I had the opportunity, earlier this year, to interview Daphne and Lucy from Salt Design Co. based in Vancouver, BC. The conversation delves into the processes of starting a business, being female entrepreneurs, travel, and of course, all their favourite things to do in Vancouver. I chose to write about these incredibly talented, witty, fun, and creative women because I see them as visionaries in their professional fields, and they truly embody the spirit of Sidestreet travel. What stood out is how both of them connect to new places and cultures through food and wandering, which illustrates the Sidestreet ethos the more open we are to exploring off the beaten path when travelling, the higher the chance of having an authentic and potentially once-in-a-life experience. They’ve also provided a great list of recommendations for Vancouver, so if you’re a local or just visiting, it’s worth checking out.
The Business Side of Things
Can you briefly describe the business and its origin?
Salt Design Co. is a brand and web design studio that works mainly with small businesses in the health and wellness sector in Vancouver, BC. Our primary focus is on helping other entrepreneurs build strong foundations in their business so that they can succeed and grow. The idea for Salt Design Co. was born because we each didn’t want to create a business alone. We met in design school and always joked about starting an agency together and then when an opportunity came about, we decided to partner up and go from there.
How did you come up with the names for the company and podcast?
We struggled on a name for our business for a while. We wanted something snappy and punchy, first and foremost, but for it to have some meaning where we knew we wouldn’t get sick of it. We got the inspiration for Salt because we’re food-obsessed. You sprinkle salt on your food to make it taste great, and that’s the same idea with design. We’re here to sprinkle a bit of what we do onto your business to give you something that looks great and feels true to your brand. The name of our podcast is the Messy Middle, and that’s precisely the focus of our conversations. Friend of the business and wordsmith, Mara Lantz, helped come up with that for us!
Do you remember the light bulb moment when you realized you needed to explore this idea?
When we decided we wanted to do a podcast, we wanted just to have real and raw conversations with other entrepreneurs where we didn’t have to be so formal. We found ourselves continually talking about how many businesses show you the results of all their hard work, but you never see the stuff that happened in between it all. What sacrifices did they have to make? How many times did they fail before they got to where they were? Who did they have to consult to get there?
“We wanted to show that even the most successful person running a business has probably had one or two meltdowns in the past, and it hasn’t been all sunshine and business success.“
We hope to inspire the people that listen to our podcast that there is no right way to run a business, and you can be as flexible and unconventional as you want, and success can still come. And hopefully, we can end the comparison game too. We wanted to show that even the most successful person running a business has probably had one or two meltdowns in the past, and it hasn’t been all sunshine and business success.
What about design interests you the most?
When we first started Salt Design Co, we were both on the same page (and still are) of what design means: design isn’t arbitrary. We love pretty things, but to us, we don’t make decisions for our clients based on what looks pretty. We covet strategy before anything else, and all design decisions we make are based on this.
How do you see your business growing?
We’d love to be able to create something resembling a collective, where we have other creatives on hand to help with larger projects. We could potentially pivot into more of a brand management perspective at Salt, especially if we have a small team working with us. We love our clients and never want to price ourselves out of who we are working with now, but we’d still like to branch out and explore more holistic projects.
Currently, our focus for that is adding to our team and growing that aspect to help manage client projects. With Design-Build Grow (our online education platform), growth also includes adding more people, creating a community-based education platform with advice and resources from others in the small business industry. Reaching more people with our podcast is part of the plans for growth with DBG, too – it’s just about having more conversations and helping more people!
As female entrepreneurs, do you find yourself trying to carve out a voice and identity for yourselves? What does that look like for you?
We’ve niched ourselves into a field where we meet mostly women. Maybe it’s luck that we find ourselves dealing more with other females (and female-identifying) entrepreneurs. We recently had to review some stats for a business plan we were writing and found how differently female entrepreneurs operate than our male counterparts and that was eye-opening for all of us. It’s taught us to trust our gut and leverage our worth to our clients. We know we’re bringing something valuable to the table, and we have to be more confident presenting that because we genuinely believe in what we’re offering.
Travel Stories and Hacks
How do you plan your trips? What inspires you?
D: I kind of wing it until I get there, which can be bad as it can waste time. But I find, sometimes you don’t know until you get there what you feel like doing. It depends on where you’re staying and what transit is like there. As long as I get to my destination and can drop my bags off, then basically the world’s my oyster, and I can run amok doing whatever. I like to see what the locals do, and I’ll try my best to follow suit.
