A couple of weeks ago, we published a roundup of some of Ottawa’s food and beverage industry MVPs during the pandemic—folks who made particular efforts to address hunger and food insecurity in our community over the past 16 months. We invited readers to share their own local food heroes with us so that we could highlight them here as well, and several of you did write in with your suggestions. This week we proudly present three more people whose work during the pandemic really shone through the darkness.
Carley Schelck and the staff of Urban Element
It’s no exaggeration to say that in the past 16 years, if something good and charitable is happening in the Ottawa food and beverage scene, then The Urban Element is involved in some way. During the pandemic, this primarily meant Schelck and her staff getting involved with Cooking for a Cause. This initiative, spearheaded by the Parkdale Food Centre, was for Schelck a no-brainer to get behind. “Not only did it let us get staff back in the kitchen,” says Schelck, “it let us get hot, nutritious food to people that need it. It let us shine a little light into their lives through food.”
Schelck believes in community spirit and co-operation, and is eager to share her praise with others. “It really is a team effort, from Chef Kassandra (Pietropaolo) cooking her heart out, to Simon Bell and Anna March at the Parkdale Food Centre with whom we’ve always had a close relationship. It takes a lot of hands to help our neighbours. But that’s what Ottawa is all about, getting behind these causes and helping people in our communities. As a business owner and a member of these communities, it makes me feel amazing to care for people through food.”
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Fazel Dashti and the staff of Mezbaan Restaurant
Editor’s note: Apt613 reader Kathleen Reloza sent us Fazel’s story, from which this segment was adapted. Thank you Kathleen!
Years ago, Fazel Dashti brought his family from Afghanistan to Canada in the hopes of starting a new life. To quickly learn English and support his young family, Dashti took jobs in local restaurants cleaning dishes. He quickly discovered a passion for cooking, driving him to work his way up the kitchen ladder from dishwasher to sous-chef. Dashti realized that he could open an Afghani restaurant in Ottawa and serve the food of his youth to his new neighbours. Fast-forward several years and restaurants, and Dashti was doing just that.
When COVID-19 forced the closure of many nearby businesses, Dashti used this downturn in foot traffic to serve his community. No stranger to cooking for causes, he and his staff at Mezbaan began providing front-line workers at the Ottawa Hospital with fresh, healthy, and delicious meals to thank them for their brave and tireless service. It didn’t stop there. 250 meals to displaced peoples in emergency shelters. 200 meals to the Ottawa Hospital COVID unit and Ottawa Hospital Vaccination Centre as a thank you for their continued efforts in protecting our communities and keeping Ottawa safe. Dashti and his staff are a reminder that we’re still all in this together and that connection and collaboration can be found amidst social distancing and isolation.
Jessie Duffy and the staff of Arlington Five
For the past five years, Arlington Five owner Jessie Duffy has always envisioned the funky and charming coffee house as a hub for its community. Duffy’s belief in hospitality is one that gives everyone an equal seat at the table. When COVID-19 revealed just how much inequality and food insecurity her neighbours were facing, it filled her with despair. “I knew that pop-ups and take-out weren’t our way forward,” she says, “but I didn’t quite know how to move forward.” That knowledge came from a phone call from friends involved with what would become Cooking for a Cause. “The idea was to start providing fresh, healthy, nourishing food for our in-need neighbours. We started with 250 meals a week, and pushed ourselves to do more as time went on.”
Duffy was humbled by the sheer number of volunteers who came to her, from her own staff to regular customers and neighbours who were able to help. “We even had people writing little uplifting notes to go with the meals,” she recalls. “We wanted to nourish the spirit as well as the body.” Through it all, Duffy, assisted by Dorina Lewis, her “partner in community,” feel that they’ve gained as much as anyone through the work. “By helping and feeding our neighbours, we in turn fed our souls. This helped me really define what the ideals of A5 are and what hospitality means to us and to our community.”
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This list is by no means definitive. Do you know someone in the Ottawa Food & Beverage community who’s been a pandemic MVP? Send an email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with the subject line F&B Pandemic MVP to nominate someone you think deserves to be on the list!