Dalhousie graduate helps promote Halifax jobs

Work Local aims to help recent graduates find employment and stay in the province. Yesterday, Work Local started working with the Halifax Partnership.

Finding a good job in your field can be difficult. Finding a good job in your relevant field in Halifax is even more difficult. Work Local is a free website designed to help.

Work Local allows users to submit video interview questions along with their job applications. The business has grown quickly since launching in January and is now working with the Halifax Partnership.

Leslie Gallagher, founder and owner of Work Local, says a site like hers is needed.

“I went to Dalhousie and am from Halifax, so when I graduated a lot of my friends left because they couldn’t find a good job, something meaningful or relevant to their education or what they wanted to do,” she said.

Gallagher, an English and creative writing major, wasn’t impressed with the online hiring procedures she experienced as a student and young professional. She felt that many job search websites focused on specific requirements and didn’t allow users to showcase their strongest qualities.

After conducting extensive research into the hiring procedures of small businesses, Gallagher discovered that many companies were frustrated with the hiring process too.

“If employers were able to see (the candidates) or even bring them in for an interview then they would hold on for dear life, but when they first get the resumé in then they are lost in the stack,” said Gallagher.

When clients submit their resumés, cover letters and required documents to a Work Local job posting, the site prompts them to record a three-minute video in response to specific interview questions provided by the employer.

The video allows employers to see if the person would be a good fit for their workplace.

“Finding somebody that their personality meshes really well with the rest of the team is just as important as hard skills, because they can teach you all of those hard skills. You can’t teach anybody to be a great team player or be really patient, or a leader or a risk-taker. It’s those sorts of things that you can’t get across with a resumé,” said Gallagher.

The list of job postings on Work Local ranges from graphic designers to personal trainers and accounting clerks.

Under the arrangement with the Halifax Partnership, Work Local will promote the Connector Program, a free face-to-face referral process that works with recent graduates and young professionals.

Program manager Denise DeLong said each participant is paired with a “local connector who is a leader in their field,” and the two of them have a 30-minute chat. After the initial meeting, participants are then given three other referrals, who in turn give three more referrals.

“This person would, over a span of a few months, meet 12 or 13 people in their industry. This is a tool for building a professional network, and one in three last year got hired in the process,” said DeLong.

Gallagher is one of these experts, or connectors. She stresses the importance of making connections when it comes to navigating the Halifax job market.

“Get engaged in the community outside of the university,” she said.

“If you know the area you’re interested in working in or learning more about, then find somebody that is somehow involved in that area and ask them to go for coffee. That’s it.”

Staying afloat: Former environmental engineer to open the first flotation centre in Halifax

Lindsay MacPhee, former environmental engineer, hopes to share the benefits of meditation through her new flotation centre.

Wires hang and pipes poke out from the unfinished ceiling. Pieces of plaster, insulation, tubes and tools are scattered around the space. Several workers tinker away in separate rooms. The space will soon become a sea of meditation and tranquility with decorations inspired by Wes Anderson. When the job is done, this will be the first flotation centre in Halifax.

An environmental engineer for five years, Lindsay MacPhee, 32, did not plan on opening her own business. However, after an environmental consulting job fell through, MacPhee decided to open her own flotation centre on King Street, in the north end of Halifax.

“It was definitely a blessing. I had known for awhile that it really wasn’t how I saw myself living my life,” says MacPhee. “I wanted to do something very fulfilling.”

What is flotation therapy?

Developed by Dr. John C. Lilly in 1954, flotation therapy is used as a form of sensory deprivation, detoxification and meditation to decrease stress and anxiety. MacPhee says flotation therapy can relieve chronic pain, such as whiplash and muscle recovery, due to the amount of magnesium sulphate in the solution.

“The health benefits are amazing,” says MacPhee.

In a flotation session, a person enters a tank filled with 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts. Denser than the Dead Sea, those who enter the tank will become buoyant and float. The temperature of the water is approximately 34.2 C, which is warmer than a public swimming pool. The tank is closed during the session to reduce sights, sounds and smells.

“When you get into that meditative state, which floating assists with, some pretty profound changes can happen,” says MacPhee.

From environmental engineer to flotation therapy

MacPhee got into floating in May 2013 in Vancouver, where she was finishing her degree in chemical and environmental engineering. She returned home to Nova Scotia six months later. Over the years, she never lost her interest in floating.

“I’ve been waiting for years for someone in Halifax to do this,” says MacPhee.

“We have such an amazing and creative community who are into meditation and the arts,” she says. “I think this can help and assist with that.”

Through the Self-Employment Benefits program and Employment Insurance, MacPhee was accepted into the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development program, which helps entrepreneurs start their own small business with government funding.

MacPhee says that the main challenge of opening her own business was having confidence and educating others about floating.

“I had lived in a world where I worked a nine-to-five job as an engineer. It was such a major shift to what I’m doing now,” she says.

