Vancouver Sun: A Vancouver café where conversation is part of the meal

Dec 21, 2015

Lupii in Champlain Heights serves up zero-waste vegetarian food, with a side of social inclusion.

The following article was published in the Vancouver Sun on December 21.

By Denise Ryan, Vancouver Sun.

When Lisa Papania learned about the demise of Champlain Video last December, a beloved local hub for families and film buffs, the Killarney resident decided to turn the loss into an opportunity for her community.

A Simon Fraser University professor with expertise in social responsibility, sustainability and product development, Papania decided to turn the space into a zero waste vegetarian café named Lupii.

“When the space came up for rent, it seemed like a really great idea to put the things I’ve been teaching into practice. The research I’ve been doing for the last 10 years with regard to food and material waste, and social inclusion all came together.”

The six-month-old café seats 16, serves up vegan and vegetarian grub, sells upcycled products, hosts drop ins for local parents with kids, movie nights (last week was a six-night Star Wars marathon), and even homework help nights for local kids, facilitated by the video store’s former manager, Allan Wong.

“It’s all about bringing people together,” says Papania. “Our mission is to connect people within the community. When people know each other, then they take care of one another.”

With the help of her husband Daniel, Papania repurposed a gymnasium floor to build counters and tables and reached out to local farms, stores and farmers markets to source food that would otherwise be headed for landfill or waste — seconds, ugly vegetables or excess stock — around which she designs her daily menus.

“We’ve never been short of oranges or bananas. People are sourcing this stuff from so far away we have this insane supply.”

The zero waste concept means that if you want takeout, bring your own container, or, for a toonie deposit you can use a returnable foodsafe container.

And at Lupii, every coffee comes with a conversation. Encouraging social interaction, and getting to know people, is a big part of Lupii.

“We are trying to get people to stop, chat with their neighbours, which from a coffee shop perspective is quite an uncomfortable thing for people in this city.”

Papania also hosts a monthly vegetarian dinner at the Champlain Heights Community Centre. The free dinner does come with a non-monetary price: “We ask people to talk with someone in the line up that they don’t know, or sit and eat with a stranger.”

Community dinner menus are designed around whatever food Papania can source — last week, for example, she turned an excess of butternut squash and potatoes into a vegetarian curry and a “ton of mashed potatoes with lentil and tomato gravy.”

The experience has been exhausting, and exhilarating — along with a dedicated but small staff, Papania’s pulling 14 to 16 hour days, sometimes cooking all night for the community dinners.

Papania believes that moving to a more sustainable culture is more likely to happen if options are readily available.

“People don’t ask for changes in behaviour. They didn’t ask for the iPhone, they didn’t ask for the internal combustion engine. Somebody presented them with a car, somebody presented them with an iPhone, and people consumed it. If we want people to get off waste and not throw things into the trash and not pollute the air and water, we have to provide them with the alternatives. I wanted to create a space that took the worry about waste away from the consumer.”

The idea for the social inclusion aspect of the project came partly from Papania’s own experience in the community.

“When we moved into the neighbourhood (10 years ago), we had a three year old. We didn’t have any connections, we didn’t have any social networks. We wanted to make sure no one else had to go through that, so we made a place where people could form bonds and make connections.”

The café, which began as kind of “action research” project, has become a venture of the heart.

“It’s changed everything about where I live,” Papania says. “I feel like I’m intrinsically part of the neighbourhood and I’m helping to create that for others.”

Before Lupii, Papania recalls a day when she was walking her dog, and having a sudden worry she might have left something on the stove at home.

“I thought, I don’t know who to call. Now I know a hundred people I could call and say, could you just go into my home and see if my house is on fire.”

View the full article with photographs of Lupii café on the Vancouver Sun website.

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