaments attract hundreds of thousands of viewers, and award hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes. In some places, eSports events are broadcast on national television. In South Korea, the most famous eSports athletes are even given special exemptions to their mandatory military service.
Only the very best gamers can make it as eSports athletes, but many still aspire to reach that level.
However, while fans of traditional sports can always join up with their local beer league, there’s very few opportunities for gamers who want a taste of eSport competition
Koch says RewardMob can give them that, for free.
He says RewardMob’s prize-driven tournaments can turn those games into a kind of casual eSport, like the video game equivalent of your beer league hockey team.
Koch claims RewardMob is good for both gamers and game developers: gamers get the potential to win prizes for playing a game they already play, and game developers get people spending a ton more time inside their games.
The company is still in the midst of its soft launch, but Koch says they have a fairly big-name developer coming on board, and will likely launch fully sometime in January.
More information on RewardMob is available online.