By Duck Paterson
Special at the Chronicle
Starting in China then moving to Toronto then next door to Vancouver and almost ending in Nanaimo, but discovering a neighborhood in Ladysmith was what decided for Dong Su and Jai Chen.
They discovered the old grocery/convenience store on Fourth Avenue and realized how it could turn into a dream they both had for a long time.
Dong moved to Canada 18 years ago and has held a variety of positions, including a postman at Canada Post, an art educator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and even a stint as a reporter for a Hong Kong newspaper.
Jia moved to Canada 12 years ago where she studied art and obtained a degree in fine arts. Jia also went to culinary school, where she met Stephanie (who would become the main chef/baker at Jas Cafe & Bakery). Jia worked in various restaurants and eventually became the main chef and coordinator of a chain of Japanese restaurants.
Dong and Jia met five years ago and found they both had the same goals (and dreams) and it turned out to be a trip they both enjoyed.
“Ladysmith is a community that revolves around us. I liked the small town feeling the minute we got here,” Dong said. “It’s affordable, convenient, and once we settled here, the neighborhood really welcomed us.”
“I like that it’s open and can see the sky,” Jia said. “I like trees but our neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of big trees, that’s good. I love my neighbors and the neighborhood. We are not cramped.
When COVID hit, Dong was laid off at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“I was touring and teaching, so all of that went away, so we decided it was time to get to where we wanted to be,” he said. “When we bought the property from Ladysmith we knew it would be a fair amount of work but it turned out to be more than expected but we are happy with how it turned out.”
When they replaced the roof, both on the residence and on the store, they found that there were three layers of shingles up there and the roof plywood on the residential portion was totally rotten, so everything it had to be replaced.
“We are very happy that we have always hired local people to do the job,” Dong said. “Locally, everything went as we wanted, but not so much for equipment and suppliers.”
They had ordered a walk-in cooler for the cafe and after waiting six months it finally showed up, only to find the insulted walls of the cooler weren’t there.
“It’s always been my dream to have a cafe where we could produce all our own stuff,” Jia said. “I want something meaningful and where people want to be and know they have quality. My job currently is to design all the products with input from Dong and Stephanie. »
Anything Jas serves will have been produced and tested by all three first. The goal is for everything to be tackled as a team. It’s discussed, tried, then discussed again, so before it hit the shelves it was carefully planned.
“We have to love it first, before we go any further, we want to be able to say it’s the best it can be,” Jai said.
The couple look at Jas from a business perspective.
“It has to make sense to produce something; we can’t just put things on the shelves that are going to cost us,” she said. “But we don’t need to get rich either. We look forward to returning customers as it’s fun to be here, great food, nice people but also fun.
Dong said it’s been a long road, but it’s been worth it.
“We must have spent over a month fixing the house part before even looking down at the business side of things,” he said. “It’s been stressful and a lot longer than expected, but in the whole process we learned a lot, but what’s really important is that we met a whole bunch of really nice people. All those people helped us. really helped and that helped make things a little easier.
Jas Cafe and Bakery will serve breakfasts from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“Guests can order breakfast from the specialty menu or even design their own,” Jai said.
The cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. In addition to breakfast, it will also offer a lunch menu featuring local and special Jas features and an assortment of specialty coffees, bubble teas and other goodies.
“We want to be able to do something for everyone,” Dong and Jai said.
It is their plan to have indoor and outdoor seating.