New Port Alberni Restaurant serves distinct west coast food while supporting local charitable organization | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

New Port Alberni Restaurant serves distinct west coast food while supporting local charitable organization

Port Alberni, BC

“There’s lots of Indigenous restaurants but none really capture the west coast,” says Kuu-us Café’s head chef Brandy Robinson.

Kuu-us Café & Gifts opened to the public on Jan. 15 in Port Alberni, offering up a menu filled with fish and game meats typical of a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth diet.

“We want to showcase west coast Indigenous food,” Robinson told Ha-Shilth-Sa. “So, we feature seafood, natural meats instead of just bannock tacos.”

Bannock is, however, heavily featured on the menu from bannock ‘fries’ to large, 12-inch slabs of bannock used in the uncle-sized sasquatch sandwiches.

The restaurant and gift shop were a long time in the making, starting with the purchase and renovation of an 85-year-old house on Gertrude Street. According to Kuu-us Café & Gifts manager Todd Flaro, Shawn McAnerin of Hupacasath bought the property, which started out as a residential home converted to business use.

The original plan was to open a gift shop and gallery to support the work of the Kuu-us Crisis Line Society. But Flaro said that executive director of the society Colin Minions came up with the idea of adding a café. After writing funding proposals and a year of renovations, the café opened as a Class 2 kitchen, meaning nothing can be fried with grease, according to Flaro.

Brandy Robinson from Ahousaht said she interviewed at first, just for work. But when she heard of the concepts behind the café and what the profits would be used for, she was excited. Having grown up with her grandmother, Elsie Robinson, Brandy was immersed in a traditional Vancouver Island west coast-style diet, from cooking with her grandmother at home to helping out at the restaurant where the elder worked.

When Brandy was hired at Kuu-us Café, she was allowed to create a west coast-themed menu.

“They let me run with it,” she shared.

Growing up, Brandy cooked a lot of fresh fish, seafood and game meat.

“We ate a lot of deer, elk and moose meat,” she added. “We did our own butchering and we used everything.”

So where does all this good, healthy protein come from? According to Flaro, Kuu-us Café sources as much local food products as possible. Most of the meat comes from local butchers and smoked seafood comes from Flurer Smokery, which is also Port Alberni based and Indigenous owned.

“Everything ethically sourced,” said Flaro. “We are a for-profit business, but we use our profits to support non-profit Kuu-us Crisis Line Society.”

The society not only offers a crisis line for suicide prevention but also has a host of other services and programs. They work with the Salvation Army and Bread of Life to deliver food to those that need it. They offer outreach support, food hampers, housing programs and much more.

For Robinson, the purpose behind this place is most important.

“People that are on the streets are our own people – it’s good to be part of something that provides them help,” she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Kuu-us Café and Gifts is open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at 4473 Gertrude Street across from J&L Drive-In. Flaro hopes the restaurant can open on Saturdays, starting in the spring of 2024.

Game meats like deer, elk and moose can be difficult to source, so one or more items may not be available on any given day. What is always available is seafood chowder, chili and bannock.

According to Flaro, the first couple of days of business were beyond his expectations.

“Lunch hours last about 2.5 hours,” he said, adding that his team of six work non-stop during the lunch rush.

“We’re so thankful to be accepted by the community,” said Flaro.

He invites people to come and try their famous uncle or aunty-sized sasquatch sandwiches made with bannock.

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