$10,000 grant boosts Indigenous business in West End

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This article was published 08/06/2021 (428 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and WestJet recently awarded a $10,000 grant to Feast Café Bistro so it can keep offering authentic local flavours to the city’s culinary scene.

“I’m extremely thankful and grateful,” said Christa Bruneau-Guenther, the owner of Feast. “I was very happy and excited that the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and WestJet are seeing the importance of supporting Indigenous businesses at this time.”

Bruneau-Guenther said she’s fortunate to have entered the pandemic on the tail of a successful year. But operating during a pandemic hasn’t been without hardship.

Photo by Gabrielle Touchette Christa Bruneau-Guenther, the owner of Feast Café Bistro, said the money from WestJet and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada has helped her balance the different branches of her business, from managing take-out orders to sourcing local ingredients.

“We were just getting the momentum going and COVID hits,” she said. “I’ve only been able to hire back half of my staff and that’s really, really tough because they’ve persevered so hard to be where they are.”

The grant has allowed Bruneau-Guenther to bring onboard an experienced individual to help with grab-and-go meals, in-house baked goods and training. She described her business as multi-faceted, which makes pivoting according to health restrictions extra tricky.

“Christa and the work she’s done for the last number of years to try and build that business has been truly inspiring,” said Keith Henry, president and CEO of ITAC. “She’s very well known in our Indigenous tourism world – especially on the culinary side.”

In total, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and WestJet delivered nine  $10,000 grants to help boost Indigenous-owned business across the country as the tourism sector is, for the most part, fighting to stay in the black during the pandemic.

WestJet and ITAC first formed a partnership in 2019. Most of their grant money was initially earmarked for advertising and marketing Indigenous tourism experiences to domestic and international audiences through in-flight videos and other initiatives. With tourism largely on hold, both partners shifted gears and reinvested in businesses.

“I think that demonstrates the true commitment of WestJet to Indigenous tourism, not only in Manitoba but Canada,” Henry said.

Henry describes COVID-19’s impact on Indigenous businesses as “devastating” and “a serious challenge.”

“Indigenous tourism is a newer sector, generally. These businesses take time to incubate, to stabilize, no different than any other tourism business, Indigenous or not,” he said. “Christa has really shown dedication and leadership. We just think the world of her and are just so proud of the work she does.”

ITAC’s 2020 forward-looking report on Indigenous tourism in Canada said the pre-pandemic industry employed nearly 40,000 workers and 1,900 businesses – 800 of which may never re-open.

Angela Avery, executive vice president of WestJet, said she’s grateful for the partnership with ITAC and is delighted the company could show support for Feast Café Bistro.

WestJet plans to draw travellers from Europe and the U.S. to Indigenous business across Canada once pandemic restrictions ease.

Fiddleheads, asparagus, beans, and Saskatoon berries are just a few ingredients on the menu this spring and summer at Feast Café Bistro.

For Bruneau-Guenther, immersing herself in authentic culture – especially cuisine – is a non-negotiable when travelling; an adventure she hopes to continue creating for others.

“If I’m visiting another country, I want to know the culture of the land, the history of the land, the people of the land; I want to try the food of the land,” she said.

Katlyn Streilein

Katlyn Streilein
Community Journalist

Katlyn Streilein is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She can be reached by phone at 204-697-7132 or by email at katlyn.streilein@canstarnews.com

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