Rosalinda Smelser made the long journey from a small town in the Philippines to Canada with dreams of a better life for her young family. Her entrepreneurial journey has grown from selling spices door-to-door to opening one of Vernon’s busiest restaurants.
Smelser is energetic with an unassuming manner and easy smile that perhaps explains why Rosalinda’s Diner has become such a popular spot for many locals. Brightly-coloured, bustling with friendly chatter, and warm with the smell of home-baked bread, the popularity of the restaurant is a testament to the hard work Smelser still puts in today.
Her work consumes nearly 90 hours each week and so there isn’t much time for volunteering. However, she fondly recalls competing in the Winter Carnival’s chili cook-off and organizing a free family event at the Halina Centre, gathering door prizes, serving food, and crafting decorations and lanterns that were gifted to the hall.
When the devastating Typhoon Yolanda occurred in 2013, Smelser organized pancake breakfasts to help the families who were affected.
In 2015, they visited the poor farming community in her hometown in the Philippines hosting breakfast with Santa, and giving packages of rice, sardines, milk powder and instant noodles to the children and their families. Now, Smelser beams about her five-year old granddaughter spearheading donations of backpacks and food to school children in the Philippines.
As a young mother, Smelser needed to earn money so she could flee a bad marriage to safety and support her five daughters. At age 18, her first business was buying and re-packaging bulk peanuts, garlic and bay leaves into smaller portions for sale at lunch counters. Later, she opened her own store, but with children to care for it was not possible to provide for her family.
In a difficult decision, Smelser left her children with her mom to work in Manila and Singapore. Seeking a better future, she saw an ad for Canada and decided to pursue the opportunity.
“I read in a book that Canada is kind of a freedom country.”
The family was reunited, living many years in Williams Lake, and in 1999 they moved to Vernon where her daughters had greater opportunities with school and work.
After working 18 years in a restaurant, Smelser knew she wanted to do it herself.
“One day a customer told us: ‘you can make homemade soup and sandwiches downtown.’”
So, they leased a shuttered building, spent three months doing renovations and opened Rosalinda’s in 2011.
Today, it’s clearly been worth it. Two daughters and grandchildren work in the restaurant alongside Smelser and her husband, Todd, each day.
“It’s hard work. I wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning every day to bake the bread, getting ready for breakfast and lunch. I make my own, because the customer can tell if it’s homemade.”
October 2019 marks eight years running the restaurant. It’s a long way from pedalling her bike selling her basket of goods on consignment. She is grateful for her life in Canada.
“I’m so blessed with my employees because they are very honest and very hardworking,” and for her family, “We’re all in Vernon. Our life is here now with all five daughters and grandkids living in the North Okanagan.”