On Nov. 4, Arts on the Ave (AOTA) is debuting Champions of Alberta Avenue, a project celebrating stories of immigrant business owners along 118 Avenue.
The event will be held at Parkdale-Cromdale Community League and is part of AOTA’s Fall Pub Night Fundraiser. The project includes photography, a short film, and written profiles.
Continue to look here for condensed profiles of business owners, written by Shirley Serviss.
Popular Bakery: a true family business
It’s difficult to separate work and home when they share a building, but when you sometimes don’t finish work until 11 pm or midnight and are back at it at four in the morning, it’s convenient, Olimpio and Maria Soares have found. The owners of Popular Bakery live above their shop at 9307 118 Avenue.
The couple were both born in Portugal, but came to Edmonton via Angola where Maria had lived with her parents since she was five and Olimpio had served in the military. A civil war drove them out of the country and back to Portugal for a few years, before they came to Canada in 1979. Neither spoke English at the time. They had two sons and took whatever work they could find.
Although he had always loved to bake and had owned a bakery in Angola with Maria and her father, Olimpio became a welder and worked in Northern Alberta. He was still working as a welder when he and Maria opened their bakery where The Carrot is now in 1996. Maria and their sons Paul and Carlos ran the bakery during the week, with Olimpio helping on the weekends. They spent 10 years there, then bought land on the corner of 93 Street and built the bakery.
“We started here one week before Christmas and had no power and no phone,” Maria said. “We had cords running from our old location for the phone and Y and T Trading Company provided us with power, because we wanted to be open for Christmas. It was the busiest day we ever had, but we did it!”
Olimpio retired from welding and makes the custard tarts, pastries, and desserts. “I love very much my work because I like to see the people who come to the bakery appreciate the breads and pastries,” he said. Popular Bakery also serves meals, with homemade soup and barbecued chicken being favourites.
Their sons have taken over baking bread and will eventually take over the business. “We have one family working together, my wife, my kids,” Olimpio said proudly. “They will continue the business; it will be the future for them.”
Paraiso Tropical brings Latin America to Edmonton
Colourful piñatas hang from the ceiling of this small family business at 9136 118 Avenue that is chock-full of traditional Latin American food products. The shop is the product of the hard work of Jesus and Alba Gonzalez, refugees from the civil war in El Salvador. Jesus, Alba, and their three children came to Edmonton in 1986, adding twins to their family that same year.
“Life was very hard at first, especially when you don’t know the language,” Jesus admitted. He and Alba were working at janitorial and other service-industry jobs when they took the risk in 1991 to open a market that would supply the Latin American products.
“It was a good decision,” he said. Another good decision was handing over the business administration to their youngest son, Jesus Jr., in 2009. Under his management, Paraiso Tropical Latin Food Market has expanded to a second location on the south side.
Although both he and Alba are still involved in the business, they are now able to return to El Salvador during winters. “I share my heart,” Jesus Sr. says. “I’m part of Canada, part of El Salvador—half and half.”
Along with his siblings, Jesus Jr. grew up with the store and hated coming to it. “It was very demanding on our family,” he said, explaining he came to appreciate his parent’s efforts. “As I got older, I realized where all that hard work got us.” Jesus realized he wanted to be more involved. “I like feeling I’m contributing by providing food items that people can’t get in Edmonton and working collaboratively with the other businesses to make 118 Avenue a better environment.”
Although the south side store is larger, the original location is the busiest and the customer base is varied. Both father and son said they enjoy being able to provide foods others have discovered on their travels and to share their culture with others.
Passion de France adds to the diversity of the Avenue
When Melanie Dovale came here with her husband in 2010 from Montreal, she found chain stores, not the small, independent businesses she was used to. So she decided to open one of her own.
“I missed the little shops with their own signature and always wanted to own a shop,” she said. It took a few years, but she opened Passion de France in 2014 just off 118 Avenue at 11812 86 Street, across from Eastwood Park. Customers are welcomed to the little French bakery with outdoor tables shaded by umbrellas and appealing flower boxes. The inside is equally inviting with antique chairs and European artwork.
Dovale is the daughter of Portuguese immigrants, but said she has never been very interested in Portuguese food. Nor has she any formal training in the culinary arts, but loves reading recipe books and watching cooking shows and videos on YouTube. “French pastries offer lots of room for creativity,” she said. “There are so many types of crèmes and sponges.”
She is Muslim, so everything they make at the bakery is halal. “I adapt the recipes so that there is no alcohol or pork,” she said. “We also have many vegetarian options available.” She uses fresh, natural ingredients with no preservatives, offering soups, crepes, quiches, and pastries. She also offers catering.
Dovale has her masters in counseling, so is a good listener if her customers want to start a conversation. “They get a two for one,” she said, “therapy and French cuisine!”
She chose the area because it is multicultural and had the small community feeling she was missing. “If you want to discover a new taste, come to the Avenue,” she said. She appreciates the many activities and festivals the area offers and the way people get involved in the community.
Although running her own business is exhausting, she finds it rewarding to create something that people like.
AOTA FALL PUB NIGHT FUNDRAISER: DEBUT FOR CHAMPIONS OF AB AVE
Nov. 4, Parkdale-Cromdale Community League (11335 85 St)
Entertainment, art, music, food, & prizes.
Doors open: 7:30 pm
Individual tickets: $75 + GST
Limited tickets. Buy tickets at The Carrot or on Eventbrite.
Featured Image: Everything at Passion de France is made with fresh, natural ingredients. An employee of the store is pictured in the photo.| Bruce Patterson