MacPhee says there has been an overwhelming response to her business idea. She says she has received numerous phone calls and emails from as far as Cape Breton and New Brunswick.

“It’s been general excitement,” says MacPhee. “That provides a bit of a push. On the days that are very difficult and I’m experiencing challenges, just knowing that provides a lot of support.”

In addition to flotation sessions, the centre will have a wellness co-ordinator, who is a trained naturopathic doctor, as well as a massage therapist and dietician.

MacPhee originally hoped to open The Floatation Centre by April 1. She expects to open the centre within the next few weeks.

“If I can just help people recognize their positive potential within the universe, whether it’s enhance their creativity, to decrease their stress levels … then I think that I’m doing a pretty great job,” says MacPhee.

Cut it out: Why are women’s haircuts so expensive?

Stylists from around Halifax explain why women’s haircuts cost more than men’s.

UPDATE: Information in the graph was corrected on Feb. 1, 2016

Chatter and music fill the air. The soft snick of scissors mixes with the sound of blow dryers and spray bottles. Tufts of hair are trampled underfoot as stylists dart to and fro. Shannon Bower squeezes her eyes shut as her stylist pushes her bangs onto her face. She is sitting in the Stanhope and Company hair studio, receiving a new haircut that will cost her $28 more than the haircut of the man sitting beside her.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Not just for Bower, and not just at the Stanhope and Company studio. Nearly every hair salon in Halifax prices women’s haircuts significantly above men’s haircuts. A typical men’s wash and cut costs about $30, while a women’s wash and cut costs about $50.

Graph depicting the difference between the cost of women's haircuts and the cost of men's haircuts.
Graph depicting the difference between the cost of women’s haircuts and the cost of men’s haircuts. CORRECTION: The numbers above for Thumpers Salon are incorrect. They should be $52 for women and $43 for men. (Graph by Leah Woolley)

This begs the question: Why?

Haircut statistics

Women’s cuts are generally booked for 45 minutes to an hour, while men’s haircuts are usually only booked for half an hour. If clients are being charged for time, this would explain the higher prices for women. But it still leaves us wondering why all women’s haircuts take longer than men’s.

Another possible reason for pricing disparity could be how much product is used in women’s cuts compared to men’s cuts. Several hair stylists say that generally both men’s and women’s haircuts require the same amount of product.

One patron suggested that men’s haircuts are cheaper because men get their hair cut more often. According to many stylists, people with short hair tend to get haircuts about every four to six weeks, while people with longer hairstyles tend to get haircuts every eight to 12 weeks.

But not all men have short hair, and not all women have long hair. Our question remains: Why do women’s haircuts cost more than men’s haircuts?

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Quantity vs. quality

It all comes down to how much hair you have, and how long it takes your stylist to cut it.

“We’re providing a service, so the deciding factor is really time,” says Jenn Greene, a stylist at Kara’s Urban Day Spa.

Jill Ernest, a fellow stylist from Bowtique Hair and Makeup, agrees.

Ernest says that women’s hair usually takes longer to cut, but if a man comes in with long hair she will usually charge him the women’s rate. “It’s the difference between a 20-30 minute service to a 40-60 minute service.”

Local student Tora Oliphant is sitting in the next chair over, receiving her monthly trim. “As a kid, my haircut would cost twice as much as my brothers’, but I would also spend twice as long in the chair,” she says.

Ernest’s co-worker, Teresa Fisher, says sometimes men’s cuts can take just as long as women’s. “Some men are just as picky, if not pickier, than women. You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true.”

Stylist Angelina Bistekos at the Casa Dante Hair Studio says that even if women have short hair, the cuts still typically take longer than men’s.

“Women’s are a little more expensive just because there is more work put into it than men’s cuts. There is work that goes into men’s cuts, but women get a hair styling, a blow dry, and in my experience lots of product gets used. Women are also more likely to want extra services, whereas men are kind of more easygoing,” says Bistekos.

At Stanhope and Company hair studio, Redmon Giovanni is cutting Shannon Bower’s hair. He says “for a women’s short haircut, I charge them the men’s price, but I don’t always charge men more for a longer haircut.” He says that even with long hair, men’s cuts are still generally more basic than women’s.

Fisher explains how “prices do vary depending on the skill level of the stylist. There is demand on time, experience, and for specific things they’ve studied over the years.”

Greene and Giovanni agree. “We pay money to go to classes and learn new techniques, and we go to hair shows to see what’s new. We invest a lot into what we do,” Greene says.

Giovanni says the technique that he’s using to cut Bower’s hair took him about 10 years to learn. “I think you pay for the experience of the stylist as well as the time you spend in the chair,” he says.

Stacey Turpin, an employee at Vitality Medi-Spa, points out that a women’s short haircut may be considered a men’s cut, just based on the amount of work that has to be done. She says most stylists make a judgment call when they see a client, and can charge them the women’s or men’s rate depending on which best suits their cut.

