One Woman’s Journey to Citizenship and Beyond

Working in the Emelle’s kitchen, a young mother from South Africa finds heart, home, family, and some much needed artistic inspiration.

Featuring: Lauren Albrice | Landscape Artist and Preschool Teacher

On the day of her swearing-in ceremony, Lauren Albrice was excited. She’d been in Canada for 18 years and was finally becoming a citizen. It hadn’t been an easy road. She and her husband had recently separated, and for three months, she’d been juggling her work, her citizenship application, and the care of her teenage son, Justin, who was attending the swearing-in along with one of Albrice’s colleagues from work. At least, that’s who she thought would be attending.

When Albrice arrived at the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Office on Expo Boulevard to take the Oath of Citizenship, the entire team from Emelle’s Catering was there to cheer for her. They had asked for the details in secret and arranged the day off for as many staff as could be spared. “They had everything Canadian you could think of,” recalls Albrice.

“Flags and bags and gifts. I had the biggest entourage. It was a very important day for me, and I’ll never forget that. They surprised me a lot over the years.”

Years earlier, the first surprise was being hired. Back in 1999 when she enquired about openings, Mary Lee Newnham had informed her that they had none. But that was over the phone, and Albrice was savvy enough to ask to drop off her resume in person. Tagging along with her that Saturday was Justin, then just 3, who Newnham immediately warmed to.

“Can you bake?” Newnham asked.

“From a box,” was the honest reply.

“That’s good enough. When can you start?”

The next morning, Albrice was in the Emelle’s kitchen. “It was early days,” says Albrice. “Sometimes there were just three of us there. Mary Lee taught me everything.” To be taken in so warmly was a gift to the young mother, who didn’t have any family in Canada. Albrice looked up to Newnham and was inspired by her unbelievable work ethic. “She just takes on big things and does them,” says Albrice.

One particularly miraculous feat occurred when Albrice was working an 80-person False Creek boat cruise for Molson. As she and her colleague were loading their food cart onto the boat, catastrophe struck. The cart tipped, and all of the food disappeared into the water. Passengers on a nearby booze cruise laughed as Albrice cried and cursed. She called Newnham to relay what had happened. “Mary Lee was so calm,” says Albrice. “She told me to send my colleague back to the shop and continue setting up.” Albrice did as instructed, and not long after, her colleague returned with a new supply of food. “I had to do some cooking on the boat anyway,” says Albrice, “and we managed to pull it off. No one ever knew that it happened.”

Albrice credits that incident for the mindset she’s developed over the years: “Now I’m always thinking a few steps ahead of everything!” She also credits Emelle’s for helping nudge her back into painting, a passion she’d never pursued. “I went to art school in South Africa. I’d always loved the feel of painting, but I just wasn’t very good at it,” she says. Then one day, Michael Bosnell of Emelle’s saw some of her work and disagreed. “In 2007, he gave me an easel and a canvas as a gift for Christmas. I looked out of my window, began painting the mountains, and that was it. I just painted and painted.”

Today, Albrice is a landscape artist. She runs painting workshops for the Coquitlam School District and teaches preschool in the afternoons. “Leaving Emelle’s was very difficult for me. I kind of feel I grew up there. I needed to do it in order to move on, but leaving the people was hard. They’re still in my life though,” says Albrice, “just not every day.”

That’s the thing about family. They’re always with you.

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Designing A YVR Welcome For Guests From Around the World

With a little support from Emelle’s, Imagine That Events helps YVR cement its award-winning reputation as North America’s best airport.

Featuring: Laura Takasaki | Event Planner, Imagine That Events

When a new inaugural flight takes off from the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), the departure gate is transformed into a celebratory preview of the destination. Hawaii, for example, might feature palm trees, leis, mocktails and a smattering of Hawaiian cuisine. And on major Canadian and international holidays the airport is dressed for the occasion—snowflakes and Christmas trees at year’s end, red lanterns, gold door couplets and paper cuttings on Lunar New Year. These small touches that extend a joyous welcome or a fond farewell to those passing through the gates are usually courtesy of long-time Emelle’s partner, Imagine That Events.

