Tamara and Braden Parks arrived in Victoria with one dream: to open a vegan café and bakery. In 2018, that dream came true. Every day for the past three years, Fern Café and Bakery has delighted diners with wonderfully creative plant-based options such as Big Bad Cinnamon Buns, Crafty Mac and Cheese, and fried Buffalo “Chickun” Burgers. Their menu is also palm-oil free and they offer an assortment of gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free options.
We spoke with co-owner Tamara Parks about what it takes to run Victoria’s first 100% vegan café.
## Where are you two from and why did you choose to settle down in Victoria?
We came to Victoria in 2016 from a small tourist town called Perth, Ont., about an hour away from Ottawa. We have both always had the desire to live on the West Coast—mountains, ocean, and good climate. We did a ton of research for about a year (market research, etc.) on where the best place for us would be to open our own little vegan restaurant, and the rest is history.
## What inspired the two of you to go vegan?
In 2013, I heard about a “one-month vegetarian challenge,” so I challenged myself. It was super easy for me, and after that month I kept going. Eight months later, I went vegan overnight and never looked back. My husband, Braden, never thought he’d go vegetarian or vegan, but he craves knowledge and is always learning. He started watching a handful of Netflix documentaries on his own and slowly made the switch. The main factor for both of us is animal welfare.
*Photo: Fern Café*
## What is Fern’s overall mission?
We wanted to create a community of our own where vegans and non-vegans could rejoice in the deliciousness of vegan grub. We know that every day Fern is open, we are saving animal lives. Every time we convince someone to give oat milk a try, it’s a win for the animals. And the staff find joy in this as well.
## What has the community response been like from the beginning?
In the beginning, it was challenging to grow our name, but I’ve never had a doubt in our abilities. It wasn’t until we revamped the menu and paid to have a proper kitchen installed in January 2020 that Fern started to grow more rapidly. The customers love our staff and it’s been great vibes all around. I love our customers so much. They have shown nothing but amazing support! I can’t lie, I’m so stinking proud of us. It took a very long time to feel like this is reality and to feel proud.
*Photo: Fern Café*
## What are your culinary backgrounds?
Braden has been working in kitchens since he was 14 years old. He challenged and received his Red Seal at the young age of 22. He’s worked as a dishwasher, sous-chef, head chef, pastry chef, ran his own kitchens, and he’s made his own menus. He’s worked at some very well-known and popular restaurants. I got into kitchens at 20 years old and loved everything from food prep to line work. I started my own little business at age 19 (not food-related) and realized very quickly that I’m a leader. I had always dreamed of either my family owning a restaurant or myself one day. Ultimately, my husband and I both wanted the same thing.
## I once saw you running plates at the café with your baby strapped to your chest. Now that’s what I call hustle! What was it like raising a newborn and running a brand new business at the same time?
Our little guy came six weeks early and we were in the NICU for a month. That was quite the curve ball! Braden was hustling and driving from the Victoria General to the café every day. We were prepared to be closed in January 2020 so we could renovate and also spend time as a family, but yeah, January turned out a little more hectic than expected!
It’s just us here, no one to help with the babe, but I knew all along that’s how it would be and I was cool with it. I stayed home with him for a year and then slowly started helping out at the café more again. My year “off” I still popped in and also did all the social media, hiring, interviewing, scheduling, tips, and all things involving staff. I’m pretty positive about life. Even though we’ve had curve balls I wouldn’t change a thing. I love restaurant life, and
I’m super excited to bring our son up in that world.
The Buffalo “Chickun” Burger—hands down. A close second would be our new Big Bad Breakfast sandwich (spicy chorizo crumble, tofu egg, vegan cheddar, lettuce, tomato, crispy fried hash brown patty, ketchup, vegan mayo, on a toasted ciabatta bun). Everyone always loves the random features too (such as the vegan Big Mac). The cinnamon buns, doughnuts, and scones are wildly popular. Anything lemon, too. People also go nuts for our oat milk lattés made with Discovery Coffee beans!
## Anything else you’d like the local community to know about Fern?
We opened our business at the young ages of 24 and 26! We hustled so hard to open Fern as fast as we could because we needed to make money ASAP. We opened up shop in a MONTH. Nobody does that, but we managed to do it. We created final recipes, created a café space, hired, trained, got everything in order in a mere month. Not a day has gone by that one or both of us hasn’t worked at Fern. Motto since day one: “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately!”
__Fern Café and Bakery is currently available for takeout or delivery through Uber Eats and Door Dash.__
### Fern Café and Bakery
__Address:__ 1-1115 North Park Street, Victoria