Ernest says she considers all aspects of the haircut when deciding on a price, not just the gender or hair length of her client.

 

Greene does it too. “Sometimes I’ll lower my price, depending on what I’ve done,” she says, as she sorts through a box of new hair products that have just come in.

Is it fair?

Greene thinks so. “The people who do this because it’s their passion tend to charge a bit more, because they know their value,” she says.

Ernest says it often depends on who’s running the place. “We have the benefit of being locally owned, so we can take our own prices into consideration. Some places have to stick to prices set out for them,” she says.

Some places, like Casa Dante, have their own set standard prices, but “it also depends on the stylist, because everybody kind of mixes it up and makes their own prices for their own clients,” says Bistekos.

Giovanni says, “It’s fair if you charge by time, but if you charge by the haircut then it’s not. I always charge by the time. Time and technique should be the determining factors of price.”

Halifax surfboard shaper sees big breaks in 2015

Andreas Hart, founder of Hart Surf Co., launches his company and starts to sell surf boards in Nova Scotia.

Andreas Hart concentrates as he slowly pulls the tape off of a surfboard, one of his own creations. He has been waiting for the resin to set for two hours, and is now back to coat the other side. Hart is the founder and sole proprietor of Hart Surf Co., a Halifax-based company that designs and makes surfboards.

This has been a huge year for Hart Surf Co., starting with a sold-out launch party in January. He won second place in a business competition at the University of New Brunswick, and the first board orders are starting to roll in.

Officially a company since Feb. 1, Hart Surf Co. is now selling surfboards, which can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Hart has a few different designs that he uses, and then makes the board to fit the customer.

His small one-room shop, located at the Dalhousie University Sexton campus, is full of surfboards and equipment. Each corner has four or five surfboards stacked together, each at different stages in the design process.

The boards are anywhere from basic foam cut outs to being finished and ready to paint. The process starts with Hart coming up with the dimensions and entering them into his computer. The dimensions then get sent to his machine, which cuts the foam into a board shape. He says the general shape ideas are based off of boards he’s used in the past, but he comes up with all of the dimensions.

The process really started when Hart and some fellow students built the machine, called a CNC surfboard router, during the final year of his mechanical engineering degree at Dalhousie in 2014.

“I wanted to do it after I finished my degree, but then one of my friends, while we were out enjoying ourselves, was like, ‘Why don’t you just do it now?’ And then the next day I sent an email to my professor and asked if I could … and then eight months later we had a machine that worked, and just started designing boards from there.”

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Originally from Dartmouth, N.S., Hart has been a passionate surfer since the age of 13. He taught himself how to make surfboards. He says he used his knowledge of surfing, mechanical engineering, trial and error, and the Internet, to figure out how to make the boards. He says he is continuously learning. Next week, he is going to make his first standup paddle board, and eventually wants to start making skateboards as well.

After finishing his engineering degree, Hart started auditing business classes at Dalhousie to learn how to formally start his own business.

While there are others in Nova Scotia who make surfboards, Hart says he is the only one doing it full time and trying to make an established company out of it. “Nova Scotia has been getting a lot of publicity over the past two winters for its surf … It’s going to take some time obviously, but I’m trying to gain some trust,” says Hart.

Hart says right now he is working on a video that will showcase local surfers using his boards, and what he is most excited about, putting together a surf team with the ultimate goal of the team travelling together and representing his boards.

Surfboards and art

Hart is also connecting with local artists who paint the boards when they are finished, providing one-off designs that can’t be found anywhere else. On April 18, his boards will be featured in The Collective Art Show, hosted by the Blackbook Collective, which will showcase more than 20 local artists.

Local artist Heidi Wambolt has done the art for several of Hart’s boards. She says her style of work focuses on aquatic life and themes, so working with Hart was a perfect fit.

“Andreas is great to work with. He makes suggestions but gives me a lot of space and freedom to do my own work,” says Wambolt.

“With Andreas’ laid back suggestions, the freedom of artistic expression, and my eagerness to keep painting and producing, more boards will definitely be on the way!”

Hart says his next step is to get a bigger workshop outside of the city — preferably in the Lawrencetown, Seaforth, and Martinique area. He says he wants to stay in Nova Scotia and keep trying to get his name out there.

“It’s exciting to see where it takes me,” says Hart.

Vintage bikes in vogue

Vintage bike enthusiast and dealer Brian Purdy talks about the comeback of old school bikes.

For retired 65-year-old writer Brian Purdy, bikes have become much more than a hobby.

Like many people, he’s been riding bikes since he was a little kid, but it’s only been in the past five years that he’s rekindled his love for bikes. They’ve helped him get through a hard time in his life.

“My marriage broke up and I basically had nothing. I needed to get around and I didn’t have money for the transit, I didn’t have money for smokes, I didn’t have money for anything. The easiest way to get around was a bicycle,” he says.

Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo- Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy with his reclaimed 1970s Vulcan. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

Necessity inspired adaptability and soon Purdy was smitten with his newfound passion. Local Halifax co-op Bike Again, which runs a build-to-own program on Almon Street, helped him build his first bike: a vintage Raleigh three-speed.

“I got obsessive about it for a while,” says Purdy.

“Some might think I’m still rather obsessive about the history and the technology, but you know if you’re interested in something you just saturate yourself in it and it kind of sticks to you.”

Since then, Purdy’s been buying, collecting and selling bikes. For him, the elegance and simplicity of bicycles — especially the older variety — was what drew him in.

“I love the history, I love the romance, I love the tradition, I love the usability and the practicality, I love that one-third of a horse power will put you up the tallest hill,” says Purdy.

“It’s one-third of a horsepower that a person generates on a bicycle, and look what can be done with it. It’s astonishing.”

Coming back

Most vintage bikes on the roads today are from the early 1970s. Purdy, like most bicycle enthusiasts, call the years between 1972 and 1974 — the height of bike popularity in North America — the “bike boom.”

Bikes from that time were made with durable steel frames, and that’s why many of them are still roadworthy after hanging in people’s garages for decades. The way these bikes stand the test of time still amazes Purdy.

“I swear, if the end of the world comes what will be left are Raleigh three-speed bikes and cockroaches,” he says.

Bike production has changed since the ’70s and the old steel frames have been phased out in favour of less expensive aluminum for standard commercial bikes and carbon fibre for racing bikes. The only way to get these steel-frame style bikes nowadays is to pay the high price for a new one from a specialty manufacturer or pick one up used. That’s where Purdy’s business comes in and he couldn’t be happier about it.

While he’s been selling bikes for almost as long as he’s been collecting them, Purdy says, in the last year, he’s been getting more attention from Haligonians searching for these vintage bikes. The old bikes from the ’60s and ’70s are back in style in a big way, and to Purdy it’s no surprise.

“They’re cool. It’s cool to reuse things from the past and have something that doesn’t just look like something every Tom and Harry has.”

Brian Purdy's 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)
Brian Purdy’s 1972 Gitane Sport de Lux. (Photo: Mitchell Mullen)

To use or collect?

It’s not just the durability of the bikes that matters to Purdy, but the uniqueness of them. For Purdy these bikes are personal, and they lend themselves to being fixed up and updated.

“You can customize them and make them feel more like they’re yours,” he says. “There was real craftsmanship back in the day. People really did care.”

Though there are people out there looking for vintage bikes in their original condition, Purdy doesn’t have a problem giving his bikes an update. While some collectors are very concerned with authenticity, Purdy thinks bikes are meant for riding.

“You have to divide cyclists between users and collectors,” he says, “[Collectors] want the bike to be all original.”

“A user won’t think in terms of concessions, but that the modernization of the bike is something they feel is necessary in order to make it as viable as possible.”

 

Purdy knows this first hand. He’s put lighter wheels on his French 1960s Gitane road bike to make it a smoother ride.

Trying to meet the needs of his customers is important to Purdy, whether they are users or collectors. For Purdy it’s part of the enjoyment, but also a standard he sets for himself.

“You want to give the best bike that you possibly can, you want to give what the customer wants and if the customer is particular you want to meet that,” he says.

Summer on a patio: Employment advice from a bar manager

Brad Harris, general manager at the Lower Deck, addresses concerns and gives advice on securing a summer job in the food and beverage industry.

“Now is the time to apply,” says Brad Harris, general manager of the Lower Deck in Halifax.

With the winter semester coming to an end and exam season well under way, students are frantically trying to lock down a summer job.

The four months of summer are a limited but good opportunity for students to gain valuable work experience, and, more importantly, earn money to help pay for the continually rising tuition fees. But competition can be stiff, and according to Statistics Canada, tens of thousands of students descend on the job market at the same time every year.

“If I post for a server slash bartender [on a job listing], on average I will get about 100 resumes by the next day,” says Harris.

The employment rate for students during the academic year hovers between 35 to 40 per cent of all postsecondary students, while the summer employment rate for full-time students consistently averages around 70 per cent.

According to statistics, female students are far more likely than males to obtain a summer job, in part because of better job opportunities in the retail, accommodation and food service sectors, where females are more likely to work.

The restaurant and bar scene is an active part of the community in Halifax, and the food and beverage industry provides jobs for hundreds of students and locals every summer.

An industry ‘like no other’

Harris says the food and beverage industry is “one like no other.”

Job requirements include late hours of work, long shifts and customer-service scenarios that differ extremely from any other job a student typically has. Members of the industry say it’s more of a lifestyle than just a job, and many servers use the hashtag #serverproblems or #serverlife to describe common struggles other servers can relate to.

https://twitter.com/princesssyaya/status/582074869392621568

A deeper issue

Despite the jokes, the service industry has been largely criticized for stereotypical and even misogynistic tendencies. Historically a female occupation, the industry has come a long way in shifting its policies to create a safer and more accessible work environment for all students, but a 2010 census data conducted by Service Canada shows that almost 76 per cent of the positions in this occupation are still held by women. No data is available for non-binary students in the industry.