Imagine That has been working with YVR for many years and organizes the airport’s annual YVR Summer Party in Flight Path Park. The community event features big stage performances, crafts, food trucks and plenty of displays about the goings on at YVR. But Imagine That and YVR didn’t always work together on such a grand scale. In fact, it was a chance introduction by Emelle’s that opened the door to their collaboration.

“About 15 years ago we were working a small event and while we were setting up, we were introduced to the venue’s preferred caterer, Emelle’s Catering,” recounts Event Planner Laura Takasaki. “We began working with Emelle’s mainly at venues where they’re a preferred partner, like the UBC Boathouse and the Vancouver Rowing Club.” A rapport began to develop between the two companies, and one day, Emelle’s Director of Catering Sales, Nicole Burke, asked Takasaki for help.

The request? Emelle’s was doing a small event at YVR. The event needed to impress, and they needed someone to manage the décor.

“It was a small job, worth about five hundred dollars,” says Takasaki, but she was keen to help Emelle’s accomplish the task. “At the time we just wanted the experience and welcomed the opportunity to get in there [and impress YVR].” Takasaki and her colleagues trekked out to YVR, lugging bags of décor items through security, and got to work. Then, something amazing happened.

That small five-hundred-dollar job led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of work with YVR on décor, welcome parties, inaugural flight ceremonies, holiday events and more.

“Nicole knew where that $500 job would go all along,” says Takasaki with a smile. “It shows the humility of Emelle’s, just inviting us into a great opportunity. Friendly. Outgoing. Humble. They’re definitely a Vancouver caterer!”

Working at YVR isn’t just a lucrative partnership for Imagine That. As a major port of entry, YVR introduces international travellers to Vancouver, to British Columbia, and to Canada, often for the first time. The airport’s B.C.-themed interior, complete with indoor creeks and waterfalls, is a showcase of West Coast and Canadian pride. It houses the largest collection of Northwest Coast Native art in the world and architectural features like The Great Wave Wall—a glass representation of the ocean and a clever parallel to Vancouver’s nickname “the city of glass.”

Making a good first (or last) impression on travellers is, therefore, tremendously important, as is upholding the airport’s reputation. For 10 years running, the Skytrax World Airport Awards have named YVR the best airport in North America. YVR has also routinely ranked among Skytrax’ top 10 airports in the world. These prestigious accolades set the bar high for airport events and exhibits, but Takasaki and her team are up for the challenge. With help from Emelle’s, they ensure that Vancouver always puts its best foot forward.

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

An Inside-Out Look at an Expo ‘86 Icon

When Julio Guzman needs to deliver a memorable Telus World of Science experience to guests from all over the world, he knows he can count on Emelle’s.

Featuring: Julio Guzman | Sales Manager, Telus World of Science

In January 1987, Julio Guzman takes his brother on a tour of Vancouver. Guzman’s brother is a well-travelled man who left Peru to live in Florida when he was just 18 years old. He’s come to Vancouver to attend Guzman’s wedding. Guzman himself is newly arrived in Vancouver, with less than a year under his belt, and he’s eager to show his brother what the city has to offer.

Over three days they wander the beaches of Kitsilano, trace the seawall through Stanley Park, take in the views from Grouse Mountain, and indulge themselves in downtown dining. “You can be skiing now, then at the beach in 25 minutes,” Guzman’s brother marvels. “Here you have everything.” As they walk along False Creek, the Expo Centre, affectionately referred to as “the golf ball,” dominates the skyline. Its lights shine brightly. The triangles of its geodesic dome make geometric ripples dance across the water. Not for the first time, Guzman himself is amazed by the city he’s chosen to call home.

The Expo Centre was renovated and transformed into Science World shortly after Julio’s arrival to Vancouver. The doors opened to the public on May 6, 1989 and 705,000 people passed through in the first year. Over the 30 years that follow, 18 million visitors (over one million in 2018 alone) take in the interactive displays, hands-on exhibits, OMNIMAX features, and special events designed to introduce children and adults alike to the wonders of science and nature.

