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Why the Kekuli Cafe's long-awaited Kamloops location is still waiting

Owner of Kekuli Cafes in Merritt and Kamloops, Elijah Mack-Stirling (right), with franchise founder Sharon Bond.
Owner of Kekuli Cafes in Merritt and Kamloops, Elijah Mack-Stirling (right), with franchise founder Sharon Bond.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Elijah Mack-Stirling

The bannock-based Kekuli Café is opening in Kamloops soon but it is taking longer than expected.

The owner taking over the newest franchise addition is Elijah Mack-Stirling who is already the owner of the Kekuli Café in Merritt.

He said he has been waiting for the City to push through the last bit of paperwork for two months while he has been paying for the lease.

“Waiting for the City of Kamloops to approve my permit is like watching paint dry,” Mack-Stirling said. “I don’t understand why it takes so long. You need to have systems in place that work. It is very discouraging as a business operator. I don’t know how any community can expect to be an economic development center operating at this pace.”

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Mack-Stirling said he has a manager trained and ready to operate his Merritt restaurant while he gets the Kamloops restaurant up and running. The new branch is located in the former Starbucks space across from Royal Inland Hospital.

“Starbucks doesn’t cook things, they put them in an oven,” he said. “Some of the foundation for a new restaurant is there but we still need to make some changes.”

The idea to take on a second branch came in January of this year when Mack-Stirling said he found out some leases came up in Kamloops.

“I think some businesses shut down due to the pandemic, which is unfortunate, but I took it as an opportunity to expand,” he said. “I went to check it out and it was such a great location I knew I had to take it. It was like a calling.”

Stirling-Mack is originally from Bella Coola, where he said he grew up in a community crippled by drug and alcohol addictions. Taking on the Merritt franchise three years ago was a big step for him.

“I was a high school dropout but went back later to complete it,” he said. “I never went to post-secondary school or got a business education. I had to learn about finances and how to go from employee to employer as we don’t learn anything about business or money in public school."

Mack-Stirling said he has received a lot of support from his business team and Kekuli Café franchise founder Sharon Bond. He wants to show others who grew up like him that anything is possible.

READ MORE: Don't panic, Kamloops will soon have bannock

“Reaching out with my story to other small communities is important for me,” Mack-Stirling said. “Being a small town kid coming out of that environment to where I am today is rewarding and I hope it can inspire others. I’ve lost too many friends to addictions so I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Mack-Stirling said he grew up cooking and baking in the kitchen with his mom. He worked at a McDonalds and then Kekuli Café, before purchasing the Merritt franchise in 2018, the second branch of the original restaurant located in West Kelowna.

“I think we are famously known for our bannock,” he said. “It was a survival food for First Nations and we have managed to incorporate it into a modern menu in very creative ways. We make everything fresh in-house and you are welcome to sit with us. The word Kekuli comes from the Okanagan language meaning ‘pithouse’, or a place of gathering for Indigenous people.”

Mack-Stirling received a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from The British Columbia Achievement Foundation last month and is Vice President at B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.

He said he is hoping and waiting for communication from the City of Kamloops so he can start firing up the grills and serving the community warm, fresh bannock.

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