Rizida Baikova enjoys serving up the tastes of her homeland in the Royal City.
Baikova, who immigrated to Canada in 2000 from Tashkent, Uzbekistan with her husband and two children, recently opened Belmont Bakery and Bistro in uptown New Westminster.
"When we decided to open our own place, we went to different places - West Vancouver, Vancouver and here. When I came here the first time, I liked this place," she said. "I thought maybe we would bring something to the community."
No stranger to hard work, Baikova's day begins at 5 a.m. when she starts baking for the day ahead - fresh cinnamon buns, croissants and other goodies.
"In the morning I prepare all the soups," she said. "Every day I have four types of soups. Borscht is every day."
Baikova also serves Russian-style meat pies and piroshkys; the borscht is a family recipe.
"They ask if it's Ukrainian or if it's Polish. I say, I don't know what is Ukrainian and what is Polish," she said of the borscht. "I say it's Russian."
Baikova said her family had no compelling reason to leave Uzbekistan, but she and her husband were interested in moving to Canada.
"Something new," she said. "We were happy there. We said, let's try it."
When Baikova moved to Canada, she was the only member of her family who didn't speak English, as her husband had taught their then nine-and 12-year-old children the language back home. The Republic of Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union until 1991.
"My husband was a teacher of English language for adults," she explained. "My kids started to speak English when they were young."
Upon arriving in Canada, Baikova enrolled in an English class at Kwantlen College, but she didn't last long.
"Money, it goes so fast," she said. "We came here from a different country, with different rules, different money. Everything."
Baikova left school after about a month so she could seek employment. Within months of arriving in Canada, the family's savings had been spent on furniture and household items and rent.
Although some suggested Baikova could collect social assistance, the family didn't want to go that route. Her husband, Ravshan Baikov, was unable to work when they first arrived in Canada, but he helped his wife draft a resumé and accompanied her to businesses to drop off her resumé.
"Here, who wants to have a teacher with a Russian accent?" she said. "He was very knowledgeable. He finished two universities."
Baikova had worked as a computer programmer in Uzbekistan but because of language challenges and technological differences between the two countries, she chose to look for work in restaurants in Canada. In addition to having taken some cooking classes, she was accustomed to looking for regular family gatherings.
Baikova's first job in Canada was at a restaurant in Vancouver, but she lost that job three months later.
"I was fired," she said. "I was crying and crying. Crying is not going to help you."
Baikova found work in kitchens at various restaurants, often working two or three jobs at a time because of the low wages and different shifts.
"I was working 14 or 16 hours a day," she said. "In more than a year, I didn't have any off days."
Baikova landed a job at a Vancouver restaurant where she worked for eight years, starting as a cook and ending as the kitchen manager. From there she went on to work in the kitchen at the River Rock Casino Resort.
"I started working as a cook. One year later I had a chance to transfer to the pastry department," she said. "I started with pastry. (Eventually) I was assistant pastry chef."
Baikova and her husband started talking about the idea of opening their own restaurant. They opened Belmont Bakery and Bistro at 619 Belmont St. in December 2011.
"The baked stuff is wonderful," said longtime New Westminster resident Ed Harrington. "It is such a lovely little spot. It is good - lovely cakes and meat pies, all Russian. We have been there several times."
Baikova's husband drops her off at the restaurant at 5 a.m., en route to his own job as a technician. Unable to find work for their first five years in Canada, Baikov cared for their children while Baikova worked in various restaurants.
Once Baikov's workday is done, he returns to the restaurant, where he helps with dishes and other jobs around the bistro. Baikova, who hasn't had a full day off since opening the bistro six months ago, generally wraps up her workday around 7 or 8 p.m.
"Everything you see is handmade, homemade," she said. "People like it. I get so many compliments. People say it is the taste of our childhood."
Married since 1985, the couple has worked hard to build a life in Canada. In 2003, they bought a car and by 2006 they'd saved enough to buy a townhouse in Richmond.
"It's nothing fancy," Baikova said about her car. "To me, it is so valuable."