“To make a mango lassi taste good, you need to mix the sweet and the sour just right,” Sheela Patel, Crèmerie Meetha co-owner Deexit Patel’s mother, says. Deexit Patel and fiancée Aakruti Patel co-own the popular Indian scoop shop, but the shop couldn’t exist without their mothers.
Deexit Patel discusses each aspect of the Park Ex ice cream shop’s menu with his mom, who weighs in on everything from the chai masala mix (hand-ground spices and two kinds of ginger) to the need to boil the milk for the rose-flavoured falooda (Deexit Patel hadn’t realized this the first time he made it), and how much cardamom should go into the elaichi pistachio ice cream (lots).
Intergenerational businesses have their challenges: Not every mother and child work well together in the kitchen. There are some, though, that are brimming with mutual respect and admiration.
As a kid, Deexit Patel was always “glued” to Sheela Patel when she was cooking, as the Patel family tells it. Now he’s using her recipes (and tastebuds) to ensure that everything he prepares is on point with the Gujarati flavours of his mother’s homeland. “She downplays her ability, but this business couldn’t exist without her guiding our ingredient-sourcing and making sure we have an authentic taste,” he says.
At Teochew Foodie, a family-run wonton and rice roll shop showcasing the food of Chaozhou, mother-daughter co-owners Ying Lin and Zhezhen “Chanel” Dai work together six out of seven days. (Teochew Foodie recently expanded from the original Saint-Henri storefront to a second location on Saint-Denis in the Plateau.)
Though Dai’s father, Qiu Sheng, and husband, Alexandre Rougerie-Duroche, are also partners in the business, for many customers the two women are the face of the restaurant. Dai is responsible for operations and customer service, while Lin spends her days making perfectly shaped wontons, rice flour rolls, and salty rice cakes in the bright, tidy show kitchen. Dai manages the Instagram and Facebook pages, while Ying is the voice of the Chinese-language WeChat page, providing proud details of the shop’s products and processes a few times a day. “Chili oil is all sold out this week!” Ying proclaimed in a recent post. “It takes a lot of time to make it, but the details make the difference.”
“My mom is a super-adaptable and outgoing person,” Dai says. “She wants to work hard and she has the expectation that others will too.”
Dai grew up eating her mother’s Teochew salty rice cakes and rice rolls. Before Dai’s parents moved to Montreal from China, her mom visited with the special clay cups and other equipment she needed to make Teochew salty rice cakes and rice rolls tucked into her luggage. She knew just what her daughter would be missing from home. “Her dishes are definitely the sign of a mother’s love,” Dai says.
“I made these at home, never thinking they were so delicious that people would fall in love with them!” Lin laughs. She never thought she would go into business with her daughter, either, but it’s working for all of them.
Zoya de Frias and her mother Maria-José de Frias share a common vision of what they want Le Virunga, their Pan-African restaurant near Parc LaFontaine, to represent to their customers: a restaurant where conviviality and respect for others lie at the heart of the experience. “I put myself in the role of an African mother — without taking a plane, I will make you feel at home, and share my culture and food with you,” says chef Maria-José de Frias. “We love it when people come in as solo diners and leave feeling part of the family.”
The Pan-African restaurant is known for Maria-José de Frias’s ’s refined dishes made with high-quality local ingredients, and the warmth of Zoya’s front-of-house service.
“Our family life is at home; when we step into the restaurant, we’re professional colleagues,” Zoya de Frias says. “After six years in business – of course in the beginning there were growing pains –but it’s a journey, and we’re on the same road.”
“As a parent, you have to understand that your child is grown up,” Maria-José de Frias says. “Let them take on responsibilities. Be there to guide and help. Zoya is my partner. I have to give her space.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Champa Patel, Aakruti Patel’s mother, whose unflagging support allows the young couple the flexibility they need to run their new business, scheduled to re-open for summer in June after their long-awaited wedding. “They are so passionate about their business,” Champa says. “I want to support them however I can. If they don’t have time to cook, it means bringing them food. If they need us to come and do the dishes, we will do that, too.”
Deexit Patel, Aakruti Patel, Dai, and Zoya de Frias each acknowledged the roles and inspiration their mothers provide their businesses, and the sacrifices that the older generation has made in supporting their dreams as they establish themselves.
“For so many things, my mom will say, ‘I can handle it; I can do it; I don’t mind doing it,’” Deexit Patel says. “Her recipes are on little Post-Its all around our kitchen. There’s a lot of satisfaction for her that we’re using her recipes – but really – her being there means everything to us. ”