Recently, I attended an event put on by the Westside Food Collaborative held at Heart Attack & Vine, a café in Kitsilano. The event announcement was intriguing; it said we would be hearing the owner’s story. I can never resist a story. Seven of us gathered around a couple of tables. Pranee, owner and host, greeted us warmly and passed around nametags. She wanted to remember our names, she said. She also had a clipboard with some notes for herself. Pranee does indeed have a story to tell.
She immigrated to Canada from Thailand at the age of 23. She wanted her children to have the chance at a better life. She worked at a bakery when she first came here. But when her first child was born, she knew she wanted to be at home. She started a home daycare so that she could do just that. I asked her if she’d been a teacher at some point too. I wondered, I said, because of the nametags and how well organized you were. Someone else piped in, no just a daycare mom!
When Pranee’s kids started to grow up, she yearned to be around people more. She loved to throw a party and to cook for others. Maybe I could open my own restaurant, she thought, then it would be a party every day! And that’s exactly what she did. Pranee took over the café in October of 2010. The head chef, a treasured employee in his 70s, was inherited from the last owners. “He will have to leave us,” says Pranee. “We’ve learned so much from him.” He helped Pranee and her husband get up to speed in the first month of ownership. Now Pranee’s husband is also a chef there and her two daughters work as servers.
On the menu are beautiful homemade soups, mostly gluten free, and made without any preservatives; gourmet sandwiches, muffins, pastries and scrumptious desserts. (One of our gang informed us that the carrot cake is to die for.) They also sell their baked goods to other restaurants. These café owners are committed to sustainability too. They use compostable dishware for takeout, don’t use plastic bags, and they compost all their food scraps.
Throughout our afternoon Pranee kept returning to her love of serving. It was obvious by watching her that this was true.
“I am so happy to be of service,” she said. “If someone asks me for something, it makes me very happy. I don’t have time to volunteer and I don’t have money for charities, but if you ask me for help, I am happy to give when you come through my door. Give lasts longer than get.”
I asked if serving others was grounded in her culture, a Buddhist upbringing perhaps? Indeed, it was and a practice that Pranee embodies. Pranee means breath, that vital, life-sustaining force present in all living beings. It is clear that she is the life force within this café, you feel her warm presence the moment you enter. She’s been thinking about changing the name of the café, a remnant from the previous owners. Some people know it as the Illy Café because of the large sign that advertises the type of coffee they serve. As I glanced down at her email address, I knew the name I would choose.
Heart Attack & Vine
2480 Vine Street, just off Broadway in Vancouver