L: It depends on the trip for me! I do like to have a few spots in mind to visit ahead of time, but if I’m going to a new country or city, I prefer to arrive and explore first, preferably on foot. Driving, walking or even biking around a new city is so much more fun and spontaneous! Plus, when you’re on a trip, there’s nothing more luxurious than seeing where the wind takes you and what you might discover.
How do you explore the local culture and place? For example, museums, events, food, walking, tours, etc.?
D: I wander. When I get to a new place, I like to get the lay of the area I’m in and then we’ll do museums and other local things afterwards. I’m quite food motivated as well, so I like to plan things that end in a meal that is popular in the city we’re visiting. Walking tours are ok. It’s helped me in the past because it’s just a handy guide to the city. I love an excellent museum too… [and] when a museum has a special exhibit, go check it out because it usually is worth it. We saw a whole special exhibition about crime and murder depicted through art, and it was grim and grisly but extremely fascinating.
Pro Tip: “stalking popular restaurants on Instagram ahead of time tends to lead to a lot of local gems and from there, you can ask the staff for their suggestions on activities.”Lucy Gregory
L: Museums (depending on the city) can be incredible. New Zealand, for instance, has some fantastic museums that I enjoyed. Walking tours I find are hit and miss, but stalking popular restaurants on Instagram ahead of time tends to lead to a lot of local gems and from there, you can ask the staff for their suggestions on activities. But generally, I want to get out on foot and explore—see things with my own eyes and soak up the atmosphere of the place to get a grasp of the culture before digging deeper.
What’s your most memorable trip?
D: When I was 20, I went on a three-month backpacking trip around Europe with my best friend and another close friend. We also ended up meeting up with a few other people we knew from Vancouver. I learned a lot of important life skills during that trip and just had such a blast with people I love. Plus, when you’re 20, you think you’re pretty much invincible, and I miss that feeling immensely. We made some pretty wild memories, and I am just thankful we all made it home in one piece.
L: Funnily enough, my most memorable trip was also three months of backpacking—but for me, it was in Southeast Asia. Those long trips are always going to be significant, mainly because you’re so removed from your normal life and routine, and you get to immerse yourself in a culture different from your own. At that time, my then-boyfriend and I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. We rode scooters down the coast of Vietnam, visited WW2 museums close to the border of Burma, ate snakes, and lived on a boat for a week so we could scuba dive every day. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life so far as it opened my eyes to other cultures, my place in the world as a white woman and pushed me to try so many new things.
Do you like travelling with others or solo? Or, both?
D: I can’t say I’ve ever travelled solo before. I have gone to destinations alone, and I didn’t hate it. Perhaps I should pursue this. But I like travelling with other people. I always joke that I hate people, but I also feel this need to be around people (of my choosing) all the time. Maybe one day I’ll try it! But I think I like to travel with others. I want to share experiences with people I know and enjoy and make memories with them.
L: I love to travel alone (flights, train rides, etc.), but long-term trips can get lonely if you aren’t in a group hostel setting or having some decent human conversation now and then. Travelling as a group is my favourite—I’m a very independent person. I love having time to myself, but I also secretly wish I was from a huge family and love the communal aspect of being in a group. We’ve made a few trips with groups of friends, and I’ve also travelled with family —friends are more fun, but I love it all! When I’ve travelled solo, I found it crucial to stay in hostels (actually I’ve done this a lot when going with one other person too) to meet other people.
Do you take back souvenirs when you travel? If so, what do you bring back?
D: I used to! Living in a small apartment with a jerk cat who loves to knock things down does not allow for the collection of souvenirs, though.
L: Yes! I’ve been collecting art on my travels since I was a teenager. I keep my eye out for street artists I like and every new city I visit I try to bring a piece of art home with me. Some things that stand out are a carved Maori symbol from Auckland, clay pots from Greece, and a necklace charm, carved out of dried lava, from Sicily; these act as a reminder of the trip I’ve been on and the places I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.
What’s on your travel bucket list?
D: JAPAN. Tokyo seems wild. I love Studio Ghibli, and I want to go to the museum so badly. Another dream of mine would be a Middle Eastern food tour. My favourite country I’ve ever been to is Ireland (I’ve been there twice), but it’s on my list to go again! I am also quite curious about the Maritimes. I want to eat seafood, which is the size of dinner plates. I must confess I’ve only ever been as far east as Banff (sorry, Canada), so I’d like to see this country one day. It would be a dream to rent an R.V. and go exploring!
