Surrey’s landmark Round Up Café has been reborn as a training kitchen for culinary-arts students.
Now, they’ve donated the space to a UNITI program that teaches restaurant-industry skills to people with developmental disabilities.
Since mid-July, students have been learning to chop vegetables, set tables and more, to prepare for a “soft launch” of diner service later this month.
But take note: it won’t exactly resemble the Round Up of years past, save for the name and decor.
“Right now the emphasis is on in-house training, and we are planning to slowly open up to the public,” explained Seema Tripathi, UNITI’s director of employment and innovative services.
“We will start as a coffee shop (by the third week of August) and then offer takeout, and then finally open it to in-house dining a couple days a week – breakfast and lunch, by mid-September.”
To start, the program involves a cohort of seven students, eager to learn culinary skills during a six-month program taught by chef Roger Joharchy.
“We want to emphasize that these are student-handcrafted dishes that will be served,” Tripathi continued, “so they may not be all restaurant-style finished product, but the quality of the food will be there. What is most important is the passion of the students, the commitment and eagerness to really showcase their skills, and that will be reflected in whatever meal is served.”
Back in 1959, Orest and Goldie Springenatic bought the Goodmanson Building diner and turned it into a hub for Canadian-Ukrainian meals, and more.
Prior to his death in 1995, at age 69, Orest was a trailblazer with Whalley Little League, and the restaurant became a post-game magnet for baseball players and their families, among many others in the community.
Goldie, along with adult children Dennis and Collette, returned to the diner Monday (Aug. 9) for the first time since it closed as a family-run business last spring.
“We’re proud to be involved in something like this, and my mom and dad were always very involved with the community here, with baseball and hockey, all of it,” Dennis Springenatic said. “This is the same kind of thing, just another way to give back. It’s gratifying to our family.”
Goldie nodded in agreement.
“We’re happy to do this, to help like this,” she said, “and we’re looking forward to coming back for a lunch or two as well.”
The Round Up is the kind of space UNITI could only dream of when its culinary-arts program launched in 2019.
Before the Round Up closed in April, the Springenatics considered UNITI as an operator of the diner space, following an introduction by friend Shara Nixon.
“Roger’s dream was to have this program in a restaurant like this, a physical location,” Tripathi reported. “We were searching for a place, but with the prices the way they are, it was difficult. But then when we were introduced to Collette and the (Springenatic) family, they were also very keen to work with us, to do something meaningful for the community.”
The current cohort of students includes Kurtis Reid, Safeer Jivraj, Derek Armstrong, Jamie Thompson and Cherry Cabarlo. Two others, Alistair Hall and Tracy Willis, already have jobs in the restaurant industry.
“Their training is done in an adapted and customized manner,” Tripathi noted, “and quite a few of (the previous students) have obtained successful employment in the (restaurant) industry. We know that there is a need for people to work in the restaurant industry, because we did a feasibility study when we launched the program.”
At the diner, the plan is to print details about the program on place-mats, and on signs at the entrance.
“One day it might be soups and salad here, and the next day they students might be baking – cookies or cakes, something different,” Joharchy noted. “It’s a training site, so the food will be different and not always the same.”
The pilot project will run for six months to start, in consultation with the Springenatics.
“The family has given us this rent-free, but it’s not like we are taking over the space, we are working on this together,” Tripathi said. “They will be very much involved in every aspect of this.”
When planning the program at the diner, Tripathi said UNITI operators expected some level of concern from families of the students involved.
“We told the families about setting this up in the Whalley area and we were surprised that not one of them worried about being unsafe here,” she said. “They loved the idea of their children learning in a well-known place like this. It helps take our culinary training program to another dimension, a totally new place.”
Recently, Tripathi and a Uniti staff member talked to some nearby construction workers who were excited about the Round Up’s rebirth.
“We told them what we are doing here,” Tripathi recalled, “and the one said, ‘so the mentally-challenged people will be cooking?’ And my staff corrected them saying, ‘No, these are people with diverse abilities.’ He paused and said, ‘I’m so thankful that you corrected me, because we need the education.’ And that made me think that this is great, because we’ll be doing so many things, and that includes the education piece. We are here to empower the students and encourage them to become rightful citizens of the communities of their choice.”