By Jaclyn Hayward
Nestled at the corner of Commercial Street, close to the Victoria Diversion, lies a little Café that brings so much joy to the Kensington Cedar-Cottage neighbourhood. In 2017, Corina Li had a vision to turn the small corner-shaped building into a hub that serves tasty food and drinks to the community that surrounds it. Four years later, Chance Café stands vibrant and strong with an inviting menu of eats.
“My vision revolves around togetherness with my family, specifically my brother. Growing up, my brother and I roamed the streets of East Van like our backyard, especially in the Trout Lake area. We looked out for each other so when the opportunity came up for us to open a café, we put our heads together to come up with the idea. My dream is to recreate the positive experience we had growing up and create a community where everyone knows each other. I want all of our friends to come to Chance as a hangout spot.” -Corina Li
Chance is located right in front of a bus stop, with tables and benches welcoming people inside. On rainy days, local residents know that Chance is a place to warm up over Chicken Coconut Thai Curry and organic and fair-trade coffee. In the summer, it’s a place to cool down over milkshakes, bubble teas, and ice cream. The signature Cranky Turkey sandwich is one of Corina’s favourites and it has been a bestseller since opening. It’s a sandwich she grew up eating with her brother and it’s an ode to their childhood together.
Before the pandemic, Chance would host small community events like art classes, birthday parties, and karaoke nights. In the summer of 2019, the community looked forward to Chance hosting JB Crepes on Sundays who dished up brunch.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were open to all kinds of ideas. Whatever we could accommodate, we would consider hosting. One of my favourite events was when a local group used our space for calligraphy night. It was such an eye-opener to learn what a simple brush and paper can create. We hope to host similar events once we are back to safer times.” – Li
When the pandemic hit, Chance adapted its practices quickly and transformed its service to suit safety and the community’s needs. They offered local favourites by text-to-deliver and quickly went from being the neighbourhood Café, to neighbours. Meals and drinks delivered by masked familiar faces were such a highlight during those early lockdown days, providing a sense of normalcy and fun as we kept our distance from each other. During this time, Corina also began sewing fabric face masks with her family and by April of 2020, had donated 120 fabric face masks to the Lake View Care Centre across the street from Chance Café. Buying a mask from Corina meant directly benefiting the community, and before the mask mandate existed, the neighbourhood was prepared. To date, Chance has donated over 3000 masks to local senior homes, nurses, paramedics, and other front-line workers due in part to their personal connections to people who manufacture masks and also because of their passion for the community that surrounds them.
Corina’s love for East Vancouver continues to be at the heart of Chance Café.
“I love the sense of community in the neighbourhood. During the pandemic, when we had no choice but to close the shop, our neighbours reached out personally and wanted to help keep our business alive. We were so touched by each and every one of our friends who wanted to contribute.” -Li
A drink highlight that emerged during the pandemic and helped to sustain Chance during those tough times, were the heaps of tasty DIY drink kits they began serving – an idea inspired through Corina’s friendship with Reusable BBT Cup’s founder, Carrie Lai.
“Carrie was one of my motivations and inspirations for the bubble tea kits. Without her drive and motivation, I don’t think [Chance] would have gotten through [the pandemic]. She was emotionally there for me through a lot of it and I’m so grateful for her support and friendship.” – Li
The DIY take-home kit selection is vast and continues with popularity, so guests can enjoy their favourite bubble tea combinations as they want, when they want, and with a reusable cup. The kits remain highly sought after as the perfect gift, or for those who want to prepare for their late-night cravings. Chance has also added a Vietnamese Coffee Kit to their selection, with jar and drip filter for those with a longing for that cà phê sữa đá pick-me-up at home.
Last year, Chance introduced a selection of fresh steamed baos to their menu of quality eats, which are a tasty way to fill your stomach on the go. The beloved Deluxe Bao pairs perfectly with a Watermelon Cucumber Mint Refresher followed by a Salted Caramel Dacquoise – which is another recent and beloved menu addition. Chance has daily specials that change with the seasons so with each visit, you can enjoy a new suggestion.
Adorned with a new mural that’s incredibly fitting, saying “We bloom together” – Chance Café really creates that sense of togetherness. As restrictions ease, comfort grows, and we continue to bloom – Corina hopes to begin hosting events again in this central space over delicious food and feelings of community, like cooking classes and events for seniors. Swing by and stay up to date with future events by following Chance on Instagram.
Get there on transit:
Bus 20 to Victoria Diversion at Commercial