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Most entrepreneurs anticipate facing challenges in their first year of business in terms of operations, revenues, and customer retention. But a pandemic is not something that anyone pursuing their passion could expect.
Vancouverite Samantha Emerman, owner and operator of Kind Cafe + Eatery on Main Street, was just finding her feet when COVID-19 hit back in March. She opened the eco-friendly vegan cafe just over a year ago, on August 8, 2019.
“It’s definitely been interesting [working through COVID-19], especially being in our first year of business as a zero-waste company, which makes it a little crazier,” Emerman tells Daily Hive. First, the cafe reduced its hours — opening for just two days a week, with locals required to pre-order for pickup.
But Emerman got creative and quickly pivoted, launching Kind Cafe’s first grocery menu. To safely serve the community at the time, she began doing deliveries with the help of her mom and dad, offering menu items in reusable containers. Now, the cafe is offering Monday deliveries across the Lower Mainland.
The new grocery menu includes the cafe’s carrot lox, bread, sauces, and dressings (think maple tahini), among other items.
During this transitional period, Emerman says the Kind Cafe team didn’t change their values or beliefs towards zero-waste. “We still gave out containers with deposits on them, and we still accepted returns [of containers] the entire time.”
Since its inception, Kind Cafe has taken a multitude of steps to become a zero-waste cafe. You won’t find any disposable or single-use cups, containers, cutlery, straws, or napkins on-site. “We’ve opted for reusable everything: reusable containers, metal cutlery, and we have reusable cloths for napkins,” Emerman explains.
Making their own milk in-house drastically reduces waste, Emerman says, along with using the nut milk for baking, and vegetable scraps for stocks. “We create specials that allow us to use some of the products that are leftover in the cafe.”
Kind Cafe sources from local businesses whenever possible, many of which are family-owned and operated. “A lot of our suppliers are from the Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, and South Surrey-Cloverdale areas,” says Emerman. Being able to support local, especially during these times, means everything to Kind Cafe.
“We believe that local businesses give a community its flavour and what makes it different from every other city in the world. I think Vancouver is such an amazing community and city because of the small businesses that we have,” says Emerman.
It’s clear from our conversation that Emerman is passionate about promoting sustainability within Vancouver’s culinary scene. “I’ve always had really strong beliefs in eco-friendly practices and values towards veganism,” she says.
When she finished high school, she studied baking and pastry arts, and then life coaching, before graduating as a holistic nutritionist in 2014. This scope of work, coupled with her experience of working in cafes and a desire to help reduce waste, led Emerman to launch Kind Cafe with the help of her restauranteur dad, family, and investors.
“It disturbed my inner peace a little bit being surrounded by so much single-use waste, dairy, and people who didn’t really think twice about it. I always thought there must have been a better and kinder way to operate a cafe with an emphasis on eco-friendly protocols while educating the community and having vegan food and beverage options,” she says.
Since the crisis began, Emerman says the support Kind Cafe has received from the community has been above and beyond any expectation. “We’re so grateful — it really made us realize that there is a lot of other passionate zero-waste and plant-based individuals in this community.”
Kind Cafe reopened for dine-in services in late May with social distancing measures and sanitization protocols in place. Deliveries are no longer available, but the cafe is keeping its grocery menu and installing a new fridge to display items for customers.
In the future, Emerman hopes to open more locations on the west coast and perhaps launch a bigger grocery and retail product line. However, plans depend on how the rest of the crisis plays out for Kind Cafe and other small businesses.
Emerman urges people to support local businesses during this time, but most importantly, to do it whenever possible. “Being a part of the small business community in Vancouver is absolutely the best part of owning Kind,” she adds.
Whether you’re heading out to collect something for pickup at Kind Cafe or dining in at a safe distance, getting there in a vehicle like the new all-electric MINI Cooper SE lets you do this with low impact, zero emissions, and instant acceleration due to battery-powered driving technology.
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