Entrepreneurial immigration to a new continent, with pastry.
I’m Emese, and my husband Géza and I are the proud owners of Freyja, a new croissant shop in downtown Campbell River. We are recent immigrants from Hungary with backgrounds in marketing and media, so you might be wondering how we ended up opening a boutique croissant shop, halfway around the world.
Our story began in 2019 with the decision to leave Hungary and move to Canada. At the time, Géza owned and operated a commercial radio station, and I had landed in freelance business development after successfully managing a creative agency. We had been considering moving to an English-speaking country, somewhere our children could thrive and where we could build our life together. Canada also meant we could still be within reach of Europe and stay in touch with family and friends.
We started by applying for corporate jobs—mainly in Toronto and Vancouver—and realized after sending a few dozen resumes that we would never get a chance without having work visas. We dropped the “easier” corporate job idea and one day I found an article about the BC Provincial Nominee Program’s Regional Pilot, and we started looking into it.
The Entrepreneur Immigration stream of the program was created as a way for international entrepreneurs wishing to immigrate to the province and set up businesses that support innovation and economic growth. At the time, most of the participating communities were sponsoring industries like lodging, mining, and transportation, but Campbell River was the only city that was interested in restaurants and food manufacturing.
“Freyja: The Croissant Story” already existed as a croissant shop in Budapest; as regular customers, we loved the concept. The products were high-quality and handmade. The recipes were based on the classic croissant, but with a high level of Scandinavian influence, including the fillings. At the time, neither of us had any relation to hospitality, other than being big-time foodies.
We contacted the owner and offered him a deal for letting us open a shop in Canada under the same name and brand, with the same base recipes. Who wouldn’t want to take that opportunity and have their brand expanded over to North America? We started working on a business plan and Géza began learning all about making croissants. You might think that figuring everything out from a 9000-kilometre distance with only the Internet seems hard, but it resulted in a surprisingly accurate business plan, so it’s definitely not impossible.
As we awaited news of our program candidacy, we spent our evenings Googling Campbell River and watching YouTube videos of people driving around the city, light jazz music playing in the background. We fell in love with the idea of moving there.
This was still the summer of 2019, and our plan was to book our potential in-person exploratory visit for April 2020, as we were expecting our first child together (our daughter) to be born the following January. The pandemic changed everything, and by the spring of 2021 we were already expecting our second child (our son) and found ourselves on our first video call with Rose Klukas and Leah Knutson from the City of Campbell River’s Economic Development team. News of relaxing border restrictions brought new life to our plan.
On September 7, 2021, Canada opened its borders and we were on the first plane out, packing up our whole life, two new babies in tow. We completed the exploratory visit to Campbell River and fell in love with the city, just like we had with the idea.
We loved the people. Everyone we met—walking on the street, on the beach, at the grocery store, at restaurants, at parks—was kind and friendly, patient and helpful. The other thing we fell in love with was the scenery. I remember driving north on Dogwood Street. Just as we started down the hill into downtown, we could see part of the city with the ocean and the mountains in the background. We were convinced.
We applied for our work permits and temporary residencies and then left for Mexico while we awaited the processing. It was just this past March that we finally received them and we got straight to work. After a whirlwind of three months, we opened Freyja’s doors on July 1.
I could hardly tell you in one article how challenging it has been to move to another continent and start a new business with two children under the age of two. But here we are, settling in slowly and familiarizing ourselves with this country and its people. We never imagined that a community could be this kind and helpful and generous. With the flurry of opening Freyja, we haven’t really had a chance to sit and appreciate all that has happened around us in this amazing place we have moved to.
Now that we are open, we are meeting new people every day who tell us how much they appreciate our business and our products. It means so much and helps us forget about the difficulties, the lack of sleep, the stress, the work, and all we have risked and given up to be able to be here.
Freyja started out as a low-risk investment project in an industry we love so that we could gain residency in Canada. We’ve ended up building our life around it, and we’re putting our hearts and minds into it every day.
When planning Freyja, our aim has always been to create a place where the local community can come for their daily coffee and pain au chocolat, or for a treat on the weekend; to sit, or to pick up something for outdoor activities. But our goal has also been to create something exceptional, something that can add to the community’s attraction as a culinary destination. We want people to visit Campbell River because of Freyja. That’s the quality we’re aiming for, a special experience that stays with someone long past a visit.