Guzman, who’s worked as an event planner and sales manager at Science World (now the Telus World of Science) for the last 26 years, has watched the building’s notoriety grow.

“It’s become an iconic Vancouver landmark,” he says, “one that is recognized not just here but all over the world.”

And as an icon, Science World has a following—the Vancouverite pass holders who view every new exhibit, and the international travellers who return every time they’re in town. “Just recently one of these repeat visitors from abroad, a couple who were returning for their second visit, told me they recognized all of the improvements we’d made during our 2010 renovation,” says Guzman.

The strong impression that Science World leaves with its guests is part of what makes it a popular event venue. From lectures and performances to festivals and film screenings to “After Dark” adult nights and annual fundraising soirees like the ever-popular “Science of Cocktails,” Guzman and his team aim to provide experiences that live up to the prestige of the locale and, hopefully, inspire the same sort of wonder that Guzman and his brother felt when looking up at the dome all those years ago.

“Some of the most important events that we host are for our donors and VIPs,” he says, and on those occasions, Guzman needs people he can rely on. At one donor event, a vendor failed to deliver a crucial item. Nicole Burke, Director of Catering Sales at Emelle’s Catering saw that something was up. “She asked what was going on,” recalls Guzman. “I explained the situation and she said calmly, ‘Don’t worry Julio, I’ll fix it.’ It wasn’t even related to the catering! But she got on the phone and 30 minutes later we had what we needed.”

Emelle’s has been on Guzman’s preferred list since 2001 and has helped him deliver custom Science World experiences to groups ranging from fewer than 100 people to over 1,000. “Knowing our venue is crucial,” Guzman explains. “Emelle’s knows our space and how to work with our staff, and that knowledge provides a consistency of service that we value and appreciate.”

But more than that, Emelle’s knows Vancouver. “They’ve adapted to the needs—vegetarian and veganism, the use of environmentally friendly and compostable packaging, and so forth. That’s an added value for our customers,” says Guzman. And, experientially, it’s an important value for a venue that promotes a broader social awareness of science and nature. Adds Guzman, “It reflects the trend of Vancouver; as a city, we are driving towards protecting our environment and this beautiful place where we live.”

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Inside the Phantom of the Opera—Four Courses and a Night to Remember

With the iconic QE and a world-renowned musical as her backdrop, Emily Edwards shows off what makes Vancouver a top destination for international corporate events.

Featuring: Emily Edwards | Event Planner, Destination Planners

For 30 years, Emily Edwards ran Destination Planners, a destination management company that specialized in marketing Western Canada to corporate groups around the world. Competition to attract the attention of this clientele was, and remains, high (according to a report by Allied Market Research, the global MICE industry—meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions—was worth $805 billion in 2017). Standing out required creativity. “Clients are always looking for something new and unique that showcases Vancouver,” says Edwards. “That can be challenging.”

Edwards found that one of the best ways to show off the city was through arts and culture. “We wanted to craft experiences that highlighted the cultural makeup of our city,” she explains. Drawing on performance, art, food and Vancouver landmarks, Edwards centred events around themes including West Coast First Nations, Canadian forests, and Vancouver’s cultural cuisines. In an effort to present something truly memorable to her high-end clients, she once decided to create a fully immersive Vancouver arts, culture and dining experience, and that’s when she looked to the QE.

When the Queen Elizabeth Theatre opened in 1959, it changed the world of art and performance in Vancouver. Providing an appropriate stage for dramas, operas, symphonies and roadshows, the theatre put Vancouver on the map, drawing in large productions from across Canada, the U.S. and the world. Its design served as a prototype for theatres across North America, and it became the home of the Vancouver Opera, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (1960-77) and Ballet BC. The venue had all the heritage and grandeur Edwards was looking for. And, it just so happened, Phantom of the Opera was in town.

“Instead of being part of the audience, we wanted our guests to feel like they were part of the story,” says Edwards.

The night began with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Guests in formal attire decorated the reception area. “I remember that the clients, when they arrived, didn’t actually know what was going to happen,” Edwards tells. When the theatre doors swung open, the guests began to move inside the theatre, but instead of being led to seats in the audience, they were escorted down the aisles and up onto the stage where beautiful tables had been set for a delectable four-course meal.

