Indigenous

Don’t panic, they have bannock: How Kekuli Cafe is adapting to the COVID-19 reality

Cafe prepares for the future as B.C. economy reopens

Going into the long weekend, as British Columbia begins the second phase of its reopening plan, how are Indigenous-owned businesses doing?

We are checking in with businesses in the Okanagan to find out: How have they adapted during COVID-19? What challenges have they faced? What’s been working? And, what’s next?

Kekuli Cafe

When Kekuli Cafe first opened, Sharon Bond says she wanted to create a gathering place. According to their website Kekuli, pronounced ke-koo-lee, translates to pithouse in English, or sʔístkn in the Thompson language.

Located on Westbank First Nation land, just west of Kelowna, B.C., the cafe is an “original bannock restaurant with a modern contemporary twist, First Nations style!”

They sell a range of food, from tacos to breakfast sandwiches and serve Spirit Bear organic coffee. Bond is proud of their slogan, “don’t panic…we have bannock!,” which they have even trademarked.

Bond started Kekuli Cafe with her husband Darren Hogg more than a decade ago. They’ve since moved locations, bought a food truck and even sold their first franchise, a second location in Merritt, B.C.

Sharon Bond, CEO of Kekuli Cafe stands behind the cafe counter. Photo by Chehala Leonard.

When COVID-19 started impacting all corners of North America, Bond says it was “just atrocious.”

“I remember when it came about and mid-March, it was almost like it was a switch that went on and said, ‘okay, we’re in a pandemic,’” she explains.

Bond says that sales at Kekuli Cafe dropped by 80 or 90 per cent: “Everything just kinda went dead for that for like almost three weeks. And we were like, ‘what are we going to do’?”

But they adapted, adding Kekuli Cafe to Door Dash — something they hadn’t done in the past due to the fees associated with it — and encouraging customers to come in person or use the Kekuli Cafe app to get take out.

“I just didn’t want to give up that easy and you know, throw it all the way after 10 years,” she says. “We just fought through the whole pandemic and stayed open and we’re still plugging away.”

Kekuli Cafe is also making up some of the lost business through a partnership with Canadian Tire. The retail giant is located in the same shopping area as the cafe. For more than a month, the cafe has been contracted to feed the Canadian Tire crew.

“That really pushed us to a whole new level because, once we got the contract with Canadian Tire, we were just gung ho and said, ‘okay, we’re going to figure this out,’” Bond explains.

Lemon Butterhorn and baked apple spice bannock at Kekuli Cafe. Photo by Chehala Leonard.

As she navigates keeping a cafe running during a pandemic, and prepares for the various phases of reopening, Bond has recently ordered floor decals to ensure people are staying a safe distance apart.

The decals have the Kekuli Cafe logo on them, but they don’t reference COVID-19. Bond says she’s trying to make the space feel welcoming and light: “They’ll just look welcoming and people can feel welcomed when they come in.”

Over the next several months, Bond knows that tourism will be down significantly. She hopes that this will be a time when more locals will discover the cafe.

“[We] really need the locals to help and enjoy something fresh and new,” Bond says. She explains that they still get people who have lived in the area for ten years coming in and saying “‘Oh, I drove by 20 times.’”

“So I’m like, awesome. It takes a while, but people come in and finally try it,” Bond says.

Kekuli Cafe is currently open Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm and on the weekends from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Bond is following the restaurant reopening rules closely and hopes to have her patio opened soon.