The life of a restaurateur ain't easy and neither is the road to get there.
For Audie Louie Banania, it started in his fourth year of philosophy studies in seminary school in the Philippines. When his father died, he was the lone boy of seven siblings, and the job caring for his sisters, his mother, and his nieces and nephews was his.
Teaching was an option, but not for long, and Banania turned to the hospitality business instead, earning his bachelor's degree in hotel and restaurant management, and becoming a highly sought-after chef in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
"I learned lots in the seminary. I'm thankful for that experience because even now I'm still using it in my daily life, what I learned, helping people," Banania says.
"I told myself if I cannot be a priest, I can help in some other way like I'm doing right now. It's not only the priest who can help someone or something. There's lot of things we can do to help other people and serve god."
In 2013, the chef's life brought Banania to Fort St. John, and later to front doors of his first restaurant in 2019. He's one among hundreds in the city's burgeoning Filipino immigrant community who have been settling here and putting down roots.
We met up for a burger at his place, Audielicious, as part of a series talking to locals about what brought them to the Peace and what keeps them here, and the people and places they've come to love and call home.
What were you looking for when you came to the Peace? Did you find it?
My wife, Jenny. We worked together in Singapore and her family asked her to come over to Canada. She found a job here in Fort St. John, but her family is in Burnaby, and some of my family is in Surrey. She was telling me this is not like Singapore with skyscrapers. It was the other way around.
But because of love, I came here to be with her. Money can't buy everything. We'd been in long distance relationship for almost a year and it's hard. That's why I decided to give up my career there and start all over again from zero here. And when we moved here, we got married because we wanted a stable place once we started our family.
But I ate lots of pride and ego because I was a well-paid chef in Singapore and when I came here my first job paid me 12 bucks an hour. My first day, I almost quit and told my wife, 'Let's go back to Singapore. We have a place to go, we have a job to go back to.' But she told me, 'We're here already and everybody wants to come here.'
So, I realized once you love a person, you can overcome pride and ego. I tried to convince myself that for me to be someone again, I had to show them what I got. So, slowly I got promoted, wages increased, and after my contract, I moved to Jackfish, because I'm the person that likes to create menus, create recipes.
What have you learned about food culture in Fort St. John?
It's very Western: potatoes, steak, burgers. I'm trying to introduce people to fusion. For me to be successful, I have to cater to all nationalities, especially Canadians. If you see our menu, there's so many cuisines: Asian, Western, Italian, Thai, Mexican, Greek. I'm always creating new things that your palate will tell you, 'I haven't had this before.'
This restaurant is seven years in the making. We have to dream big. Dreaming is free. But if you want something to attain in the future, you have to work toward the goal to become a reality. I slowly saved money for the equipment, the utensils. I've been buying it since 2013, so when I opened I didn't spend much money because I had it in my shed, in my basement.
What's the most important lesson you've learned as immigrant entrepreneur?
This is our first business here. What I've learned is once you do something good, especially here in Fort St. John, people are going to support you. When I was at Jackfish, I had followers because I would visit tables and serve people, have a conversation. Once they know what kind of person you are, even if you're not the same nationality, they're going to like you based on how you take care of them.
Not all places are like this, so you have to give your best shot to be successful. Any business that you do is a risk. When you're new, people are curious so they'll support you. But after three months, six months, are they going to support you and still come? If they love food, you have to create food that they like and continue creating new food. Give them a reason to go back. Don't starve them, surprise them.
Why is it important to you to support the community through charity?
I had a tough childhood. We could not afford to buy rice or bread or coffee. We were really starving. You had to make your toys from something you didn't have to buy. If we wanted a toy gun, we took the stem of a banana leaf to play. We didn't have money to buy a toy like that. Skateboards, we had to do the same thing.
That was my life in the Philippines. I give back because I know the feeling when you have nothing. I don't want them to feel those things that we felt.
What don't we understand about life in Philippines?
You might not understand because government is different. Here in Canada at least you are getting support from the government. When you get into an accident or anything happens, you have EI to help sustain your needs.
I even told myself, 'I'm not going to marry if I won't be successful in life', because I see what can happen. My sisters got married early and were 16 or 17 and having babies. I told myself I don't want to see my son or daughter go into the streets with dirty clothes and nothing to eat. It's going to break my heart if they're asking me for something that I can't give.
I told myself I have to be successful and get out from that kind of life, and that if I can get out from this life, it's my whole family getting out. That's why I'm still supporting them. I'm trying my best to help with what they need.
What is your favourite season and where do you enjoy it?
I can say it's summer. How many months do we have summer to enjoy and play in the puddles with our kids? Before, I was so excited for snow, but now I'm cursing it because it's too much. We go on long drives, summer is for the kids. We go to Mathews Park, Beatton Park, Charlie Lake.
I'm always busy at work so I haven't explored Canada. I want to visit Niagara Falls. I've seen it in pictures and videos, and I want to experience how beautiful it is.
Do you have a favourite sport you participate in?
Basketball and volleyball, but mostly basketball. We play at NPSS, and sometimes Bert Bowes or Ma Murray schools. Every Filipino, that's their favourite sport.
Finish this sentence: I'm so glad we finally got…
Our own restaurant.
I wish we had a …
I wish we had an indoor playground for kids so we don't have to drive eight hours, ten hours, just to experience those. For kids, there's nothing much to do here other than skating, the swimming pool, bowling.
In the future, if I become successful, I'm going to build something here, the city needs it. I have so much on my mind but I'm doing it slowly. It depends how successful we become to invest.
How was this burger we had today?
It's juicy and homemade — not frozen.
Five dollars from every Audie burger sold goes to support a charitable cause in Fort St. John. To learn more, call 250-261-4727.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.