From there it was up to Emelle’s Catering to dazzle the palate, which was a challenge considering there was no on-site kitchen. “The only space Emelle’s had for prep was behind stage, so everything was done using food trucks out back that they had to run back and forth to,” says Edwards. “Somehow they made it happen.” In between courses, Phantom of the Opera cast members performed songs from the musical, sometimes on stage amongst the guests, sometimes from the mezzanine or the balcony or the orchestra. “It was stunning,” says Edwards. “Something I’ll never forget.”

Now retired, Edwards looks back fondly on the many events, large and small, that she did with Emelle’s. “Whatever theme we had I’d go to Emelle’s and we’d sit together and create a fun menu around that. We had a lot of fun together. If you can’t have fun in what you do, what’s the point, right? I mean, food is art.”

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Beyond Customers, This Chef Serves His Team and His Community

Emelle’s Head Chef Darren Upshaw reflects on 16 years spent serving the Vancouver community both in and out of the kitchen.

Featuring: Darren Upshaw | Head Chef, Emelle’s Catering

On a chilly day in November, Darren Upshaw hoists a ten-litre bucket of freshly made chicken vegetable soup into the back of the Emelle’s Catering van. He pulls his coat tight, rubs his hands together, watches his breath crystallize on the morning air, then proceeds to load another tub. There are about 10 in total. He and the kitchen staff spent the last three days peeling locally grown vegetables and breaking down farm-fresh chickens to build the hearty stock that, in moments, will be on its way to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

For the fourth time this year, Upshaw climbs into the passenger seat next to Emelle’s CEO Mary Lee Newnham, who ferries the soup and team to a Downtown Eastside street where they proceed to offload, reheat, and serve. It’s 10am. A queue forms. Upshaw and the team get ready to ladle until the pots are dry.

“It feels good to help the community in that way,” says Upshaw, who began working with Emelle’s shortly after he moved to Vancouver 16 years ago. When he first arrived, fresh from running the kitchen of Rebar, a vegetarian restaurant in Victoria, he envisioned himself working his way up the ranks of Vancouver’s restaurant industry, maybe even owning his own place. But instead of moving on after a few years at Emelle’s, he stayed.

“It’s inspiring to work on a team where every person, from the owner down, wants to give back,” remarks Upshaw.

That culture of giving back has strongly influenced Upshaw’s personal growth and character. “Emelle’s is very inclusive. Every creed, every colour, we have it,” he says of a diverse team that represents a spectrum of physical and mental abilities, sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds. Training, coaching, and learning to communicate effectively in that environment has expanded Upshaw’s concept of inclusivity and what it means to inspire and support others. “I’ve learned a lot about myself,” he says. “Things I never knew I had in me until I was put to the test. How to help others along. Let them know it’s okay [to be who they are].”

Whether it’s supporting individuals or the public at large, serving the community is what Upshaw and his colleagues really take to heart—the people, the economy, the environment.

As head chef, Upshaw cares about the ingredients he’s working with and has been helping Emelle’s to source local, fresh ingredients long before it was trendy to do so. Moreover, as a former vegetarian, it’s important to him that the farmers they work with are using ethical, sustainable practices. From the Lower Mainland’s ripest seasonal vegetables to sustainably raised local pork, each pantry item is curated with an eye to reducing Emelle’s ecological footprint and positively impacting the livelihoods of B.C. farmers.

“We also recycle anything and everything,” says Upshaw, “which not many cafés and catering companies do. Our food waste, metals, glass and plastics are picked up every week, and our dishwasher personally takes the pop cans and bottles to the depot.” Doing so may not be legally mandated, nor industry standard, but Upshaw and the team at Emelle’s work by their own standard. If put into words, it might read: Whatever can be done is what we’ll do.

It’s 11am. The soup pots are nearly drained, and the lunch line has thinned. Upshaw and the team begin packing up. He knows it’s impossible to feed everyone, but he also knows that’s not what it’s about. He says simply, “We serve as many people as we can.”

