New Beginnings in Parksville Qualicum Beach

The region offers community and opportunity for culinary business owners.

Interior of the Swell Sweets candy shop in Parksville Qualicum Beach with shelves filled with candy

Imagine moving to an entirely new province, with a different community and climate, and taking over a long-standing culinary business—with no previous experience owning one.

An undertaking like this is not for the faint of heart, but it is exactly what both Robin Bruner, former owner of Swell Sweets, and Neel Patel, owner of Qualicum Beach Bakery, both did within the last few years. They each traded in their work in the Calgary area to make a new home for themselves in Parksville Qualicum Beach, and both have found community and joy in continuing the culinary legacies of the businesses they’ve purchased.

A woman smiles as she assists customers from behind a counter at Swell Sweets candy shop

For Bruner, a move to the area was not a decision taken lightly. At the time, she and her husband had two children aged 11 and 14—not easy ages to uproot and restart their lives, Bruner admits. But the move meant spending more time with family, and ultimately finding a place to live where they work. “When we moved here, it was like, we can walk to the beach, we can literally get on our mountain bikes from the house.“ This was a welcome change from Alberta, where they found they were spending hardly any time at home, because the outdoors they sought required trips every weekend. For those reasons, “this community felt perfect.”

The support of the community she fell in love with helped Swell Sweets continue to thrive even during a pandemic. Bruner takes that support seriously, and is now a big part of giving back to help her community grow and prosper. “We actually give a tremendous amount to the community, by way of donations, by way of sponsorships, gifts…I think when you have a giving perspective, people respond to that.”

A man pipes frosting onto a baked good in a kitchen of a bakery in Qualicum Beach

Patel had previously visited the Island and has traveled to various places across the country, experiencing both small town and big city life. The Parksville Qualicum Beach region is a perfect place for him, providing both community and the solace of the outdoors. “It’s the people, and the nature,” he says about what he enjoys most about the area. “We like a lot of nature and quiet place[s], so that’s why we like the feel of Qualicum Beach.”

Two men and a woman pose for a photo behind the counter of Qualicum Beach Bakery

Bruner and Patel have been encouraged every step of the way by both their patrons and the business community. “We have a wonderful business community…we have young people coming in refreshing places, we’ve got new businesses starting, so I think it’s an exciting place to start to grow,” says Bruner. While historically the region was known for its strong retirement community, Bruner says that the community is changing, with lots of families settling in, and businesses are shifting to address those needs. That’s why Patel echoes Bruner in his encouragement to others considering doing business in Parksville Qualicum Beach, saying “It’s a very good town, and very good people—you should go for it.”

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