The stories of our neighbourhood champions Local project showcases journeys of business owners

Everyone has a story. Lan Lim, creator of Lan’s Asian Grill, stitched coffin interiors when she first arrived in Edmonton. Her husband, Sunny, fled violence in Cambodia. Popular Bakery owners Maria and Olympio Soares moved from Portugal to Africa before settling in Edmonton.

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Those are snippets of Champions of Alberta Ave, a project featuring the journeys of immigrant business owners on 118 Avenue. The project includes a short film, written profiles, and photos.

Jonathan “Jon Jon” Rivero, chief executive officer and founder of Qi Creative and president of Arts on the Ave (AOTA), said the idea was sparked when he and his wife Paula discussed the way local businesses work together to help one another and community members. They’re rooted in the area, committed to the community, and are more than just businesses; they’re also humanitarians and citizens.

“Paula said, there’s a lot of amazing citizens. Isn’t this amazing how this is the Avenue of Champions, but there’s a different kind of champion. It’s not just sports,” Rivero said.

Rivero approached Christy Morin, AOTA’s executive director, about these individuals who “overcome insurmountable obstacles and challenges.”

Business owners understand the struggle, said Morin. They also give back to the community. Last June, Morin and Rivero were at an AABA board meeting and discussed Spruce Avenue School’s food needs during summer break. Because some students are victims of trauma, they’re not always at home.

“Within a few minutes, [the businesses] raised $8,000 for food security,” Morin said.

AOTA created a partnership with Alberta Avenue Business Association (AABA) for the project.

“The project isn’t featuring artists, but is using arts to feature businesses,” said Morin.  “Champions of Alberta Ave is a shifting of how we think of champions and why we do what we do.”

Organizers chose nine businesses based on their country of origin and interviewed the original owners to gain an understanding of the journey involved.

“Each story was so unique. I think we’re compelled as humans to hear the struggle and see them get through it. [The businesses] are huge risk takers,” said Morin.

The eight to 10 minute film will be subtitled and feature owners in their place of business. Justin Brunelle, a local director, shot the film in May. Edmonton Shutterbugs, a photography group, took pictures, while Shirley Serviss, a freelance writer and editor, wrote the stories.

“I found them tremendously inspiring that they were often fleeing violent situations in home countries, often with very little, knowing few people, and made a successful business,” Serviss said. “These are champions—people who’ve made a home for themselves.”

She explained while all the stories were compelling, “the thing that struck me was the closeness of the families.”

Dora Arevalo from El Rancho Spanish Restaurant started the business with her mom, Alba. At Popular Bakery, the sons run the business with their parents Maria and Olympio Soares. At Lan’s Asian Grill, the children convinced Lan to start the restaurant, but now run the restaurant in different capacities.

Paraiso Tropical, Kasoa Tropical Food Market, Lan’s Asian Grill, El Rancho Spanish Restaurant, T&D Noodle House, Popular Bakery, Passion de France, Downtown Auto Edmonton, and Optimum Auto Service are featured in the project.

Champions of Alberta Ave will be released in October or November.

Featured Image: Dora Arevalo (left) started El Rancho Spanish Restaurant with her mother, Alba (right). | Kaye Ly

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