Carmen Hamm (BA’11, MA’14) and her husband Brad want to contribute to revolution of eating local.
The Saskatoon business owners behind Taste Restaurant Group, which includes Cohen’s Beer Republic, UNA Pizza + Wine, Bar Gusto, and Picaro Cocktails & Tacos, are invested in creating change both locally and globally.
“We believe that giving back is as important to our team and our guests as any other component of what we do,” said Carmen Hamm. “We work with a variety of local and international charitable organizations.”
Their restaurants support Mealshare, which operates with a Buy 1, Give 1 structure. In each of their eateries, there is a feature meal, which when ordered, provides a meal to a child in need. Those meals are served in Saskatoon through Breakfast Club of Canada and in Ethiopia through Save the Children Canada.
“Mealshare really resonates with what we value,” said Hamm. “We’ve had a chance to serve breakfast to the kids, which is great to see where our dollars are going.”
They also support Water First, which creates sustainable drinking water systems in Northern First Nations communities and FoodRenew, who works closely with local food businesses to save and renew food that would otherwise be thrown away.
It is through these partnerships that the staff and community can also be a part of something bigger.
“Partnering with these organizations creates an opportunity for our leadership to be a part of this, for our staff to volunteer, but also our guests to feel like they are part of it, which is the overall goal,” she said. “We want people who come into our restaurants to see that we are living and breathing that value, and see this is who we are, and can engage with us to create change.”
For Hamm, her studies at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) led her on a path towards her passion – helping people who are in underprivileged situations to be able to have what they need in order to not only survive, but thrive and succeed in life.
“I am proud to be a USask grad. When I was in university, I was older than some of my classmates, but I created relationships with my professors and I was excited to take the things I learned and the experiences I gained and implement them into my businesses.”
Hamm has an undergrad in International Studies, majoring in Development. She then finished with a Masters in Political Studies.
“The program was a perfect fit for me. I didn’t know if I would get a job with it, but it’s what I am passionate about,” she said. “It created a foundation for understanding the outside world and an awareness I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The USask alumna grew up in Saskatoon, and staying local was important to her and helping the community succeed.
“In Saskatoon, there is so much need, so much hurt, and so much poverty and it is daunting to know where to jump in,” she said. “We just want to see Saskatoon be better and we wanted to be a part of that. Our hope is that our investments will lead to other initiatives to be involved locally and around the world.”
Being an entrepreneur came with its own learning curve, but after building and growing four restaurants since 2016, the Hamm team trusts the people around them to help them succeed.
“We surround ourselves with people that not only support and work with us, but also challenge us and complement our skillsets,” Hamm said. “We have an exceptionally talented team and we create relationships with people who have already learned those lessons to help us on our path.”
As Taste Restaurant Group looks for new opportunities – both in business and in giving back – Hamm is also focused on helping those in need in Africa.
They are partnering with an organization in Ethiopia to help build a hospitality school, to help people learn new skills to better their lives.
“As people know, HIV AIDS is a huge problem in Africa. Ethiopia is very community-minded and the HIV orphans there are taken in by family members, but they can be seen as second-class citizens in their homes and a burden to their families,” explained Hamm. “This organization is creating a space for them to be supportive to their families, as well as a centre where kids can do their homework after dark when there is no electricity at home. They created these after-school programs so that kids can graduate and excel in whatever skill they choose to learn.”
Her upbringing, her USask studies, and her time spent travelling to Africa has led Hamm to these opportunities to now give back to those who need it most.
“We don’t live in an equal opportunity world, so I was able to work my way up from the bottom and found my way into serving to help pay for my schooling,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have that opportunity, so we want to help people to be able to reach higher.”