Opening a restaurant is a big first step for an entrepreneur. It requires organization, determination, and patience. The hours are long and the profit margins are slim.
In spite of the hurdles, many exceptional individuals manage to start restaurants with very little and pull it off. One of the driving forces behind their success? Community.
For restaurateurs, it isn’t just about putting dishes out on the table. It’s about making food with a history — and nourishing people with unique traditions. For many, especially immigrants, it’s about honoring your roots, building community, and giving back.
Restaurants as an extension of family
Chieff Bosompra originally opened Aunty Lucy’s Burgers — a hip joint in downtown Toronto — to honor his grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named. “She was my guiding light, someone who always believed in my ideas,” he says.
Aunty Lucy’s allows Bosompra to share his love for smashburgers while paying homage to his native country of Ghana. In addition to the famous burgers named after well-known Ghananian destinations, the restaurant also serves popular regional street foods such as Kelewele, fried plantain.
For Asha Wheeldon, the founder of Afro-Vegan Kula Kitchen, opening her restaurant was a family affair, too. Wheeldon was eleven years old when her family moved to Canada from Kenya.
I learned about working with dough from my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother. I want to honor some of those inspirations by offering nourishing, plant-based foods
At Kula Kitchen, she leans heavily on the use of fresh vegetables, offering them up with an East African flavor profile that diners love.
And for Akil Jassani, owner of Calgary-based Take it and Go, family is at the center of all that he does.
Seeing my parents and the struggle that they went through immigrating to Canada, because of that, a lot of our work together is trying to push them forward and trying to grow as a family as well as a business.
Jassani operates Tikka N Tequila, an Indian Mexican fusion food truck, as well as Confetti, a food truck focused entirely on sweet desserts. He honors his Indian heritage by incorporating his family’s recipes into his dishes.
Tikka N Tequila’s samosas are a good example. “Not a lot of people take the time to fold it themselves anymore,” he says with pride.
For Deepak Chadha of Whitby-based Signature Indian Cuisine, family is also at the core of his restaurant’s offering — steeped in Indian culinary traditions. He credits his mother for teaching him the craft of cooking, rolling bread on the kitchen counter. And he credits his wife as his motivation to keep going.
Family is the backbone of where we are today. At the end of the day, this is for family, to family, and with family.
Restaurants bring people together
Itamar Shani, the chef and owner of Vancouver-based Chickpea, is a restaurateur who has taken the creation of community to heart in all of his entrepreneurial efforts. His restaurant’s mottos is: “Help us spread the Chickpeace.”
Hailing from Israel, Shani is intentional about building community from the inside. Having gone through his own rough patch when he wasn’t able to find work upon his initial arrival in Canada, he wanted to make life easier for his workers.
As an employer, we encourage individuality — so each person can be themself. I believe in energy. When people come into a space, if the energy is balanced, they feel it.
Shani is equally thoughtful about how the community factored in when Chickpea started out. “When I first came to this location, I walked around and talked with people, and immediately felt a sense of community. Main Street has a vibe of futuristic, progressive thinking. I felt welcomed. I opened this place in order to be a part of this new thinking.”
As Itamar puts it, “Chickpea is not just a business; we try to create community.”
Kula Foods’ Asha Wheeldon draws a vital connection between food and people as well. “I’m from Kenya, and one of the first values I learned was around connection through sharing space, sharing resources. Food allowed me to connect with the community.”
Restaurants help give back to the community
Especially for immigrant-owned, woman-owned, and other under-resourced groups, restaurants can serve as an opportunity to give something back to the community. This has certainly been the case for Chieff Bosompra of Aunty Lucy’s.
I’m prideful of my background, and this is my way of giving back to my country and my community. I want to show kids from different backgrounds that you can jump into a space that’s unrepresented. If you have an idea, something you’ve been wanting to do, just try it.
Asha Wheeldon feels a similar passion about being seen and represented in the larger community. Wheeldon felt like something was missing after moving to Vancouver. “It was one of the first things I noticed. Spaces seemed to be missing Black voices, Black food, and Black culture.”
With Kula Foods, she is beginning to change that. “I want to create access to healthy and nourishing plant-based foods.”
DoorDash's entrepreneurship and access grants can help level the playing field and increase access to opportunity for small businesses owned by women, immigrants, and people of color. Merchants enrolled in Entrepreneurship & Access programs get connected to resources and benefits such as low-interest capital, technical assistance and education, and opportunities for increased visibility. Plus, all Canadian independent restaurants enrolled in the Entrepreneurship & Access program get a free Restaurant Canada membership, including discounts on products, supplies and services, health insurance, and access to events and training.
Partnerships to grow your restaurant
Each of these five restaurateurs knows a thing or two about perseverance — what it takes to open a restaurant and keep it afloat. When asked how he keeps going, Itamar Shani says, “You have to be patient, stay focused, calm your mind, and then just do.”
Partnerships are also an important part of moving forward. A delivery partner such as DoorDash can play a vital role in a restaurant’s operations. Kula Foods’ Asha Wheeldon says, “DoorDash has created opportunities by introducing us to a larger market.”
Take it and Go’s Akil Jassani was appreciative of some of the little things DoorDash helped with in the beginning. “DoorDash made a great first impression: stickers that we can use to seal your products, gift cards that we can give away to loyal customers, or signage to help out our Dashers to find locations. Those little things go a long way especially when it's something you've never done before.”
Of course, more tangible benefits of DoorDash are the increased revenue growth. Signature Indian saw an increase in revenue of 15-20% since signing up with DoorDash. If you’re a restaurant owner looking to grow your delivery services, sign up for DoorDash today.