South Slave

Chinese couple leaves Shenyang to open Hay River café


Aihua Zhang and her husband, Ajun, visited Hay River a few years ago. They loved it so much, they wanted to move there – all the way from Shenyang, China.

When they heard Melissa Beck’s café, She Takes the Cake, was for sale, they decided to buy it.

The café reopened under the new name Big Lake Eatery and Café last Monday, and Beck says the restaurant got progressively busier each day as people learned it was now serving fresh Great Slave Lake fish – so much so, staff were left trying to keep up with the demand.

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“It’s very busy,” said Aihua, reflecting on her first week at the restaurant.

“We were expecting more of a soft start but it's amazing how many people came in here that I had never seen before,” reflected Beck, who owned and operated She Takes the Cake for six years.

“It brought in a whole different group of people when the word was out that there was fish and chips available … I thought that we'd see more of just my old regulars but it's a lot more people than you expected."

'So much space'

The Zhangs made the move in August 2018, from a city with a population of more than eight million people to a town with a population of just 3,500.

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“She really liked [Hay River] and it's the place that her and her husband thought they would love to raise their two girls. She loves the idea of having so much space,” explained Beck, who was with Aihua when Cabin Radio visited the café.

The Zhangs have already made changes to the restaurant: they have installed deep fryers so they can sell fish and chips and, in a couple of weeks, they plan to offer grilled fish in an expanded dinner menu.

The restaurant now accepts debit and credit cards, will be extending hours on Thursdays and Fridays to accommodate the dinner crowd, and will be open six days a week instead of the previous five.

Meanwhile, the new owners will also maintain She Takes the Cake’s menu of specialty coffees, baked goods, and lunch items.

Beck is still in town – her family is still considering relocating if they sell their house – and is still working at the café to ease the transition, as the Zhangs are new to the restaurant business.

Before immigrating to Canada, Aihua worked a variety of jobs: she sold car insurance, had a business selling women’s apparel, and taught kindergarten. Ajun was a doctor.

"They're very happy to be here," said Beck as Aihua agreed. "And they're very happy with how their first week went."

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