L: I can’t wait to go back to Italy! On my list of new places to visit, though, is Tokyo, Morocco, Kenya and some of South America. Although I’m not sure exactly where to go (it’s a big continent!), my uncle writes the Rough Guide books for the area I might let him tell me where to go. I’d also really love to visit a tropical region – Fiji or Seychelles would be a dream.
If you could give one piece of advice to readers about travel, what would it be?
D: Be flexible. Shit is going to happen, but it’s never the end of the world. When Lucy and I went to the U.K. a few years ago, the airline that was going to take us to Portugal, literally ceased to exist. While it sucked that we ultimately did not make it to Porto, we made the best out of our situation and made a road trip instead! Lucy, being the only one who could drive stick, drove us around England and Scotland, and we got to see some great places I’d never would have visited. Also, the English countryside is probably some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
L: First, find the trips and activities that are unique to you and your interests. Second, be willing to wander around and be spontaneous. With both of these, you’ll do things that no one else will have and be more likely to have a truly memorable experience. It could be as simple as finding a random castle ruin to climb up to in Scotland when you need to get out of the car and stretch your legs (which Daph and I did with another friend on a long road trip), or it could be hunting out specific places that fit into a niche interest of yours.
If you could live in any other city, where and why?
D: I’d love to live in New York. I went there in my early twenties and fell in love with it. There is so much to do there, always something new to explore and see. Plus, the amount of different food they have there would be a big draw. I’d probably eat a bagel every bloody day. They also have a lot more to offer when it comes to the music scene. When we were there in my younger days, we somehow got invited to this warehouse party where they played a ton of tech house, and I just knew that this was probably going to be one of the cooler parties I will ever attend in my life. I know I am romanticizing it, like a lot, but NYC feels like there are just endless possibilities of fun waiting to happen in a single day.
L: I have thought about this question a fair amount in the past few years – partly because people often ask if I’d move back to England. If I’m answering this question pragmatically, then I’d say that I would live in either Bath, Cambridge or maybe even Manchester (in England). If I’m dreaming though New York or perhaps even San Francisco! I’m not too adventurous for cities I’d want to live in mainly because I’m not great with languages and know that I’d struggle to live somewhere I couldn’t speak English as the primary language.
How long have you lived in Vancouver?
D: Born and raised!
L: I’ve lived in Vancouver for almost six years now. I did spend a semester at UBC in 2010, too, but I never really felt like that was indeed the same as living in the city, as I only ever went to Kitsilano or Pacific Centre.
How would you describe the culture in Vancouver?
D: Incredibly Pacific Northwest. When yoga became popular in Vancouver, the culture of the city shifted, focusing on health and wellness, skiing, snowboarding, hiking and all of that. (It’s tough being a person that likes the comfort of the indoors in this city.) Then Vancouver got a Whole Foods, and there was no turning back. Everyone is very interested in the latest trends here and what’s on the up and up, especially when it comes to food.
L: The culture here is fascinating. In many ways—it’s very basic—outdoor lovers, healthy eaters, and lots of people interested in self-development. Yet, in a greater sense, the culture is—perhaps obviously—more nuanced than that and is somewhat influenced by the immigrant populations, particularly the Chinese communities. If you leave downtown, the culture changes significantly. You do see quite the range here! More of a spectrum than I’ve seen in many other cities.
What do you love about Vancouver?
D: Controversial I know, but the Chinese food in this city is unrivalled. I’ve had the privilege of eating at some great restaurants in other cities in China, and while it is delicious, it’s not quite the same. I also love that it’s a walkable city. It doesn’t take that long to get around in Vancouver, and as someone who relies on public transit, I rarely run into issues getting around.
L: Most people I know that move to Vancouver do so to have access to the mountains. While I love to snowboard occasionally, I mostly enjoy the mountains from afar. What I love about Vancouver is the blend of nature and city you can find in the neighbourhoods, having a considerable amount of grass right on the edge of Yaletown, or allotment gardens and tree-lined streets in Fairview and Mount Pleasant. That’s very different from the more industrial cities I grew up in England, which is also a large part of why I wanted to move here.
How would you describe Vancouver in three words?
