Two anniversaries and almost two full lock downs later, Christina Skinner is still all smiles despite maneuvering through a pandemic with a new business.
Frankie We Salute You opened in May 2019, as a full-service restaurant and bar that uses local and whole food ingredients, with a Michelin star chef running the kitchen.
The restaurant is Skinner’s second endeavour after opening Acorn in Vancouver, the city’s first upscale restaurant focused on plant-based dining.
“At the two-year mark we wanted to start a family and get out of the city so we decided it was time to move,” said Skinner. “We had our eye on the Okanagan for a long time because of the wine community here and its proximity to the mountains so we could ski and snowboard. So we packed up and opened Frankie We Salute You.”
Named after two different Franks, one for Skinner’s grandfather and the other for her business partner’s, the restaurant gives a “tip of the hat to families and what they are all about”.
“They were both just really interesting pillars in their communities, my partner Brian’s grandfather, Frank Skinner, is a famous horticulturalists and he ran an arboretum in Manitoba and propagated hearty plants and trees to help beautify the prairies” she explained.
Her grandfather, also Frank, had to learn to grow food to feed his family of six amidst the rubble of a post-war ravaged east London.
“There was very little food and resourced in Europe. Part of the government plan was to clear away the rubble and plant victory gardens.”
With a name created to spark a conversation, the restaurant finished its two best months since opening, January and February 2020, but then Frankie We Salute You was forced to shutter its doors as COVID-19 began to spread across the globe.
“January and February we hit our highest numbers ever, they tend to be the same as summer for us. We are hyper-local and we were hitting full speed and then the pandemic hit,” she explained.
At the time nothing seemed for certain, however, Skinner was able to retain all of her staff and when the world slowly began to open she would bring her employees back.
“The government has actually provided extremely generous funding to small businesses and we used that to help keep people employed, which was a really smart thing to do because when we reopened we found good staff was hard to come by but we were able to retain almost all staff,” said Skinner.
With about 60 staff employed at Frankie We Salute You, the team would encounter various obstacles as the new normal began.
“One of the things this pandemic has highlighted is the abuse service staff deal with, whether it is working in grocery stores or at a restaurant like mine, or health care workers. That level of abuse has always been there, I have run restaurants for a very long time and I feel like service staff are just a captive target. They can’t go anywhere and because of our customer service values in North America, they can’t stand up for themselves or talk back, so people just take advantage of that,” she said.
But despite some situations that have been unbearable for her, Skinner has a positive spin to some negative attitudes “they are the voice of a few” she says.
“The overwhelming majority of our community whether they are vaccinated or not have been so supportive. Pretty much half our sales is still take away and so our unvaccinated customers come in, high five and catch up. They hope this is coming to a close so they are happy to support,” she said. “It is just the odd person who was probably like this anyway who have been targeting and abusing my young team and myself.”
On top of threats, capacity restrictions and vaccine mandates, Skinner has also been battling the economic food crisis.
“The cost of food for restaurants has gone absolutely sky high and the community will notice when they go out now that a lot of restaurants including chain restaurants have hiked the price for certain items about 20 per cent,” she said. “The restaurant profit margins are infamously very slim at the best of times and with the issues of supply chains and transports, people getting sick and having to isolate, things are very, very expensive. One week cauliflower was as much as beef.”
Through it all, she tries to refocus her team from anything negative to trying to harness gratitude for how amazing the community actually is.
“The last two years for every business has been a struggle but also an affirmation of how incredible people are. My staff are on the front lines and our community has rallied around us and our initiatives,” she said.
Those initiatives are something that keeps Skinner’s restaurant top of mind for customers. Over the last year, Frankie We Salute You has donated proceeds to residential school survivors, given out free food packs to health care workers and held special days to recognize those on the frontline with discounts to the restaurant.
“We need to remember why we are doing this, to support our health care workers and to keep our spirits up,” she added.
Frankie We Salute You is located in the Landmark District at 1717 Harvey Ave.