Hannah Wilson, a female university student and recent employee at the Alehouse located in downtown Halifax, has “strong opinions” on this particular issue.

Wilson got offered her job while out drinking one night with friends at the Alehouse.

“Experience is not the biggest of their concern,” says Wilson. “It is mostly just young, attractive girls they want working there.”

This issue, which Wilson calls “the culture of looking appealing” in the service industry, has appeared in more than just a few restaurants and bars in Halifax.

Collin Kelly, a male student who worked as a busboy at one of Halifax’s major clubs last summer, noticed this issue as well. Kelly wishes his place of employment to remain unnamed.

“Women were definitely hired and promoted much quicker than males, especially if they were good looking,” says Kelly. “And I think that’s the case at most bars.”

But not all restaurants or bars in the city endorse these stereotypes. Harris has been the general manager of the Lower Deck for four years and has been in the industry for longer than 20, and he says that primarily his hiring will always be “experience based.”

The only exception to Harris’s rule is always whether or not potential employees will get along and work well with his core staff.

“I’ve hired the ‘super server,’ the one that looks absolutely amazing on paper. But those individuals more often than not have too much confidence in their service and abilities… They come in and start ruffling the feathers of my core staff, and that generally doesn’t go over well,” says Harris.

Harris says he first conducts an informal interview to see how the potential candidate will fit with his other staff. New employees that will get along with and respect their coworkers will, in turn, receive coaching from more experienced staff and produce a more efficient team overall.

Harris says he hires hardworking and approachable, personable individuals above everything else.

Getting hired in Halifax

Halifax has the luxury of being situated right on the coast, which not only gives the summer months a vibrant patio-season culture, but means one thing that is especially crucial to the food and beverage industry: tourists.

Halifax sees about 1.8 million overnight visitors every year, and more than half of them visit during the summer months, according to the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency.

Harris says the Lower Deck increases its staff by 30 to 40 per cent during the summer months in order to support the city’s booming tourism industry. When the patio opens the restaurant’s capacity increases by another 260 people.

Harris typically starts his hiring process at the beginning of spring, and he likes to have his final staff sorted by May 1 in preparation to open the patio for the May long weekend. So if you’re an experienced server and sticking around for the summer, it’s time to start applying.

Many restaurants in the city that have a large patio and draw a younger crowd, like the Lower Deck, typically hire students as the majority of their staff for the summer months.

“A lot of university students don’t work during the school year, so when the summer comes around they are more than happy to work full-time plus and make as much money as they can, which is great for me,” says Harris.

But older restaurants, such as Split Crow and The Old Triangle, tend to have a smaller turnover in the summer and tend to employ more mature servers all year round. So the key to being a successful server and obtaining a solid restaurant or bar job in Halifax is knowing where to apply.

The catch of the industry is that it is hard to break into if you don’t have any experience. Many wonder how someone can gain experience if no one will ever give them the chance.

In the industry, Harris says these people are referred to as “green servers.” It is not common for a green server to get hired and do well, so the best way for someone wishing to break into the industry is to start off as a hostess or a food runner. If they do well then managers will slowly integrate them into serving.

Harris says he sometimes takes a risk because he feels like he has a duty to pay it back.

“Someone gave me a shot once, awhile ago, so I feel like I should do that as well,” says Harris.

 

All in all, anyone who has ever worked in the industry will give you the same piece of advice: you need to work for it.

“I was one of the few at my job who was given full time hours,” says Kelly. “If you want to get full-time in this city you need to be a hard worker.”

Wilson says that the job is a lot of work in a short period of time.

“The only way to really learn is to do,” she says.

Harris agrees, stating those that work hard and show an absolute interest to learn and improve will be the ones rewarded with more hours, better hours and even a promotion.

​Local biscuits take the oatcake

A Halifax baker finds a sweet spot with his recipe for oatcakes.

For some, Nova Scotia is the sight of leaves changing colour in the Annapolis Valley. For others, it’s the sound of waves crashing along the Eastern Shore. But for Ken Wallace, a taste of Nova Scotia is always just a bite away.

“I fell in love with oatcakes when I moved here from Ontario 30 years ago,” says Wallace.

He can’t recall how he first happened upon a recipe for the oat-based treats, but remembers that once he started making them, he couldn’t stop.

“I was experimenting with the ingredients and next thing I know, I was baking batches to send to my family members across the country.”

After decades of receiving rave reviews from relatives, friends, and neighbours, Wallace decided to make biscuits his business. Last July, he founded Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes and began selling the cookies with the mission of offering “a wholesome and delicious oatcake made from the finest local ingredients,” or, as he calls it:

A respectable recipe

Wallace gets his ingredients from producers in the Maritimes located as near to his Halifax home as possible.

