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Manitoba restaurant owner lends kitchen to Ukrainian refugees to sell traditional food

Being a cook might be Olha Mashyna’s destiny.

After she and her family fled the war in Ukraine and moved to Winnipeg earlier this year, a chance encounter with a Manitoba restaurant owner brought her back to doing the thing she loves — serving Ukrainian cuisine.

Mashyna and her husband, Oleksandr Mashyn, have been cooking and selling Ukrainian food at a restaurant called Le Goûter in Albert Beach, Man., every Monday and Tuesday.

The owners, who normally close the restaurant down on on those days, offered up their kitchen for Mashyna and her husband to use — free of charge.

Mashyna says it’s been a way for them to gain valuable work experience and earn some income.

“It’s far from our home, but it’s … experience. It’s big experience,” Mashyna told CBC.

She moved to Winnipeg’s Transcona neighbourhood with her family in March. 

They came from a village close to Zaporizhzhia — about 10 kilometres from the front lines of the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 — where they owned two stores and ran a cafe.

A woman stands in front of a store
Lise Bourassa, owner of Saffies General Store and Le Goûter, met Mashyna at a food handling course in April. (Gavin Boutroy/Radio-Canada)

She said it was difficult to adjust after leaving her life behind in Ukraine. 

“We work hard every day. In Ukraine, we have everything. We have two apartments … two cars. We have money. We have life,” she said.

“I really missed my store. It’s my love.”

But as fate would have it, Mashyna met Lise Bourassa, the owner of Le Goûter, at a food handling course in April.

“We started talking, and I realized we have a lot in common,” said Bourassa, who owns the restaurant in Albert Beach, on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg, with her husband. The couple also owns Saffies General Store, which is right across the street from the restaurant. 

“We just kind of hit it off right away,” she added.

Bourassa said she and her husband were planning on closing the restaurant down for a couple nights a week anyway, since they were low on cooks. 

“The restaurant’s here and this is a gift that we can give them, as the community really gave to us when we first arrived,” she told CBC.

A sign that says Le Goûter stands in front of a restaurant.
Mashyna and Mashyn are looking for a restaurant or kitchen to rent after Le Goûter closes for the season in September. (Gavin Boutroy/Radio-Canada)

And Mashyna’s menu — which includes perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, meatballs and other Ukrainian staples — has been a hit so far. 

“They always say ‘thank you’ and ‘it’s delicious,'” she said. “It’s amazing.”

People even drive in from Winnipeg, about 100 kilometres to the south, to dine on the nights Mashyna works, and the food usually sells out each evening, Bourassa said.

“It’s amazing how many people are coming and learning about it,” said Bourassa. 

Mashyna isn’t sure if she’d move back to Ukraine, since so much has been destroyed. Instead, she’s looking for a kitchen or restaurant to rent in or around Winnipeg by September, when Le Goûter closes down for the season.

A dessert sits on a plate next to a fork and knife.
Mashyna serves perogies, cabbage rolls, borscht, meatballs and other Ukrainian staples. (Gavin Boutroy/Radio-Canada)

“I really like Canada. I see how I can work here,” she said. “It’s my destiny, maybe. I cooked in Ukraine and cooked here.”

Mashyna said she’s thankful for Bourassa and her husband for helping them as much as they have.

“If I need something, they help us. They always help us,” she said.

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