Adriane King – Operations and Development Director, H.A.V.E. Café


June 24, 2020

H.A.V.E Cafe is a non-profit cooking school in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside led by Chef Amber Anderson, C.C.C.. They work with people who have barriers to employment, training them how to cook and ultimately getting them jobs in the restaurant industry. Nearly all of their students experience poverty, and many of them are multi-barriered – they might have mental health problems, they might have addictions, they may have spent an extended period of time out of the workforce, or they might be new to Canada. Hosting approximately 20 students at a time, their main program is an eight week-long program that allows students to gain experience cooking for the patrons of H.A.V. E’s restaurant and preparing food for their catering company, which earns revenue to pay for the students to come to the school. All of the programs are at no charge to the people that are accessing them.

H.A.V.E Cafe was part of the Coordinated Community Response Network group (CCRN). The CCRN was made up of various non-profit organizations that serve the Downtown Eastside community and was formed in response to anticipated effects that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the Downtown Eastside. 

This interview took place on June 24th, 2020. Some of the information discussed below was true at the time of this interview but may currently be different. 

Sydney: How did H.A.V.E get involved with the Downtown East Side’s response to the pandemic? 

Adriane: On March 18th we had to shut-down the school and the café, and we basically lost all of our catering business. We had to very quickly pivot and think about how we keep staff employed, how do we not lose all of our inventory, and most importantly, how do we make sure people in the community are not hungry? I’ve been coming downtown every day and have experienced people asking for food – that’s not typical. Our business operations changed pretty quickly. In mid-March we became involved with the Coordinated Community Response Network group. We are a collection of nonprofits and social enterprises, the business association, as well as private individuals that have a stake in what’s going on in the community. Through the CCRN, we kind of created a food network, if you will, headed by Naved Noorani from Potluck. Around late March or early April, we started producing meals for both housed and unhoused people. The people receiving meals from our food group live in private Single Room Occupancies (SRO’s) that don’t have access to kitchens, as well as people that are living on the street. Overall, we’re doing about 1200 meals a day. Initially, we thought well we got this restaurant seating space out front and considered opening it up as respite space where people could come indoors and relax for a while. We knew that there was a need for indoor space for folks, but we quickly realized we should just stick to what we know how to do, which is prepare food, and do that safely. While we are not running our usual student programming here at H.A.V.E, we’ve hired several students as catering cooks and are currently a team of about 10.  We’ve also been doing the delivery to about 14 private SRO’s in the community. H.A.V.E is doing the lunches, and Potluck is doing the dinners. So, these folks are getting two hot meals a day, seven days a week, which we are very happy to be a part of. 

Sydney: How does that work in terms of safety procedures? 

Adriane: I think food service establishments are already well versed in what it means to have a sanitized environment but spacing was an issue that we had to change. We had people working at every other table, as opposed to every table, putting tables out front and having people work out there. We also had to develop our safety plan. In terms of the delivery side of it, what that really meant is that we were doing a curbside delivery; you’re taking the food in a cardboard box that is not used and handing it off to the person that operates the building that’s going to go in and distribute the meals to tenants. Everyone’s wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE), and you’re sanitizing the boxes and you’re sanitizing the car and everything. I would say that on a daily basis, we haven’t added more than an hour in terms of sanitization protocols. When you’re making food, you’re doing one task, then you’re sanitizing after each task. You are already washing your hands every 15-30 minutes so the impact on those operations has not been significant.

Sydney: What’s your relationship like with the downtown Eastside community? 

Adriane: Our mandate is always to hire those that have come through our program if we have jobs available. For example, Glenda who is H.A.V. E’s first Red Seal chef, she lives and works in the area, as do many of our other staff. While I was delivering meals for the SRO’s I met a gentleman named Jeff; I learned that Jeff actually was a graduate of H.A.V.E.  It was really great to see that he was happy where he was, and he asked if there was an opportunity for him to come back and volunteer at H.A.V.E., and so he actually did come in and help us out for a few weeks. I think that the people receiving the food like to know that it’s coming from a place that helps people who are maybe facing the challenges that they might be facing, and that in terms of the City of Vancouver funding a social enterprise, you know the revenues that are being generated are going back into the community in the form of jobs, product purchasing and training opportunities. 

Sydney: What does an average day look like at H.A.V.E? What’s on the menu? 

Adriane: The first people here are the Chefs around 6am. We started staggering shifts so that people weren’t coming and going at the same time for COVID safety. Chef Amber or Chef Richard are the first ones in, and they make the plan for the day. I typically start around 7:30am. My days have changed in that I now have many more meetings than pre-COVID times. I act as a coordinator between our catering clients, the community groups and our HAVE team. I support Amber as she plans the menus and schedules staff. 