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Now the World Knows I Can Do It on My Own

After impressing with his persistence and his winning barbecue pork shrimp fried rice, Danny Cameron has become a dear member of the Emelle’s family.

Featuring: Danny Cameron | Kitchen Staff, Emelle’s Catering

After dropping off his resume at nearly 50 restaurants and receiving no call-backs, Danny Cameron could have despaired. Instead, he carried his resume to the next location on his list. “Hello, my name is Danny Cameron,” he said as he took off his hat and offered a respectful bow to Nicole Burke, Catering Sales Director at Emelle’s Catering. Then, he presented his portfolio. As Nicole began to look through the black photo album, she called for Emelle’s owner Mary Lee to join her.

Within the album were pages upon pages of glossy images displaying the variety of foods Danny could make—authentic Chinese cuisine, Asian fusion dishes, and delectable cakes and pastries.

Food had always spoken to Danny.

With both a mild autism and a learning disability, he hadn’t found his place in the rigours of other industries, but the kitchen made sense to him.

His sister-in-law taught him how to prepare a wide variety of Asian fare, and Danny diligently studied her technique and worked hard to replicate each dish. Each recipe stayed with him—every ingredient, every method, every flourish—and became part of his personal cookbook (and his portfolio).

Sitting with Nicole and Mary Lee, Danny had a good feeling. “Mary Lee told me they didn’t have any work for me right then but that they might have something coming up in July,” recounts Danny.

“She told me to follow up, and I just knew this was going to be a lucky place for me.”

Danny was persistent in his follow-ups. He’d already found his own apartment in subsidized housing and employment was the next step on his path to independence. A week before July, he got the call.

Danny stepped into the dish pit for a trial shift at Emelle’s on Saturday, July 21, 2012, and walked away with a regular gig. “I thought it was just going to be a summer position,” says Danny, whose disability pension restricts the number of hours he can work. “But wouldn’t you know it ended up becoming a steady part-time job!”

Steady work has enabled Danny to support himself and to realize other ambitions. “I really want to show the world what a person with a slight handicap can do on their own,” says Danny. His method? Travel. Over the last five years, he has journeyed solo to Disneyland, Disney World, Reno, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Hawaii and Mexico. Any skepticism family and friends had about Danny’s ability to do so is long gone, and the confidence they have in him matters. He feels the same confidence from Emelle’s. “I fit in at Emelle’s. I feel like we’re family here, like I’m part of Emelle’s. They know I have something to contribute,” says Danny.

Apart from his stellar skills at cleaning and cooking Dungeness crab (he’s affectionately referred to as Emelle’s “crab master”), one of Danny’s main contributions has been his recipe for barbecue pork shrimp fried rice, which has earned a place on the Emelle’s menu and proven to be very popular at parties. In one instance, after being introduced to the dish at a staff event, the crew at Bard on the Beach were so in love with it that they specifically requested Danny’s fried rice be served again the following year.

Danny has also prepared his signature dish for Kid Carson—a special treat as Danny was a long-time fan and regular caller on Sonic 104.9’s The Kid Carson Show. When Kid Carson invited Danny to join him on The Beat radio station’s Pride Parade float, Carson called Emelle’s live on air to ask if Danny could get the day off. The answer, of course, was yes.

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Finding Family and a New Home in Canada

Senior staff member Melbin “Ben” Sarabia celebrates 20 years of singing and dancing in the Emelle’s kitchen.

Featuring: Melbin Sarabia | Dishwasher, Emelle’s Catering

As a young man, Melbin Sarabia—Ben to his friends—spent his days on the open water. A sailor by trade with the Merchant Marines, he worked for a shipping line and, though it was hard, often detailed and demanding work, Ben was good at his job. He thought his life at sea would be a reliable means of supporting his wife and family for many years to come.

Then, tragedy struck. On an otherwise ordinary day, Ben’s leg became tangled in the ropes. His shipmates worked fast to free him. Ben’s life was saved, but his leg was permanently injured.

With this new disability came the end of his career at sea. With no form of disability assistance available to him, Ben knew that his chances of finding work or a decent quality of life were slim in the Philippines. With the future uncertain, he left his 6-year-old son with his sister and travelled over 11,000 kilometres in search of a place where his disability would not preclude him from earning a living and contributing to society.