D: Home, Nature, Options
L: Clean, Healthy, Beautiful
What is your favourite neighbourhood, and why?
D: Mount Pleasant! I grew up on the westside of Vancouver (in Kerrisdale), and it became a long-standing joke that I defected to East Van. But I’ve grown to love my neighbourhood. It has everything you need at your doorstep. There are tons of neighbourhood shops and restaurants and grocery stores, which means more options to find things to cook. Plus, it’s close to downtown. I can also walk to work, which is a bonus for me.
L: I might be biased, but I love Mount Pleasant—where we both live and work! When I moved back to Vancouver, I wanted to be on Main Street, and now that I am, I don’t foresee leaving anytime soon. The neighbourhood vibe, paired with all the tree-lined streets and charming houses, make it feel pretty and relaxed—but step onto Main St. and you’ve got delicious food and coffee right on your doorstep and a bustling (but not too busy) crowd. Mount Pleasant fits my personality—a little hipster, a little bougie, but generally relaxed and not too pretentious.
Where are your favourite places to shop?
D: Main Street has a ton of cute boutique options. I love going into these shops when I’m purchasing for someone else because it means I can get them a special gift you couldn’t find in a mall. Much & Little has the best cards; I never go anywhere else to buy birthday cards. When I need clothes, I love 8th and Main. It’s not too expensive, and in this economy, we’ve got to watch our pocketbooks a little more closely. Gastown also has some great boutiques. I buy a lot of my jewelry from these places, such as One Of A Few. They have well made, thoughtful pieces in their store, and if you’re into buying investment pieces, this would be one of the places to go.
Pro Tip: “Main Street has a ton of cute boutique options. I love going into these shops when I’m purchasing for someone else because it means I can get them a special gift you couldn’t find in a mall.”Daphne Wong
L: I love to browse the boutiques and consignment stores on Main Street if I’m not looking for anything specific. Front and Company, Hunter and Hare, 8th and Main, and Much & Little are charming shops within walking distance that I could spend hours browsing in.
It’s date night, where do you go?
D: Rumpus Room! It’s just a fun and relaxed environment, and there’s so much going on in there, it can lead to some fun conversation, they have comforting food and drinks, plus games. Can’t go wrong taking a date there! If you wanted to be a bit fancier and impress a date though, I’d go to Six Acres. The environment is still quite relaxed but they have the most delicious menu of food that’s all meant to be shared. It’s intimate and cozy. Ooh, and also Osteria Savio Volpe. The menu here is so tasty that you’re probably going to impress your date if you take them there.
L: I’m one of those people that goes to the same spots over and over – even with different dates! My go-to’s these days are Tocodor, El Camino’s and Nook. I also love a Sunday afternoon date at the movies with a glass of wine – Fifth Avenue Cinema in Kits serves alcohol, so head there if that’s your cup of tea.
In your opinion, what are the tastiest places to eat in the city?
D: A.J.’s Brooklyn Pizza Joint in Mount Pleasant! It’s a neighbourhood pizza place that I haven’t shut up about since they opened. I recommend you eat in because their pizza is actually out of this world good when it’s piping hot. If you’re looking for some variety, Fortune Garden Restaurant in South Granville is delicious. You can order a variety of Chinese food, including Shanghainese dishes and dim sum! My family comes here for lunch quite often, so maybe I’m biased, but I love that I can get shumai and xiao long bao in one meal.
L: Ironically, there’s an Indian restaurant in Yaletown called Tasty Indian Bistro that is incredibly tasty! The crepes at Le Marche St. George are better than some I’ve had in France, and the brunch at Yolks (get the truffle potatoes!) is also incredible.
What would you love to see in the city that isn’t already here?
D: It would be great if Vancouver could loosen their liquor license laws. Vancouver doesn’t have “bars” in the traditional sense. In the evening, if you want to hang out with friends and grab some drinks casually, you’ll be somewhere that almost crosses the line of “club.” Or you go to a bar that feels more like a “restaurant”. There are very few places in between that you can just walk in, go to the bar and order a drink, and then stand around in a corner until you’re ready for the next one. Also, alcohol in grocery stores would be fantastic too.
L: It would be nice to have more culture and music. Aside from the Vancouver Art Gallery and a few smaller galleries and museums, there isn’t much happening. There’s a lot of local artists and creators developing their communities, but it would be nice if the city had more of that.