Immigrant restaurateurs finding success in B.C.
Over half of the province’s food and beverage businesses are owned by first-generation Canadians
Reda Kassab was one of many immigrants drawn to B.C. to pursue economic opportunities in the province’s promising food and beverage sector.
He emigrated from Gaza to Vancouver in 2020 to join his wife, Reem, and their eight children who had arrived a few years prior. Together, the couple worked toward owning a restaurant in the city, a goal that they felt was important to achieving sustained success in Canada.
“It helps us as a family so we don’t keep getting money from the government,” said Kassab through his daughter, Eman, who translated. “It helps us build our own business and be strong and independent.”
The Kassab family now owns Manoush’eh, a Middle Eastern eatery in downtown Vancouver.
“We decided to open this restaurant to thank Canada for their support. Anyone who is coming here to Canada should open a restaurant and show us more about their country, their food, different cultures.”
Recent arrivals to Canada are vital to B.C.’s restaurant sector. According to a 2022 report from Statistics Canada, 61 per cent of restaurant owners in the province were born outside of Canada, the second-highest mark in the country.
Like the Kassab family, many immigrants to Canada are drawn to entrepreneurship as it is an opportunistic venture.
“There may be some who were already entrepreneurs back home, so before coming to Canada, had already owned and ran their own businesses. And so they already have that skill set developed,” said Suzanne Huot, an assistant professor at UBC’s Centre for Migration Studies.
“And because some of those skillsets are transferable across borders, that kind of experience may have facilitated their actual immigration to Canada. That kind of active contribution to the labour market is sought after in the immigration policies.”
When it comes to choosing an avenue for entrepreneurship, restaurant ownership is desirable for immigrants due to its familiarity.
“It’s often a knowledge that is deeply linked to identity and has been developed across one’s lifetime,” said Huot.
“If thinking through an unfamiliar environment, ‘What could I potentially contribute?’ Sticking to something that’s familiar. Food is definitely an avenue that is available.”
B.C.’s restaurant sector is particularly attractive for its diversity of cultures and robust culinary market.
“You’ve got a very competent restaurant industry that’s probably one of the best in North America,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
“Having the international reputation that we do have for quality of food in this part of Canada, that just enhances it too.”
British Columbia also boasts a unique combination of characteristics that helps restauranteurs flourish.
“You’ve got a population that’s curious,” said Tostenson.
“We have a fairly developed wine industry in British Columbia. With that, you generally see your culinary scene build around that wine.”
The Kassab family has benefited from the province’s favourable culinary environment.
Manoush’eh has risen to national fame, recently ranked one of the top five eateries in Canada by Yelp, the popular crowd-sourced review website.
“It was a surprise,” said Kassab. “One of my customers showed me on Instagram and I got shocked.”
The 2023 ranking is the third time Manoush’eh has been rated highly by Yelp, but it was the first under the ownership of the Kassab family since they purchased the business from the previous owner, George Assaf, in August 2022.
Kassab credits his success to his loyal customers and his dedication to the culinary craft.
“It’s a culture food that you rarely find here. I guess that’s why people loved it and they rated us as the best restaurant,” said Kassab. “And because everything we do here is fresh. We do everything in front of the customers. We don’t hide anything from them.”
Kassab has big plans for the future of his business in Canada.
“He likes to see his customers happy and you know and he’s thinking of opening other restaurants too,” said Eman.
“He’s going to open more of the same quality, the same food, the same customer service in different places here in Canada to spread Middle Eastern taste.”