By Roy L Hales
“Strangely enough, last summer was good. We were just open one day a week and it still worked. We still had fun. Everyone got a bit of pocket money to get them through the next cycle.” said Sujon, the manager and sole proprietor.
“The cafe has always been a community hub. Kids are running around, colouring; people coming and going, touching each other, hugging, kissing. It still was that gathering, but it has really slowed down a lot. It is a lot quieter, in fact no one goes into the cafe room anymore, it is all take-out. So we don’t get to see each other as a group and I really miss that a lot. I think it is very much missed.”
A homeschooling project
The Toki Bap was born out of homeschooling project in 2017. Some of the parents wanted to add some extra curricular activities. Some of the teenagers said they wanted to cook. After they went through the first round of everyone doing something on the wish list, this became ‘cooking with Sue.’
“We covered cooking techniques. I’ve always liked the chemistry of food, how you work with heat and water, also taste, flavour, emotions, memories – that type of stuff… That’s a good avenue for me.” Sujon explained. “We cooked some Asian stuff that they have never seen. We made Mochi, which is basically working with rice flour. A lot of gluten free stuff, because there were a few people who had gluten free needs. Of course they wanted to do sushi. We did different variations of rice things, from pilafs to dumplings.”
The Toki Bap is born
Sujon’ daughter was a catalyst in the transition from a homeschool program to a cafe.
The kitchen at Mansons Hall was not in use at the time.
“She was like ‘Mum, running a cafe was sort of your bucket list thing, right?“
“I said,” yes.”
“So she said, ‘Why don’t we do it.”
So, in 2018, Sujon rented the hall and employed a group of teenagers to work there. Nola, Laara and Lilly were in the core group. There was also Amber and Asha. Hall Manager Mary Lavelle was one of the parents, and helped out.
Sujon explained, “Toki Bap cafe is a Korean word that literally translates as rabbit food cafe.”
The full name of her business is Toki Bap, Celebrating Cortes Pan Pacific Cuisine & Culture.
“People started coming, we set a menu and we picked up speed – we definitely picked up speed,” she said.
In addition to the cafe, Toki Bap, with $420 seed money received from Cortes Literacy in 2018 and the numerous community volunteers, sponsored AC/DC(another community dinner club). For two years ACDC was able to provide during the quiet winter months, affordable if not free, to 40 guests at a time, gourmet sit down big family style dinners. Unfortunately, Covid has put this project on hiatus.
A Friday take-out service
Everything changed after COVID brought the island’s economy to a near standstill.
“Right now it’s only Fridays,” explained Sujon. “We still get long shifts, where we do it once a week. I don’t know if I really qualify as a restaurant in the typical sense. What restaurant opens one day a week for four hours or less? It’s more of a canteen.”