When he and his wife arrived in Vancouver, they had little network to draw on and no family to turn to. Ben began looking for work. As the months wore on, he and his wife began to doubt whether or not they would be able to make Vancouver their home. Then, a mutual friend introduced Ben to Mary Lee at Emelle’s Catering. She’d just launched her company and was looking for employees. Moved and impressed by Ben’s determination and positivity, she offered him a job. It was one of her first hires 20 years ago, and Ben’s first job in Canada.

From the first day he stepped into the dish pit at the centre of the Emelle’s kitchen, he did so with a smile on his face. Twenty years later, the smile remains.

“I still enjoy coming to work every day,” says Ben. “We help each other, just like brothers and sisters, like family.” The feelings are mutual. The dish pit (and Ben) are affectionately referred to by Emelle’s staff as “the heart of the kitchen.”

As the longest-running employee, Ben is the first person introduced to new hires. Though he’s been asked if he’d like to try other roles, he prefers to stick to dishwashing, which he has down to a science. Overwhelming mountains of dirty plates get little more than a casual shrug from Ben. He sets the kitchen right in record time and, according to his colleagues, gets faster as the day wears on. “Working in a kitchen can be stressful,” says Ben, “but I’m able to cope with the pressure because it’s such a happy, friendly team environment. We put on some good music, sing and dance. At the end of the day I don’t feel tired because I’ve had so much fun.”

Other companies might have fired Ben in order to keep paying the dishwasher minimum wage, but Emelle’s has kept him on because they know Ben’s contribution reaches beyond clean dishes. Says Emelle’s Catering Sales Director, Nicole Burke, “Ben’s caring demeanour, team spirit and pride are inspirational to the rest of us, and his amazing work ethic makes a big difference to the culture of our company.” In fact, she quips, when Ben took a three-month leave to visit his family in the Philippines, the staff were bereft—no one could keep the kitchen on track like Ben.

For Ben, becoming part of the Emelle’s family made it possible for him and his wife to make their home in Vancouver. “I owe a lot to Emelle’s,” he says. “I really just love being in the kitchen with these people. Who knows, maybe I’ll work here until I retire!”

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Tying the Knot in the Historic Heart of Vancouver

Emelle’s helps host the perfect Vancouver wedding and mingling dinner for guests from all over the world.

Featuring: Allison Bran | Marketer and Entrepreneur, REX Marketing + Design Inc.

When Allison Bran and her then-fiancé David decided to get married, they wanted their wedding to represent not only their love story with each other but their love story with Vancouver, the city where they’d built their life together. As born and bred Vancouverites, their courtship had taken place against a glorious backdrop of sea, mountain and sky—drinks downtown followed by night skiing on Grouse Mountain; hikes beneath North Shore canopies of Sitka spruce, Western red cedar and Douglas fir; sunset walks along the beach, toes dipped in the lapping waves of English Bay.

Attending their wedding would be a truly international roster of friends and family hailing from all over America, Europe and eastern Canada. “I wanted to wow them with our beautiful city,” says Bran. “I wanted the wedding to be quintessentially Vancouver. I also wanted to bring people together, but I wanted the attention on the people and connection. A true coming together. I didn’t want people tied to seven strangers at a table of eight! But I didn’t know how to feed people well and elegantly without a formal sit-down.”

One thing Bran did know was that she wanted Emelle’s Catering on the job. Bran had met the owner and CEO Mary Lee Newnham and the Director of Catering Sales Nicole Burke through professional connections, and over the years had attended a number of events that they’d catered. “I came to know them as the company that always had a plan,” says Bran, “even for things that fell outside the realm of catering. I knew that if anything went wrong on the day, I, the bride, would never know.”

Bran and her fiancé chose to hold their wedding ceremony on the deck of the Vancouver Rowing Club where Emelle’s was a preferred caterer. Situated on the water at the entrance to Stanley Park, the Club offered the perfect showcase of Vancouver iconography. “You can see the mountains, the ocean, downtown Vancouver—all of the things we love—right in the heart of the city,” says Bran.

