‘Ukraine can do everything’: Ukrainian newcomers open sushi restaurant after fleeing war

A new restaurant owned by Ukrainian newcomers in downtown Winnipeg is serving up sushi with a side of resilience.

Sushi Point is run entirely by those who escaped the war-torn country, including owner Olga Vovkotrub.

Vovkotrub is one of more than 30,000 newcomers who came to Winnipeg from Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. She arrived that September, and one year later, started a takeout and delivery business serving anything but traditional Ukrainian food.

“Rolls and bowls? Where are your cabbage rolls?” Vovkotrub laughed as she recalled what customers often ask her.

While she isn’t sure why she settled on sushi, Vovkotrub credits the variety of cuisine and culinary artistry on display in her home country.

“In Ukraine, we have very different food culture,” she said. “Ukraine can do everything.”

“Ukraine can do everything” is a message that goes beyond the menu – as a business owner, Vovkotrub realized she wanted to flex her entrepreneurial muscles and test her strengths in a new country.

“I decided to do something else and open a restaurant,” she said. “Because for me, it’s a new market and new sphere of business.”

Vovkotrub isn’t alone in her entrepreneurial endeavours. According to Statistics Canada, nearly one in four (23.7 per cent) of private-sector businesses are owned by immigrants.

“The individuals that are coming to Canada are coming to realize their dreams,” said Loren Remillard, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president & CEO. “They’re bringing with them economic investment and entrepreneurial aspirations.”

Having such aspirations can help with settling into a new country, province and city, according to newcomer organizations.

“Just helping diversify what it means to be Canadian and what it means to live in Canada,” said Ryan Croy, the employment program manager with Newcomers Employment & Education Development Services (N.E.E.D.S.) Inc.

The process isn’t easy, especially when newcomers face more barriers than the average business owner.

“They have the ability and the talent, but it’s the financial back-up that they need,” said Ukrainian Canadian Congress Manitoba Provincial Council president Joanne Lewandowsky.

But once they get things going, it can be an opportunity to give back by offering job opportunities to people looking for work. At Sushi Point, all of the staff recently moved to Winnipeg from Ukraine.

“Someone that’s (been here) three months and some (have been here for) one year,” said Olena Zinchenko, the restaurant’s project developer.

When it comes to the future of her life in Canada, Vovkotrub said she hopes to open more restaurants, including one with more traditional Ukrainian cuisine. In the meantime, she said she’s looking forward to serving sushi to newcomers and long-time Winnipeggers alike.

Sushi Point can be found in the heart of downtown Winnipeg at 238 Portage Ave.

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