It’s late November in Winnipeg. There’s snow on the ground and a bitter north wind sweeps into every nook and cranny.
I walk as fast as I can to get to the newly built structure at 390 Osborne Street, just a few minutes south of Confusion Corner.
There I am greeted by Joseph Chaeban, who with his wife, Zainab Ali, own and operate Chaeban Ice Cream. The soon to be opened store will be selling premium hard ice cream made right on site. Joseph, who is an experienced dairy scientist, plans to use Manitoba products in the manufacture of his ice cream.
The shop will feature standard ice cream flavours like vanilla and mint chocolate chip, but will also introduce Winnipeggers to some new reasons to enjoy ice cream.
The “Baba Beet” ice cream (so named at the suggestion of an assistant with Ukrainian heritage) will be made by mixing roasted beets with sour cream and ricotta cheese. Orange zest and poppy seeds will provide the finishing touches.
So much to look forward to – and I, ice cream lover that I am, can hardly wait. But I am curious.
How did Joseph Chaeban arrive at his decision to open this business in South Osborne?
His entrepreneurial story is an interesting one, an expected mixture of hard work and opportunity, combined with an unexpected, but essential, dollop of gratitude for the community that welcomed his wife’s family members, displaced Syrians who had been living in Lebanon and Turkey.
Joseph starts by talking about a meeting he attended a couple of years ago where a local group, South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative (SOSRI), was looking for ways to support Syrian refugees already in Canada. He decided that, even though his wife’s relatives were not yet in Canada, he would ask the group if they would sponsor two family members, nine people altogether.
Within a week, he had an answer. SOSRI agreed to sponsor the two families but would need to raise $60,000 to help them get settled.
“I thought it was going to take a long time, two or three years, maybe, to raise that kind of money,” Joseph says.
“In my heart, in my wife’s heart, we felt it really doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s under process. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes because they will be here in the end,” he added.
“The committee held a fundraiser, a concert, I think it was, and within a few days they had raised $30,000. Then I asked for a third family bringing the total to 13 of my wife’s relatives. The very next day, the committee agreed and within a couple of months they had raised $90,000.”
In Joseph’s words: “It became like a snowball effect. It shows how warm-hearted the community of South Osborne and Winnipeg and Manitoba are because it took a whole lot to gather all that money.”
Between October and December 2016, all 13 members of the sponsored families arrived in Winnipeg. Joseph and his wife plan on hiring some of the new arrivals to work in the ice cream store.
As Joseph continues preparations for a grand opening in December, he concludes his storytelling: “I love this community and the way they helped my family. I feel like I gained brothers and sisters in this neighbourhood.”
And the neighbourhood of South Osborne has gained an exciting new business which Joseph plans on expanding to include a coffee bar at some point in the future.
Heading back out into the gusty north wind, I write a very important “Note to Self”: Baba Beet sometime in December. Maybe mint chocolate chip in January.