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Westley Wan of W&M Hong Kong Bakery

A man opens the door to a bakery in Regina’s Chinatown at 7 p.m.  A chime rings and he is greeted with a friendly, “Hello, how are you?” He then approaches the counter, signs his initials on a calendar full of names and is handed a plastic bag with baking inside. He glances at its contents with a smile, then he walks out the door and back to the shelter where he works and 16 men live.


The man at the counter is Westley Wan. He, along with his wife, May, have been donating leftover baking to Souls Harbor Rescue Mission every weekday since they opened H&M Hong Kong Bakery on 11th Ave. in September 2013.


“It’s very nice of them. I tell the guys, too, that they should pop in there sometime and say thank you,” said Drew Carpenter, the supervisor of Souls Harbour’s men’s shelter, who has known the Wans since they began donating in 2013. “People should give them business because they deserve it. They’re helping out the best they can and they’re doing something good for the homeless.”


There’s just enough that it doesn’t really make an impact down here [in the kitchen], but it does upstairs. It helps the guys through the evening; it gives them something to eat.”


What makes the Wans’ kindheartedness even greater is that their bakery is struggling.


The family has poured $384,000 into the business since immigrating to Regina from Hong Kong in 2012, and since it’s opening, they have only been able to make enough to keep it running.


“Although Regina has more than two hundred thousand people, I don’t think more than one thousand have been in my shop,” said Wan, who is 65.


He says they bake 80 buns per day, the contents of which range from coconut to BBQ pork, and donate on average 20 of them. There are also times when they donate up to 50, he added.


While the bakery features Hong Kong-style baking, it also has over 20 main-course dishes on its menu.


Due to limited clientele, Wan says he’s introduced more items on the menu every two to three months, added text message ordering and delivery, and put up posters at the University of Regina and City Hall.


Despite these efforts, nothing has generated more revenue for the family business, he said, adding the problem is that the culture and population of Regina is not the same as Hong Kong.


“In Hong Kong, we can make something and put it just outside of the shop and people can walk by and try it . . . But in Regina, you can’t do it,” said Wan, alluding to Saskatchewan’s food safety policies.


In Saskatchewan, the Public Health Act obligates all potentially hazardous products, including those containing meat, or eggs, like the tarts Wan and his wife bake, to be refrigerated at 4C or less.


While the policy doesn’t affect their winter sales, he says it limits those they could be having during the summer.


Nevertheless, the policy reinforces the Wans’ mission to provide fresh, high quality food, which led them to search for places to donate their leftover buns to for the first time back in 2013. Through the help of neighboring businesses, they were put in contact with Souls Harbor.


The donations the Wans give its men’s shelter can also be traced back to their childhoods.


“We know being poor is very hard. We know that because when we were young, we were poor, too,” said Wan, whose family, after moving from southeast China to Hong Kong, raised him, his six brothers and his two sisters, in a hillside wooden shelter.


At the age of eight, he and his siblings helped his parents earn money by doing odd jobs for the factory his parents worked at. Most memorable was painting toys cars, he said, the closest he got to having his own to play with.  


He also remembers feeding the poultry at his dad’s butcher shop in front of their home, hauling 50-pound bundles of wood on his shoulders for 20 minutes so his family could cook, and eating twice a day.


When he and his siblings didn’t have any food, Wan says they went to churches run by Westerners.


“You’d go to the church and they’d tell the story about God, and then after that, you could get something and go home,” he said. “At that time, we were very appreciative for them giving us something. When we finished hearing the story, we didn’t pay too much attention to what story was told.”


Wan’s wife, May, 45, along with her three brothers, was fortunate to eat three meals a day. Like him, growing up in a wooden stilt-style home in Kaiping, China, she never had any toys, as her family depended on her father’s income from the factory where he worked, moving materials such as marble and coal from on cargo ship to another.


Although growing up poor and their mandate are reasons why she and Wan donate their baking, doing so is also a reflection of their identity.


“In Chinese tradition, when you give things to others, you will have a return . . . in the next generation,” she said.  


The Wans are one family among the more than 40,000 people who have immigrated to Saskatchewan through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) since its 2008 inauguration. They say they came here to better the life of their son, Kyle, who dreamt of studying in North America. 


The couple had initially planned to establish a watch assessment business or research company to contribute stories to local media outlets. However, despite Wan’s 32-year experience of manufacturing and designing watch bands for companies like Casio and Seiko, and finding stories for Japanese NHK media, he saw there wasn’t a market for either in Regina when he first visited in 2011.


They then decided to open a bakery, as May had earned a certificate from a baking school back in Hong Kong.


Establishing the bakery required a $75,000 good faith deposit, which they had returned to them in two years, as they met the conditions of the Performance Agreement they signed. Among other things, this included proving they’ve been operating their business for six months, and that they’ve invested a minimum of $150,000 into it.


The cost of establishing a business, in addition to low customer turnout, has resulted in other immigrant families struggling to operate their businesses, Wan says.


Within Regina’s Chinese community, “I know over 20 families in the SINP program, who, after they finish the program [get their deposit back], they will close their business, he said, adding these businesses range from landscaping to confectionary stores, and from seamstress shops to tea shops.


He says if these families want to sell their business to others who immigrated through SINP — family or not — they won’t be able to, as the provincial government changed its policy two years ago.


“With the SINP, you establish yourself, you run by yourself. The government doesn’t give you any help. They just let you do it, but they don’t help you [run it,” said Wan, whose dream is to help Regina grow by setting an example of the success immigrants can have here, so more will want to come and do the same.


“I want to continue my donations. I want to continue my business. I want to be successful. But I need some help.”