“It really is a challenge to make something just from stuff that’s nearby, but it’s about giving something to the community while making a bit of a living too,” he says.

He uses organic oats and spelt flour from New Brunswick’s Speerville Flour Mill. The cookies are sweetened with honey and maple syrup from Nova Scotian bee farms and sugar shacks.

“They’re handmade. So while they’re consistently good, each one’s as unique as a snowflake. Some are thinner, some are thicker. Some are chewier, some are crisper,” says Wallace. “It all depends on timing and where they sit in the oven.”

Wallace’s treats are about the size of a checkers piece, making them much smaller than many of the “hockey puck” sized oatcakes sold around Halifax. He thinks the treats are better for sharing when they’re bite-sized. He says no one ever just eats one.

“It’s almost like there’s some sort of universal law. You’re always reaching for another.”

Wallace has put a lot of thought into what goes inside the treats, but he’s equally mindful of what goes outside of them.

“A case of Oreos comes in a plastic tray that gets thrown directly into the garbage,” he says. “There’s just so much waste.”

That inspired the baker to deliver his desserts in a way that’s kinder to the environment. Small batches of Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes come in recyclable and reusable bags.

More serious snackers have the option of ordering a KiloCan, 60 oatcakes packaged inside an old coffee tin. Wallace uses a unique eco-friendly lining for the tin to keep the cookies from crumbling — oatmeal.

“Who said you can’t have your (oat) cake and eat porridge too?” he jokes on his website.

The lining’s especially important for when the oatcakes make long journeys abroad, travelling to first-time customers and Nova Scotians yearning for a taste of home. Wallace has shipped tins to Hawaii and Arizona in the U.S., and to Bhutan and Gambia. In early February, he shipped an order to Queensland, Australia. It was a 72-day trip by boat.

“The thing about oatcakes is someone could find one in 10,000 years and it would probably still be fresh,” he says.

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A busy business

At this point, Wallace is making oatcakes one or two days a week in order to fill private orders and supply the six stores in Halifax where they’re sold. Wallace estimates he’s baked more than 12,000 biscuits since last July. He had to add an extra rack to the oven in his north-end home to keep up with demand.

“The best day’s an oatcake day. It starts with a meditation and then I put on music or a great audiobook and start baking. Even if I begin early in the morning, I won’t finish until late at night.”

The radio is always playing when Wallace bakes. Inspired by the day’s current events, he gives each batch of cookies a unique name. Recent trays of blueberry oatcakes were named March Blizzard Blues to honour the storm raging beyond his window. When another hit later that week, he christened the lot Double Whammies.

As his business approaches its first anniversary, Wallace has begun to play around with a few ideas for the future.

“I’m not quite sure where it’s heading but I think there’s a lot of potential. I always hear there are no oatcakes in Toronto or New York,” he says. “Who knows, maybe we’re going to take over the world with oatcakes.”

In the meantime, Wallace has more important things on his plate — his afternoon snack, a selection of freshly baked biscuits.

Pollyanna’s Entertainment ‘finds the beauty in every woman’

Pollyanna’s Entertainment provides a male entertainment service to women in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

It’s Saturday night.

A chorus of excited shrieks and “holy shit’s” bounce off the walls glowing yellow in my dimly lit living room. Several young women sit in a circle, squeezing each other’s knees and covering their nervous smiles with fingers painted the colour of night and crimson. I hit the play button and The Black Eyed Peas’ Pump It blasts from a set of speakers on the table.

A box containing the board game Twister and an unopened can of whipped cream sit in the corner of the room.

The table in the centre of the room has been pushed aside to make space. We’re half-hypnotized with anticipation as we stare at each other wide-eyed, thrilled with nervous excitement.

Enter Damon.

Barefoot, he walks into the room wearing black pants and what looks like a bulletproof vest. A plastic grenade dangles off his chest. A black ball cap with SWAT printed on it sits low on his head, hiding his face.

He walks inside the circle of women. His eyes move slowly as he lifts his gaze to one of my friends sitting on the couch.

He closes the curtains with a flick of the wrist.

Damon is silent as he sways his hips onto my friend’s lap. He gently wraps his fingers around her wrists and slowly moves his hands into hers. Her cheeks turn a dark pink. He takes her hand and guides it to the middle of his chest. Every woman in the room is blushing.

This is the last time we see Damon fully clothed.

Damon's personal business card. (Photo: Sydney Jones)
Damon’s personal business card. (Photo: Sydney Jones)

Damon’s debut

I found Damon a few weeks ago through an ad titled “Male Entertainment for Ladies” posted on Kijiji, an advertisement website open to the public. He told me that Damon is not his real name, but is what he goes by with clients.

I contacted the owner of the business through the site, and instead of setting me up with a traditional interview, she offered to send Damon to my apartment for a performance.

