Renovations are underway to turn what was once the iconic downtown Rideau Bakery into the new home for The Ottawa Mission’s highly acclaimed food services training program.
The program was started more than 16 years ago by Chef Ric Watson, director of food services at the nonprofit organization. It teaches unemployed men and women the necessary skills to work in commercial kitchens. Most of the graduates – about 90 per cent – find jobs once they graduate from the program, which is free for participants.
It’s been Watson’s dream to further develop the program, recognizing that it has outgrown The Ottawa Mission kitchen, which is busy preparing meals to feed the homeless.
"We're so thrilled that we'll be able to train three times as many students," said Watson, adding that they regularly have to turn applicants away. "The need is definitely there."
The public will learn more about the expansion plans at the organization’s signature gala, Blue Door at Your Door, to be held in a virtual format – in keeping with these pandemic times – on Saturday, Nov. 7.
The Ottawa Mission Foundation is looking to raise a further $750,000 toward the $1.3-million cost of bringing the new space up to building code and to refurbish the property to meet the needs of the training program. Organizers are calling on the business community to support the expansion through $2,500 sponsorships. They're also looking for six corporate sponsors to match individual donations, up to $10,000. So far, Bell and Sussex Capital Group are on board.
The special one-hour, star-studded show is being presented by returning top sponsor Caivan Communities. It will air on CTV Ottawa and also be live-streamed online. The musical lineup features some of Canada's top blues artists, including the Downchild Blues Band with special guests Dan Aykroyd, Paul Shaffer, David Wilcox and Colin James, just to name a few.
The fundraiser is chaired by well-known community leaders Sheila Whyte and Michael Moffatt from Thyme & Again Creative Catering and criminal defence and civil litigation lawyer Lawrence Greenspon.
As for those big-name guests, it was steering committee member and Ottawa lawyer Derek Nicholson who gathered some of his musician friends, including Todd Littlefield, president of Diesel Entertainment, Chris Payne and Dick Cooper from the Cooper Brothers to create the Blues theme.
The gala has really been gaining momentum since its humble beginnings in 2017. Last year, it more than doubled the proceeds from the previous year, grossing $238,000.
“I remember three years ago we had 170 people at the event, then we took it to 400 and last year it was 500,” recalled Sean Wong, executive director of The Ottawa Mission Foundation. “I remember standing in the ballroom and thinking, ‘How do we take this to the next level?’ Little did I know that the walls confined us. Now, there are no walls.”
Anyone in the region can tune into the show, which means, added Wong, “We’ll be able to share the message of The Mission that much further.”
The Ottawa Mission provides emergency shelter to an average of 197 men every night and serves an average of 1,422 meals every day. It also provides health services, mental health and addiction treatment programs, hospice care, dental services, housing services, educational support, job training, spiritual care and men’s clothing to thousands in need in our community.
The story of how the nonprofit organization came to land the former Rideau Bakery location for its food services training program comes down to two things: community-minded businessmen and good, old-fashioned social networking. Maybe it’s not who you know, but who you know knows.
Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley got talking one day with former BLG regional managing partner Marc Jolicoeur, who inquired about the progress of the proposed expansion plans for the food service training program. At that point, The Ottawa Mission had looked at several potential sites, but all had fallen through.
“The next thing you know, Marc says, ‘I know someone you should meet,’” said Tilley.
Jolicoeur introduced him to Michael Church, managing director and principal with commercial real estate firm Avison Young.
“Next things he says is, ‘I know someone you should meet.’”
Church connected Tilley to businessman Lalit Aggarwal, whose family owns all kinds of real estate around Ottawa and are part-owners of the Infinity Convention Centre. Coincidentally, the Ottawa Mission held its signature gala there in 2018 and 2019.
Aggarwal also owns the downtown block where the former Rideau Bakery property is located, at 384 Rideau St., between Nelson and Friel streets. The popular bakery was in business for nearly 90 years and run by the Kardish family. It was also the subject of a 2007 documentary, One of the Last, which explores the challenges facing one of the last surviving family-owned and operated bakeries in this country.
Aggarwal, impressed by the good work that the Ottawa Mission is doing to help people find employment, agreed to let the organization use the 2,830-square-foot property for at least seven years, if not longer. The Ottawa Mission couldn't be happier with its new rent-free spot due to its affordability, central location, ample space and proximity to its 35 Waller St. shelter, said Tilley.
The property, now gutted and under extensive renovations, is expected to open this May as the new location for The Ottawa Mission's training facility, catering social enterprise and retail store. The open-concept design calls for a storefront area near the entrance, followed by a large commercial kitchen area, with a loading dock area at the rear of the building.
The property has the added bonus of a basement, which will hold the teaching classroom, offices, change rooms and storage area.
Always inspiring at the Blue Door gala is hearing alumni speak about how the food service training program has changed their lives for the better and, in some cases, successfully diverted them from a life of substance abuse and crime. Also a highlight is watching new graduates proudly receive their diplomas on stage from Chef Ric, as he’s affectionately known. Last year, Watson was awarded the Order of Ottawa for his contributions to the community.
In past years, the Blue Door dinner was prepared by students as part of their final exam for the food services training program. This year, graduates will create a menu, under the guidance of Michael Moffatt. It will be available for online purchase and for delivery to supporters of the virtual gala.