After weathering the economic crisis of COVID-19, the Indigenous-owned Salmon N’ Bannock restaurant is opening a second location.
The new location, Salmon N’ Bannock on the Fly, is set to open this year at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
Owner and operator, Inez Cook of the Nuxalk Nation, said the pandemic shutdown gave her the time and space to start executing the business’ expansion.
“I guess it’s a blessing in disguise,” she said.
“When lockdown happened, I kind of thought, ‘Now’s a good time to actually get into YVR when everything’s shut down and would be a good time to go and start construction.’”
Salmon N’ Bannock is celebrating its 12th anniversary as one of the few Indigenous restaurants in “B.C.”
Cook first opened Salmon N’ Bannock in 2010, and was approached by planners from YVR in 2018 who asked if she’d like to expand her restaurant to the airport. But the timing, which was pre-pandemic, didn’t work with her busy schedule.
“I smiled, and I laughed, and I said, ‘It sounds like a great idea. But the timing – forget it.’ And I just kind of let it go.”
But the airport planners were persistent, which allowed Cook to finally say ‘yes’ during the lockdown, a few years later.
“They’ve kind of been like a little mosquito in my ear for the past four years, kind of like: ‘Have you given it any more thought?’”
In 2020 when the lockdown happened, Cook was thrown into tumult. She, along with everyone else in the restaurant industry, faced incredible hardship.
“It was horrible. There were days that I was in the fetal position, thinking I was going bankrupt. And I was really worried about the future,” she said.
“I was sad, I had to lay off all the staff. Everything was so [up] in the air and so uncertain.”
Ultimately, Cook was able to adjust and figure out how to move through the uncertainty of the pandemic and got to a place where opening a new location felt doable. Salmon N’ Bannock held BBQs and raffles in collaboration with local artists to generate income and “create more community spirit” during lockdown and dining out restrictions, Cook explained.
She also created an Uber Eats menu that allowed it to offer its food to a wider crowd. But, creating a menu that’s compatible with Uber Eats was a challenge, Cook said.
“We’re a dinner place, we can’t compete with the $7 lunch crowd. We can’t compete with a 10-minute lunch crowd. We can never compete with those menus,” Cook said.
“Bannockwiches” sell for $10-$14 each through the app, while the signature smoked salmon burger with coleslaw, as well as the gourmet salad bowls sell for $24 each.
“Our product is expensive. All our fish is wild, all our meat is free-range and organic, and we don’t have a microwave. Everything is made with love. So, it’s really challenging trying to figure out how to navigate Uber Eats.”
The restaurant’s menu that has been working on Uber Eats will also become the menu at the new location, located inside the international departures area.
When representatives from YVR asked Cook where she wanted to be located, her answer came quickly. Cook has been a part of the airline industry for 31 years as a flight attendant (and will retire from the industry this Fall) and had an idea for a strategic location.
“I know the travelling public, I know what they like to eat. And I’ve been in enough airports in my life to know what is missing,” she said.
“I wanted to go to international departures. Because once people go through security at international departures, their holiday [has] started, and everybody goes a minimum of three hours before their flight. So, you have a very captive audience.”
Opening a new location, especially at an airport, has its hurdles. The new location is faster and busier than the West Broadway bistro, and requires that Cook train many new employees — a task that comes with its own set of challenges.
Cook is training the new staff members at the West Broadway location outside of the restaurant’s normal operating hours. She would have liked to train them while the West Broadway restaurant is open, but the kitchen is too small to handle such a large influx of trainees while also fulfilling customer orders, and revenue from that location wouldn’t be able to cover that many new staffers.
To finance the training, Cook launched the Feed Your Spirit campaign, an online fundraiser that will pay her trainees to make free Salmon N’ Bannock meals for community members. The initiative is in partnership with local organizations Helping Spirit Lodge Society and RainCity Housing, both of which are distributing the meals the people who access their services.
“The meals that we can provide to these people — they’ve had a lot of life circumstances happen to them, and knowing that there is community that care and whether it’s the person that donated, or our cooks that cooked it, it does bring it full circle and these people can understand that they are not forgotten and they are valuable,” Inez said.
“Feed your spirit, food is healing, it’s all intertwined.”
Salmon N’ Bannock on the Fly will be opening this year and is said to be a first for airports in Canada, Inez said.
“It’s the first time in history that an Indigenous restaurant is going into any Canadian airport. That’s really remarkable.”