About a year ago, the businesswoman behind Pollyanna’s Entertainment noticed Damon in a Nova Scotia bar and asked him if he would be interested in a job as a male entertainer. After agreeing to an interview and performing a dance routine, Damon was hired.

Pollyanna’s Entertainment specializes in male entertainment for women and serves clients in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“It encourages women to take control of their sexuality and be OK with being a sexual being,” says Polly, the woman who created the business. For reasons of privacy, she chooses not to use her real name and refers to herself as Polly instead.

“For men to have a strip club that they can go to is pretty commonplace,” she says, and explains that there is no place for women to go to have similar experiences.

The job isn’t for everyone

Damon is one of three male entertainers who work for Pollyanna’s Entertainment. In addition to being physically fit, confident, and having the ability to dance, Polly says one of the most important requirements of the job is “to be able to find the beauty in every single woman.”

“I don’t think everyone can pull this off,” says 26-year-old Damon, putting his everyday clothes back on after his performance in my living room.

“You can’t be self-conscious, have to be confident with your body, be social — that’s probably the biggest thing, aside from maintaining your physique and eating properly.”

Although being a male entertainer is a full-time physical commitment, the gig is only part time for Damon. Along with working a number of other jobs, he is also a full-time university student.

Polly says she likes to help young students because she understands the burden of student loans. “I have three degrees and I know how long it’s taken me to pay off.”

The male entertainers are paid around $100 an hour and are busiest during the spring and summer months, when there is high demand for events like pool parties and butler service.

Pollyanna's Entertainment does not allow photos or videos to be taken during a performance. (Photo: Sydney Jones)
Pollyanna’s Entertainment does not allow photos or videos to be taken during a performance. (Photo: Sydney Jones)

What clients should expect

Clients are given the opportunity to engage with the entertainers with games like ring toss, Twister and whipped cream body shots.

During the booking process, Polly says she asks the clients whether they prefer a “wild” or a “mild” party so the male entertainer can prepare himself accordingly.

“You’ve got to be able to have fun with it,” says Damon. “If you’re awkward, that makes them awkward, which comes back to you.”

Damon says it’s important to feel out the mood of the women in the room, and says he wants to make every woman feel comfortable with the experience.

“Halifax is much more conservative than I thought it was,” says Polly, adding she was surprised after launching her business that there wasn’t a larger market for this type of enterprise in Nova Scotia.

Polly says the job is part time for her and she has a lot of fun with it. She hopes it will encourage more women to feel comfortable with their sexuality.

“I’m hoping in the next five or 10 years that it’s not going to have such a dirty feel to it,” she says.

Excess of summer sublets leaves out-of-town students paying the bills

Students like Tanis Smither, who are on their way out of town for the summer, are having problems finding tenants to sublet their apartments.

Several universities bring more than 17,000 off-campus students to the Halifax area each fall, making this a “student city.” But the population of Halifax changes drastically from mid-April until the end of August, when many students pack their bags to return to their hometowns. Although many of these students live on-campus in residence, a great number rent apartments and rooms from local landlords or homeowners.

When the winter term ends in April, these students are often signed to yearlong contracts and obligated to pay rent for the summer months, even when they don’t plan on staying in Halifax. This creates a problem: there are many more people leaving than arriving, and summer sublets become plentiful, not to mention cheaper than usual.

Tanis Smither is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College. She is having trouble finding someone to rent her Halifax apartment for the summer, when she’ll be returning to her native Toronto.

“I started looking mid-February. I put a couple initial ads out just to see what happened, and I didn’t get a lot of responses back,” says Smither.

Smither’s apartment on Pepperell Street is close to downtown and several amenities and is only a five-minute walk from Dalhousie’s main campus.

Many students have resorted to what Dalhousie Off-Campus Housing supervisor Sherri Slate calls “rent incentives,” or small discounts and add-ins for subletters.

“Those rental incentives may be that they’ll charge, let’s say $400 a month, and they don’t have to pay heat and hot water, or cable and Internet are included, or they may offer actual rent discounts. The more of those incentives that are included, the quicker the place is rented,” Slate says.

Smither has decided her $530 rent per month is negotiable. Her apartment includes utilities and comes furnished. Several of her nine other roommates are also looking for subletters and have had similar problems. Smither says she is getting desperate.

“Hopefully, it’s a student because I’m sure they would fit with the demographic of the house better, but at this point if anybody in the world wants to sublet my apartment it would be fantastic, I’d be open to it,” says Smither.

Smither says several people have inquired about or even come to look at her place, but they have all found other apartments in the end. She has begun to advertise the room online, on websites like Kijiji and Craigslist, through Facebook groups, and EasyRoommate.com.

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Several students are advertising by hanging posters around Dalhousie’s campus. (Photo: Victoria Walton)

The Dalhousie Off-Campus Living website uses a third-party service, Places4Students, to help students find housing opportunities. Dalhousie’s is free, and Smither says she would use other private services if not for the fees.

