Harold Cruz moved to Penticton from Vancouver Island. And yet, he was born on another island – Boracay in the Philippines – known for its magnificent beaches and surfing.
“I really like the ocean. It gives me a warm feeling. Vancouver Island was a good fit for me. I would go surfing any day in a heartbeat,” he reminisced, sharing a wide smile. In Penticton, Harold picked up a new hobby – snowboarding.
Together with two of his siblings, Harold came to live with their father in Canada almost 30 years ago. He was 16 at the time. When the circumstances allowed, his mother and younger sister were able to join the rest of the family. Most of them live in Nanaimo now.
“Life in the Philippines is very tough, so one of the main goals of the Filipinos is to move overseas for a better life, and to be able to support their families,” he said. “When immigrating you get your struggles – different culture, different language… but faith is a big part of our culture and it helps. I am a big believer.”
The way he ended up at the culinary school of Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) was a twist of fortune. His original plan was to apply for a computer science program but, since it had a six-month waiting list, Harold joined the culinary arts program instead.
During the pandemic, Harold’s work slowed down, and his friends in Penticton encouraged him to move here. It was a twist of fate that led to him to open up his own restaurant, Twisted Chopsticks, and a food truck.
“In a way, COVID-19 gave me a push to start my own business,” he reflects. “I’ve been working in the restaurant business for the last 15 years and that experience gave me confidence. I learned from various chefs specializing in certain cuisines – Thai, Japanese, Chinese. Thus, the idea of an Asian fusion food, where east meets west, made sense to me. I like the diversity – I think it’s great when people can try different types of food at one place.”
Harold loves Filipino dishes but admits that preparing them is very time-consuming, which is challenging in a fast-paced eatery. He is thinking of offering some pre-made Filipino dishes to his customers in the future – something you could bring home, reheat and enjoy with your family.
Thank You to Front-Line Workers
When Harold was getting his first COVID-19 vaccine, he observed how busy the nurses and doctors were, and he knows how stressful this kind of work is from his sister, who is a registered nurse. He spoke to the head nurse and arranged to deliver free lunches to all the medical personnel at the vaccination clinic to thank them for working on the front line.
Harold’s business is going well. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the orders as he is the only cook. He has been trying to find staff but knows that it is hard for many businesses in the hospitality sector. He would like to hire newcomers to the region and share his knowledge and love for cooking.
“One of the traits of immigrants is being hardworking. This is very true for many immigrants from the Philippines – they are very hardworking and committed employees with the great work ethics,” said Harold.
“If you have any ideas for your future, keep them in mind, they may come to fruition one day. And never give up… just strive for the best. With a little bit of luck, a little bit of help, and pray to God above… things will work out.”
Find out more about Twisted Chopsticks.
This profile is a part of the Community Champions campaign of the South Okanagan-Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership (SOSLIP), and a version of this article was previously published on Castanet. This project is led by the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS), which provides a range of services for newcomers to the region. The profile is written by Elmira Galiyeva of SOECS.