All that was left was to figure out how to get her guests to interact with each other in the space, and for that, Emelle’s had a creative solution. “They came up with the idea to have a mingling dinner instead of seating people at tables of eight,” explains Bran. “It was perfect!”

Food was set up inside and outside the venue, each station with a theme and chef experience. With the city and mountain views again lending themselves as the backdrop, the mingling dinner took on the aura of the love story Allison and David wanted to share. Chefs prepared food to order, and the food became part of the experience as guests moved between stations, laughing and talking as they took it all in. “In so many ways, the experience represented Vancouver—different people from different cultures coming together,” says Bran.

“And what better way is there to transform strangers from different cultures into friends, than through food?

Looking back, Bran says, “I’ll never forget how Emelle’s took care of us.” She fondly remembers how the head chef, Newnham, personally brought a beautifully plated selection of food to the couple to ensure that while they were connecting with their guests they didn’t forget to eat. Bran also recounts that when Emelle’s arrived at the venue and realized that she might be wearing heels as she walked down the deck aisle with her father, they ordered a last-minute aisle runner to guarantee her heel wouldn’t get stuck between the boards.

Of course, they made sure she didn’t know that on the day.

“Our dream came true,” says Bran. “It was the perfect wedding for our guests who got to experience what we love about Vancouver—its beauty and the way people come together here.”

  • May 10, 2019
  • News

Two Young Vancouver Entrepreneurs Learn to Believe in Themselves

While working to save WinterPRIDE, the owners of Debut Event Design Inc. are inspired and supported by the LGBTQ community and Emelle’s.

Featuring: Maurizio Peta & David Light | Owners, Debut Event Design Inc.

In 1993, a small group of friends shot down the snowy slopes of Whistler Blackcomb determined not only to have a decent run but to be themselves. They’d been invited by Brent Benaschak, whose vision was to launch an LGBTQ weekend ski event that would be both a celebration and a catalyst for tackling stereotypes and uniting communities.

Throughout its early years, the event—titled Altitude—remained somewhat underground. The ‘90s were a less accepting time, and though Whistler was one of only a few ski resorts that tolerated the presence of openly LGBTQ patrons, businesses were hesitant to embrace the event. But, as respect and understanding between the local Whistler and the LGBTQ communities grew, the festival took off. The tireless efforts of Benaschak and other festival organizers turned Altitude into one of North America’s largest gay and lesbian ski weeks.

Then, on December 30th, 2003, Benaschak passed away.

The sudden death of the 41-year-old, aptly remembered by friends and family in his obituary as being “a catalyst for wonderful things,” was a shock. And with Altitude 2004 set to kick off just one month later, the fate of the event was uncertain.

Determined to save the festival, the new owner of Altitude, Sean Kearns, approached Vancouver-based event company Debut Event Design Inc. for help. At the time, Debut was just branching into larger events. The owners, Maurizio Peta and David Light, knew that Altitude would present a tremendous challenge, but they saw it not only as an opportunity but as a call to service.

The event, often referred to as Gay Ski Week, was meaningful to the LGBTQ community. Since its inception, the festival had grown to attract thousands of people, not only from Whistler, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland but from around the world. The sense of togetherness that people experienced at Altitude supported many through the tragedies of the HIV/AIDs pandemic and the fight for marriage equality. The festival also “allowed people to really just have fun in a safe, open and inclusive environment,” says Peta.

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, the event was in a state of disarray. Peta and Light found themselves scrambling to line up vendors. “We were in a bit of a bind,” Peta concedes. “Then some of our industry connections introduced us to Michael Bosnell and Mary Lee Newnham at Emelle’s Catering.” With plenty of event experience under their belts, along with connections and resources, Michael and Mary Lee took the young planners under their wing. “They helped us figure everything out and helped us really bring the event to light,” says Peta.

Without that support, the event might have fallen through, but thankfully the exact opposite happened. Since being rescued by Kearns and the Debut team, the festival has continued to grow.

Every year when the last week of January arrives, rainbow flags proudly adorn the Whistler village to signal the start of what has become known as WinterPRIDE.

