Taiwanese-Canadian Ben Hsu comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Hsu and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1986, then settled in Calgary in the mid 1990s. Both parents started and ran successful businesses while Ben was growing up, and their example left an impression on him.
Hsu’s path to starting his own business began in an unlikely place: The drug-addled streets of inner-city Vancouver. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, as a campus minister with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Hsu led groups of students on learning journeys to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods. He learned about the struggles faced by those dealing with poverty and drug addictions. Hsu’s heart was moved by the plight of these marginalized Canadians, and began thinking what he could do to make a positive change.
Back in Calgary, Hsu learned more about the barriers faced by people transitioning out of poverty. He realized these people needed more than just jobs in order to make sustained life changes. They needed meaningful employment that paid a living wage, with the chance to connect with their local community and develop relationships with others.
In 2014, Hsu and business partner Elizabeth Lau founded Lavish Bakery, Calgary’s first social enterprise bakery. Beyond the usual profit motivations of any business, Lavish Bakery intentionally sought workers coming out of vulnerable socio-economic circumstances such as poverty, abuse, drug addiction or sexual exploitation. They also sourced their ingredients from nearby farmers and organic suppliers, supporting the local economy while practicing environmental responsibility.
Hsu and Lau are now into their third year of running Lavish Bakery, selling fresh-baked, organic artisan breads at local farmer’s markets, while training and employing staff that are referred to them by local social service agencies such as Sparrow House.
This year, Lavish hopes to multiply their social impact by opening a collaborative kitchen incubator. This venture aims to meet a growing need for affordable and flexible commercial kitchen space for start-up food businesses that don’t have enough capital to build their own space. In addition to lowering overhead costs by sharing kitchen equipment, work space, and utilities, businesses can subcontract the Lavish kitchen staff, providing further work opportunities to those who are transitioning out of difficult life circumstances.
Hsu and Lau are two Asian Canadians joining the fight against poverty, and bringing as many people as possible along the way. They believe the more connected we are to each other, our communities, and our environment, the stronger we become as a society.