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Don't panic, Kamloops will soon have bannock

Kekuli Cafe in West Kelowna.
Kekuli Cafe in West Kelowna.

Don’t panic, another B.C. city will soon have Sharon Bond’s bannock.

The owner of the Westbank’s Kekuli Cafe has franchised yet again, adding Kamloops to her popular chain of Indigenous eateries.

It’s the third brick-and-mortar location for Bond, who has now built her brand of fast-casual restaurants in Westbank and Merritt, and the new spot will be located across from the Royal Inland Hospital.

Bond also has a food truck that offers up the popular treat that, like the restaurants, serves the fried bread and a range of foods that have long been relied on in Indigenous cuisine, including venison, salmon, and seasonal fruit and vegetables.

“We were looking for a spot in the Interior, and Kamloops is one of the hubs,” Bond said. “It’s the gateway to Alberta, the Cariboo and other places around the Interior.”

Location may boost her clientele but if her success with other shops is any indication, it would do well just about anywhere.

“Our bannock is fresh, it’s handmade, and it’s like a donut but it’s different. Our recipe is simplistic, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside,” Bond said.

She’s been told many times over the years that bannock wasn’t the food of First Nations people before colonization, but she said that even so, it has a place in her peoples’ history that deserves acknowledgement. 

“Back in the day they were given rations to survive on the reserves and they had to whip something up that would sustain them, for survival,” she said. “Whether they mixed it with berries, pemmican or oolichan, they had ways of survival and bannock happens to be that bread they know today. Now we are lucky to have friers and sugars and oils, though.”

While residents of West Kelowna are pretty well aware of how good bannock can be, Bond is still, by any measure, a trailblazer.

Indigenous restaurants are not nearly as common as, say, Italian, Greek or Chinese — some of the most common fare in Canada.

In fact, when she was working on a business plan from 2004 to 2007 there were very few Indigenous restaurants to learn from and the only place to get a good bannock feast was a powwow.

“I couldn’t find any restaurant that made Indigenous food. I didn’t know if I would be doing this correctly or if people would come to it,” she said.

Now it’s happening a bit more often, though it’s hardly commonplace.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this spot, and in the last three or four years there have been 20 to 25 restaurants that are Indigenous,” she said.

“It’s so cool to see there are more. Now so many Indigenous people are opening bistros or serving amazing foods from their areas. Ours is fast-casual but we’re still trailblazers for Indigenous food, restaurants or business.”

While Westbank and other First Nations have shown economic might, Bond said it was hard for her to get a loan from a bank as an Indigenous person. She and her husband worked multiple jobs to save, buy equipment and build their credit and raise their personal banking profiles. In the end, a regular bank still wasn’t the right way forward for them.

“I went to ANTCO,” she said. “They’ve always been a part of my ideas and my growth as a business and they’ve been great… compared to banks which wouldn’t touch us with a 10-foot pole.”

Antco is an Indigenous-owned trust company that provides financial services for businesses, housing and a variety of other financial services.

Sometimes, she said, that it all came together from a dream conceived decades earlier seems almost crazy. But, the proof is in the pudding or, in this case, the bannock batter.

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