By Duck Paterson
Special to the Chronicle
Starting in China then a move to Toronto and then next to Vancouver and almost ending in Nanaimo, but having discovered a neighbourhood in Ladysmith was what made the decision for Dong Su and Jai Chen.
They discovered the old grocery/corner store on Fourth Avenue and realized how that could be transformed into a dream they both have had for quite a long time.
Dong moved to Canada 18 years ago and has worked at various occupations including, a Canada Post letter carrier, 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 earned a degree in fine art. Jia also went to culinary school, where she met Stephanie (who would become the main chef/baker at the Jas Cafe & Bakery). Jia worked in various restaurants and eventually became the main chef and co-ordinator for a chain of Japanese restaurants.
Dong and Jia met each other five years ago and discovered they both had the same goals (and dreams) and it’s turned out to be a journey they are both enjoying.
“Ladysmith is a community that gravitated to us. I liked the small town feeling the minute we arrived here,” Dong said. “It’s affordable, convenient and once we settled on being here the neighbourhood really welcomed us.”
“I like it that it’s open and can see the sky,” Jia said. “I like trees but our neighbourhood doesn’t have a lot of big trees, that’s nice. I like my neighbours and the neighbourhood. We’re not cramped.”
When COVID hit, Dong was laid off at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“I was doing tours and classes, so all that disappeared, so we decided it was time to get to where we wanted to be,” he said. “When we bought the property in Ladysmith we knew it would be a fair amount of work, but it has turned into more than we planned, but we are happy on how it turned out.”
When they replaced the roof, over both the residence and the store, they discovered that there were three layers of shingles up there and the plywood on the roof of the residential part was totally rotted so all that had to be replaced.
“We are very happy that we always hired local people to do the work,” Dong said. “Locally everything turned out the way we wanted, but not as much for equipment and suppliers.”
They had ordered a walk-in cooler for the cafe and after waiting six months it finally showed up, but they discovered that the insulted walls for the cooler were not there.
“It’s always been my dream to have a cafe where we could produce all our own stuff,” Jia stated. “I want something meaningful and where people want to be and know they have quality. My job right now is to design all the products with input from Dong and Stephanie.”
Everything Jas will be serving will have been first produced and tested by all three. The goal is that everything is approached on a team basis. It’s discussed, tried and then discussed again so before it’s on the shelves it’s been carefully planned out.
“We have to like it first, before we go further we want to be able to says it’s the best it can be,” Jai said.
The couple looks at Jas from a business angle though.
“It has to make sense to produce something; we can’t just put stuff on the shelves that is going to cost us,” she said. “But we don’t have to get rich, either. We are looking forward to customers that keep coming back because it’s fun to be here, good food, good people but also fun.”
Dong said it’s been a long haul, but worth it.
“We had to spend over a month fixing up the home part before we even looked down below at the business end of things,” he said. “It has been stressful and a lot longer than what was planned, but in the whole process we learned a lot but really important is that we met a whole bunch of really nice people. All these people really helped us and that helped to make it somewhat easier.”
Jas Cafe and Bakery will be serving breakfasts from 7-11 a.m.
“Customers can order breakfast from the specialized menu or even design their own,” Jai said.
The cafe will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday. Besides breakfast, it will also be offering a lunch menu that has some local as well as special Jas features and an assortment of specialty coffees, bubble teas and other treats.
“We want to be able to make something for everyone,” Dong and Jai both said.
It’s their plan to have both inside and outside seating.