Ottawa restaurants find new life and a new lease

Opening up his own kitchen was never in the cards for Kim Epino.

The former educator turned to cooking when the pandemic left him with no work. Soon requests came pouring in; operating out of his own home, he began a takeout business naming it Lola’s Kitchen.

"In Tagalog, 'Lola' means grandma," said Epino. "My grandma in the Philippines, before this was her hustle, sell food… that’s how she raised her five kids."

The spike in business allowed Epino to look towards a permanent space finding a home on Somerset Street in Ottawa’s Chinatown. 

The past few years brought many challenges to the food service industry, leaving many scrambling to adapt during COVID-19 restrictions. For some, it was an opportunity to welcome change.

"The pandemic was a blessing and a curse. People need to eat which kept us busy but it did allow me to map this a little better," said Jamie Wallace, the owner of Fishys Original Jerk. 

It may be a new name, but they’ve been in the game for decades. The Caribbean food joint was originally located on Old Montreal Road, but moved locations on July 1 to Orleans.

Wallace says this was a chance to put a fresh spin on the family’s legacy while continuing to bring the beloved food to Ottawa residents.

"Fishy is my dad. We kept the name to keep his legacy going even if it looks different the name is still from him and all his recipes," said Wallace. 

Back at Lola’s Kitchen, Epino said he's now realizing this was meant to be. The pandemic, job loss, and building vacancies becoming the recipe to cooking up a new purpose.

"Day by day I’m just happy doing what I love," he said. "Now (people) get to come to me and I get to showcase my home. This is my home."