Years from now, Northern economists might look back on the Covid-19 pandemic as an era that sparked the growth of home-based food businesses.
Chews and Bites YK is the latest such business to launch in Yellowknife.
Specializing in the cuisine of the Philippines – but not exclusively – owner Leilani Alcock prepares all of the dishes in her kitchen and customers come to her building to pick them up.
A natural host who loves to cook for people, Alcock said the idea for a food service came from her friends.
“They said ‘why don’t you make it a business? We’ll be your first customers.’ Then I started to create my own Facebook page and I got a lot of responses from people.”
Filipino culinary heritage
She learned to cook most of her culinary creations growing up in the Philippines.
So far the most popular dishes she serves are Filipino, like pancit (a rice noodle dish), spring rolls and siomai, a type of shrimp and vegetable dumpling.
Customers also enjoy Alcock’s peri peri chicken, a spicy chicken dish that originated in Portugal.
Alcock jokes that even though she owns Chews & Bites and makes all the meals, her husband Leo, who works in the kitchen at the Explorer Hotel is the ‘real chef’ and gives her ideas on how to cook.
“(But) my recipes aren’t from him. I make my own recipes,” she said.
Strong, steady start
The numbers show just how popular Alcock’s cooking is among Yellowknifers.
After receiving her health inspection permit, she made her first meal orders on Feb. 6 for 20 customers. Demand has been steady since at around 30 customers each Saturday.
Alcock has a full-time job, so Chews & Bites is her side project for weekends. She posts new menus on Facebook on Friday, cooks the food from scratch and then customers come to her on Saturday to pick them up.
While some people might consider it too risky to open a new business in the pandemic, Alcock said Chews & Bites actually fits the circumstances of these uncertain times.
“During Covid people don’t want to go out and they can try different dishes that aren’t offered in other places and they can try the dishes that I love,” she said.
Still, Alcock knows success wasn’t guaranteed, and she was a bit nervous when she started because she didn’t know how things would turn out.
“I’m surprised at how many people messaged me. (But) cooking is my hobby. So if people don’t order they don’t order. I just like it when people say ‘your food is really awesome.’”
With warmer months ahead, Alcock hopes to set up a booth at the Farmer’s Market when it starts up in June.
But a bricks and mortar restaurant is off the table for her.
“I’m good for now with what I’m doing,” she said. “There are people asking me if I want to open a restaurant or get a food truck but I said no. I just want something simple. I’m not looking for a lot of business. I don’t want to be overwhelmed with what I’m doing. I want to enjoy what I’m doing.”