From what I see, the Chefs are coming in and first making around 600 sandwiches, then we have staff who come in a little bit later that take the sandwiches and build the lunch-bags that include a sandwich, piece of fruit and a treat like a cookie or rice crispy square. The next focus becomes the hot lunch which might be a stew, pasta or Shepherd’s Pie. Then they work on the dinners which could be steak and mashed potatoes, pork chops or a Greek chicken meal. The logistics of and timing of getting the food hot and out the door to our various clients has been a challenge for me. You have to consider what the capacity of the ovens is, and time how long everything needs to go in for and what the pickup and delivery windows are. Menu wise, Amber has over 30 years of catering experience and HAVE often caters for individuals living in the community, so we were already familiar with the types of meals that would be popular. HAVE always focuses on the nutritional quality of our meals, what is going to be easy for people to chew and what tastes good. We have a partnership with Soul Food Farms; they provide us with donated fresh produce, so we’re trying to use that as much as possible because it’s local and such great healthy produce. In terms of what’s easy to eat, a lot of people might have teeth missing, they might have compromised immune systems, so nothing that’s too spicy. The first week of doing SRO meals we did a chili, and although it was very, very mild, we heard that that was not going to work. So, you just have to be kind of adaptable and hear what people want. The most popular is pasta. People seem to love lots of sauce. We received a very generous donation through the food group from the BC Turkey Farmers, so we incorporated turkey into as many meals as possible. Amber’s turkey Shepherd’s Pie was very popular.

Sydney: Do you procure a lot of food from local sources?

Adriane: We buy a lot from Sunrise – or we bought a lot from Sunrise – but they closed April 6th, so we had to order a lot of our produce in from Central Foods. But normally we would try to get most of our stuff from Sunrise. Sunrise plays an important part in the education of our students because we use shopping there to teach students about food costing and the value of a dollar. We ask students to look at the shopping list, come up with a budget, and then send them to Sunrise with money to buy what we need. This teaches them in a school setting but the skills are transferrable to their personal lives. We closed our school before Sunrise closed, but it is a very important part of the education that we do here. So, yes you could go and spend a dollar and get, you know, a hamburger from McDonalds, but if you save those dollars and you have three of them, look at this amazing meal that you can make, that can feed you over three days, and it’ll be way better for you. It plays an important part in keeping our food costs down and providing good quality food in our catering business. We would go and do a shop five days a week. I couldn’t speak to how much we were spending there. More than a hundred dollars a day, I’d say. I was so excited when I saw that they were open again. You know, I think the next closest place to shop that has fresh produce might be No Frills, which is a ways away if you’re someone who doesn’t have access to transit or a vehicle.

Sydney: Do you see the role of H.A.V.E changing months down the line, when the pandemic is over, or more controlled?

Adriane: Out of this it’s been really amazing to connect with all the other community groups that are working to serve the needs of the residents, and I see that as a beautiful opportunity to collaborate in the future on projects. Naved (of Potluck) and I have met, you know obviously we operate in similar circles here, and we met at a few events and never really had the opportunity to work together until the Community Impact Real Estate food group came to be. But I was incredibly impressed with his leadership, and how he prioritized social enterprise businesses – I have a lot of respect for Naved and I look forward to working with him more in the future. I think having made all of these contacts will really help us to work together in ways that maybe we haven’t historically. If you think about Potluck and us working together, we actually are competitors in the general marketplace, but through this we’ve come together and built trust and a really strong partnership. What that looks like down the road, I don’t know. But we would love to continue to provide food for people that don’t have access, maybe through a partnership through BC Housing. I am hopeful that we have shown the City of Vancouver our ability to mobilize, and if there is a second wave of COVID, we can be relied upon to prepare healthy delicious meals for the community. We can certainly see all of the money that is being poured into our economy by the government, and I am concerned about what that is going to mean going forward, for the availability of future funding opportunities.  If there aren’t many jobs, then where does that leave social enterprises such as HAVE who train people for employment? With the restrictions on gathering and so many people working from home, what is the catering business going to look like going forward? If we’re not able to gather more than 50 people, and we’re not sharing the traditional buffet style meals, it will have a huge impact on the catering business. Our business didn’t really do weddings, but we did a lot of corporate events. So, what’s that going to look like going forward? Are people just going to be ordering individual meals? Or will they order food at all? I’m hopeful that there will be a shift to increase our business from the government, whether it’s at the municipal, provincial, or federal level, but time will tell.

Sydney: What’s been the most rewarding aspect from the changes at H.A.V.E.? 

Adriane: I think for me personally it has been witnessing the power of our HAVE team. Our business majorly pivoted and that took a lot of sacrifice from leadership and staff, but they did it with so much compassion and dedication to our community. They didn’t want anyone to go hungry. Staff continued to come into work even though doing so put them at risk of contracting COVID. I’m just incredibly humbled by what I’ve seen the team here do, and on a larger scale, the work that I have seen done through the Coordinated Community Response Network. The community took action so quickly, seeing where the needs were and filling in the gaps. I am also feeling very thankful to our supporters. We were able to receive funds through the Vancity Vancouver Foundation COVID Response (to prepare meals) in lightning quick time. In my 5 years in this role, I have never been able to secure funds so quickly and have them in our bank account. We’re so grateful to the foundations, City of Vancouver, BC Housing and private funders for their support during this hopefully once-in-my-lifetime pandemic.