By Terri Smith –
Being a sustainable or ‘green’ business is about more than just recycling. To borrow from the biodynamic agriculture ideal, true sustainability should be threefold. That is, you cannot consider yourself to be truly successful as a sustainable business unless you are economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable. Jas Sabbarwal of Bliss in Quesnel, manages to be all three.
Sabbarwal worked in the forest industry for years, but when he was laid off in 2009, he saw it as an opportunity to realize the dream he had always had of opening a restaurant. He had no previous experience in the food industry, but he did have a good business background and, as he says, with the other parts of the business you can learn as you go, and learn from your mistakes, but, “you have to have that business savvy.”
But it wasn’t just business savvy he had to have; he needed the blessing of his family. Sabbarwal’s family is his top priority, so before starting Bliss, he sat down with his wife and their three daughters to ask them what they thought of the idea. His daughters thought it was pretty cool, but he laughingly tells me, “I told them, no, not cool. There might be days I’m not in a good mood because it will be stressful sometimes. I could be grumpy…”
He promised his family they would have a vote every six months for the first few years, and if the vote was not unanimously in favour of the restaurant, he would shut down the business. He explains, “Family/work balance is important, and we worked it out.” It wasn’t easy for the first few years getting started, but his family continued to vote in favour, and after five or six years Bliss had become an established business able to support a family.
It doesn’t just support Sabbarwal and his family either. In the nine years since it opened, Bliss has become an integral part of the community. As I talk with Sabbarwal, one of his employees finishes her shift and heads home, and moments later when a man and his daughter come in to order a couple of chai lattes, Sabbarwal excuses himself to go serve them. He greets them with a sincere smile and asks the daughter, “How’s your dog?” She laughs and answers happily, and the three of them talk like old friends who have just bumped into each other while going about their day. This is the reason Bliss is such a great place to be. Not only is the food wonderful and affordable, the atmosphere is like coming home. I always feel happy as soon as I walk into this funky little café, and it is one of my favourite places to eat. I’m definitely not alone in this feeling, either. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine drove all the way up from Williams Lake after work one evening just for the butter chicken poutine and a visit with Sabbarwal and friends!
Sabbarwal is a compassionate person by nature, and he loves what he does. He tells me, “I’m grateful to live in a small community because the community gives us so much and we like to give back.” And do they ever! There is always some sort of fundraiser or community-building event being supported with the help of Bliss. On this particular day, there are signs on the tables saying, “Buy a cupcake or brownie and support your local SPCA.” With all the proceeds going to the fundraiser, this isn’t even something that makes money for his business. Sabbarwal just likes to help. If more companies followed his philosophy the world could truly be a sustainable place. He tells me, “we want to build a great community, because the community is us.” He continues, “the community is where you live; if you want to make it good for yourself, you have to make it good for other people.”
He offers me a second chai latte (Bliss is my favourite place to go for chai), and I ask about the upcoming, Purple Days fundraiser for epilepsy on March 16 where people can buy a $10 mystery “bowl of bliss” with 40 per cent of sales going towards the fundraiser. Every time I come in here there is something new happening and I have also found that the windows of Bliss are a great place to find out about interesting events coming up in the community because they feature the most interesting and up-to-date event posters in town. Sabbarwal also buys tickets to most of the local events and often donates to many large and small initiatives in this community.
With compostable cups and in-store recycling, Sabbarwal and his staff try to create as little waste as possible, but their true sustainability is in being a part of creating a vibrant, local community. When he began, Sabbarwal had a 10-year plan; now 10 years has almost passed and it will be interesting to see where Bliss and the community that loves it will go from here.
Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.