Far from its unseen underground roots, the festival brings an unapologetic burst of individuality, colour and fun to the slopes, with events ranging from Cowgirl/Cowboy Night to Comedy Night to the Gender Bender, the parade and the famous Snowball Dance.

Debut has stayed involved over the years, primarily taking charge of the Snowball. “It’s a very important part of our past and a very meaningful part of our year,” says Light, who openly credits Emelle’s and their work together on Altitude as being the catalyst for Debut’s success.

“They really made us believe in ourselves. There’s no way we’d be who we are without their support.”

In the 16 years since the two companies were first introduced, they’ve collaborated on a range of events. Emelle’s has been instrumental in introducing Debut to new clients, helping them to grow their business and realize their full potential.

  • May 8, 2019
  • News

Gingerbread and Generosity Make a Real Impact

Emelle’s famous gingerbread houses dazzle guests of the B.C. Lions Society Easter Seals House during the holiday season.

Featuring: Emma Liffen | Director of Philanthropy, B.C. Lions Society

Young Hannah Parker and her mother travelled to Vancouver so that she could receive stage four cancer treatment at B.C. Children’s Hospital, a treatment that was not available in their remote hometown. The distance, time and costs involved meant they had to leave Hannah’s three sisters and her father behind. As Hannah endured 33 rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, and 10 radiation treatments, her mother endured feelings of isolation and fear. Not only was she caring for a sick child alone without nearby friends or family to support, but she was adapting to life in the big city as well.

Luckily, Hannah and her mother found a home away from home at the Vancouver Easter Seals House. Situated on Oak Street and guarded by eight seven-foot-tall Spirit Artwork statues, the Easter Seals House, run by the B.C. Lions Society, offered them subsidized, short-term accommodation while Hannah received treatment. There they were supported not only by the staff but by the other families sharing the space. Whether dealing with a neurological condition, physical disability, mental illness or debilitating disease, the families at Easter Seals House are able to relate to and draw strength from each other.

The B.C. Lions Society began with summer camps in the 1950s and grew exponentially from there. Today the organization offers activities, advocacy and services that support children with diverse abilities and specialized medical needs. For Director of Philanthropy Emma Liffen, the Easter Seals House is one of their most rewarding programs. “At Easter Seals House we do 2,000 bed nights every year,” she says.

“It’s wonderful to be able to alleviate some stress for families and make them feel welcome in Vancouver.”

Creating a sense of welcome for guests is particularly important during the winter holiday season when the stress of navigating the medical system and the pain of being separated from family members is high. Easter Seals’ annual remedy for inspiring some holiday cheer is to display a gingerbread house in the main lobby.

“We’re not talking about your typical out-of-the-box gingerbread house,” laughs Liffen. “We’re talking about a one-of-a-kind, extremely detailed one that takes up an entire table.” Donated annually by Emelle’s Catering, these works of edible art are often inspired by, or direct replicas of, iconic scenes. Past creations have included frosted versions of the Vancouver Rowing Club, as well as whimsical fairytale-inspired creations such as Dr. Seuss’ Who-Ville and the ice castle from Disney’s Frozen.

The compassion and community that the gingerbread house instills has turned it into a highly anticipated tradition. It’s a talking point that helps guest families, like Hannah and her mother, meet and connect with other guest families. It’s also a rare WOW moment that can be shared with family back home. “We serve 700 B.C. communities through Easter Seals House, and those families take stories about the gingerbread house and the wonderful food and the generosity that they received back to their communities,” says Liffen.

What began as a business relationship—Emelle’s renting their café and kitchen from the B.C. Lions Society—turned into a meaningful partnership that has brought joy and assistance to the lives of the people who deserve it most. Over the past 20 years, Emelle’s has catered fundraising events for the organization and often goes above and beyond in giving to the cause.

“Emelle’s is really committed to serving the Vancouver community, and that complements the work we do. It makes a huge difference to work with people who share our vision and understand what we’re trying to achieve,” says Liffen.

“Together we’ve made an impact that’s reached far beyond Vancouver.”

  • May 8, 2019
  • News