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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/7/2017 (985 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like a lot of teenagers, Roweliza Lulu applied at her share of fast-food joints when she was a broke high school student in desperate need of a part-time job.
Considering Lulu went on to found Springroll Queen, a year-old venture that markets more than 20 varieties of hand-made spring rolls, including such royally inventive flavours as bacon-jalapeño, cheese-hotdog and blueberry-cheesecake, restaurant managers must have been tripping over themselves to hire her to flip burgers and scoop french fries all those years ago, right?
"At the time, a ton of my friends worked at McDonald’s and I was like, ‘I’m going to work there, too.’ Except I don’t even remember getting asked to come down for an interview," says the 43-year-old mother of three, seated in a McPhillips Avenue coffee shop blocks away from Sisler High School, her old stomping grounds.
Things worked out OK in the end, she says, given she eventually caught on at "some fabric place." For a long time, however, she wondered why she couldn’t even land a job at Burger King.
Nobody is wondering any longer; from Aug. 10 to 12, Springroll Queen will be one of 50 specially selected vendors taking part in a pop-up event at The Forks in connection with the Canada Summer Games. During the three-day, open-air market, which will be staged at Parks Canada Place, Lulu plans to unveil her latest brainwave: a spring roll stuffed with quinoa, black beans, cilantro, lime and mango.
"A few nights ago while we were watching TV, my boyfriend told me I should try doing a quinoa spring roll for the ‘health people’ and I was like, ‘yeah, that’s not a bad idea.’
"So I immediately headed out the door to the grocery store, where I picked up some quinoa and a bunch of other ingredients, then started fooling around in the kitchen till 2 (a.m.) or so. What I eventually came up with is a little bit sweet, a little bit tart and I have a feeling it’s going to be a big, big hit."
Lulu was born in the Philippines. Her family immigrated to Canada in 1977, settling in Winnipeg’s North End.
Referring to her mother as an "absolutely phenomenal cook," Lulu, the second youngest of four sisters, says spring rolls, or lumpia, were as common a foodstuff in her childhood home as bread, milk and eggs.
"In Filipino culture, they’re just a part of life. I mean, if you’re having a birthday party or family get-together, there have to be spring rolls, right?" she states matter-of-factly.
In June 2016, Lulu, a certified health-care agent, signed up for a course to improve her skill set.
Because her supervisors wouldn’t approve a change in her work schedule to accommodate her classes, she was forced to take an alternative position with a completely different package of hours than what she’d been accustomed to.
"All I wanted to do was switch one day a week but nobody would budge," she says. "That, combined with the way the home-care system was seemingly revamping its entire way of doing things because of the new (Progressive Conservative) government, made me think maybe I needed some kind of safety net. You know, just in case."
For years, Lulu had prepared spring rolls for acquaintances and family members upon request.
Not long after she began debating what she would do if her chosen career ever went up in smoke, she thought back to all those occasions when people had taken a bite out of one of her treats and immediately remarked, "Roweliza, you really should be charging for these."
Lulu began renting space in a downtown commercial kitchen in July 2016.
Within weeks, friends, as well as friends of friends, had shared posts from her Facebook page (facebook.com/springrollqueen) to such a degree that she was spending almost every day off from her "real job" churning out spring rolls.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2016, she filled orders to the tune of 15,000 spring rolls — an amount that finally forced her to enlist the help of a few buddies.
(Lulu throws her head back and laughs when she talks about her pals, who, when they first began assisting her in January, couldn’t quite get the hang of things.
"I don’t want to brag but I can make spring rolls with my eyes closed, whereas theirs’ were all misshapen or never the same size.
"I was like, ‘C’mon, you guys, you’re Filipino. How can you not make a proper spring roll?’")
Lulu’s decision to think outside the box by marketing spring rolls made with fillings besides the traditional pork and chopped vegetables was sparked by her desire to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, she says.
Members of Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community, for example, are drawn to her perogy-inspired rolls, which boast a cheddar-potato filling, while people of Italian descent get a kick out of her "lotza mozza" spring rolls, which is her take on the popular, bar-room staple, mozzarella sticks. (We’re not sure how popular Elvis Presley is in Manila but disciples of the King of Rock and Roll will want to give Lulu’s fried banana, peanut butter and jam spring rolls a go, that’s for sure.)
"When people come (to the commercial kitchen) to pick up their orders, sometimes we have samples of things like apple pie (spring rolls) and they’re like, ‘What?’ But throw a little cinnamon sugar on top after taking them out of the deep fryer and you’d think you were eating those mini-donuts, with an apple filling."
About six months ago, Lulu started searching for a permanent home for her business. On Aug. 1, she takes possession of a 1,500-square-foot space at 975 Notre Dame Ave., which she intends to open to the public in early September, following a slate of renovations.
"I signed a five-year lease so yeah, I’m definitely committed," she says, noting besides spring rolls, she’ll also be selling barbecued pork skewers, which she recently added to her arsenal of goodies.
"I’m almost there," she says when asked if, somewhere down the road, she plans to don her Springroll Queen crown full-time, and permanently park her health-care career.
"Right now I work evenings so I’m free during the days, which gives me plenty of time to devote to the business.
"It might sound like a lot of hours but when my kids were growing up I kind of put my life on hold. So for me to be able to do this feels like I’m finally at a point where I can do something for myself, and that’s a great feeling."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.