“The only reason I haven’t been considering them is because I can’t afford it, I just can’t on my student budget,” she says.

Yasch Neufeld is a rental manager and co-founder of SubletSeeker.com, a similar housing service specifically targeting student sublets. The Halifax startup launched last year and Neufeld says they are seeing even more business in 2015.

“A lot of people, especially at the time you’re looking for subletters, you end up being busy with exams or sometimes you just get unlucky,” Neufeld says, “so we offer a premium service as well where we’ll actually do the work for you.”

SubletSeeker will do everything from photographing your apartment and listing it online, to finding people who are interested and performing reference checks. The fee to use these services is a commission, usually between five to ten percent of the cost of rent. SubletSeeker also has a free section for anyone to use to advertise independently.

Although there are no guarantees, Neufeld says his service has already set up about 10 renters with apartments this season. Neufeld suggests students “get as much information on who you’re subletting to as possible,” to prevent them backing out or not paying rent.

“Call previous landlords of anyone who’s looking to sublet, collect a security deposit, and get them to sign the sublease right away. Those three things will generally lock somebody in,” Neufeld says.

Slate warns that landlords still have the final say on anyone looking to sublet, and that the sublease agreements must be the same as the original lease.

Slate’s Off-Campus Housing office caters to students seeking general housing resources, everything from legal advice to moving companies to listing rentals. She thinks it’s important these resources are available. “All of our faculty, student or staff are entitled to post an ad for free once every year,” says Slate.

Slate and Neufeld agree there is an excess of sublets in the summer months, and that not everyone can find someone to take over their lease.

Although frustrated, Smither realizes she might not find a tenant. “There’s not really much I can do, my hands are kind of tied because I signed a contract,” she says.

Smither plans to live rent-free at home in Toronto and work full time so she can afford to pay rent and save for tuition next year.

“I guess it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t find a subletter, it’s just going to set me back a couple thousand dollars.”

From calculus to couture: engineering student starts fashion business

Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi has found a way to link her engineering education to her passion for fashion.

To many, earning a degree in industrial engineering may not be the obvious way to become a fashion designer.

However, this is not the case for Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi. The 26 year-old Iranian-Canadian is in her last semester of engineering at Dalhousie University, and has just launched an online fashion startup Peonies & Snow.

While an engineering degree may seem like it would provide very little background to creating a fashion business, Cherom Kheirabadi has found the two to be linked.

“When I started liking fashion I was obsessed with shapes and angles and edges and that started when I was doing calculus. So all my clothing is very related to that because I put a lot of engineering and mathematical things that I learned into designing them,” she said.

Featuring her own handmade designs, Peonies & Snow has been Cherom Kheirabadi’s own creation, from sketching the first designs two years ago through to this month’s launch.

These initial sketches have now become reality: form-fitting, pastel-hued businesses dresses, silky pink robes and skirts with intricate bow detailing are now all for sale on the Peonies & Snow website.

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The link between industrial engineering and design has proved to be a convenient one for Cherom Kheirabadi, yet there are many challenges that come with juggling a degree and a new business.

“To be honest, at first it was really, really stressful because you get demotivated in both things. You can get demotivated in school because you feel like you’re not concentrating on school and concentrating instead on the thing you love. The best way that I learned to organize them is to just set deadlines and caps, ‘If I complete these three I’ll work on my fashion for two hours,’” she said.

Cherom Kheirabadi’s love of fashion and design is not a new trend in her family. While she was encouraged to pursue her degree in engineering, she also comes from a long line of tailors.

“My mom’s a tailor, her mom was a tailor, all my aunts and her aunts were tailors so it goes way back and runs in the family, everyone’s a tailor but none of them had a business because it was just harder back in the day as a woman.”

Cherom Kheirabadi’s mother taught her the skills involved in creating clothes by hand, but also ensured that her daughter would know how to do each step herself, instead of simply showing her what to do.

After two years of developing her sewing skills and honing the specifics of the art, Cherom Kheirabadi now creates each item of clothing to her own measurements and then adapts the models to fit the proportions of each client.

With graduation looming Cherom Kheirabadi plans to devote herself to developing Peonies & Snow full-time.

“I know my parents definitely want me to do engineering, but personally I think I am putting everything that I learned in engineering into this, I want to really concentrate on it because I think it would be more successful if I give 100 per cent,” she said.

Halifax restaurant enVie hopes to spark healthy revolution through grant contest

Owners of vegan restaurant would spend $10,000 on new kitchen and more.

Hoping to expand their business, the owners of enVie – A Vegan Kitchen have entered a small business grant contest to win $10,000.

Diandra Phipps and her husband, Cory Urquhart, launched enVie in 2013. Initially a to-go food service, enVie has grown into a restaurant and offers cooking classes, juice cleanses, nutritional consulting and catering.

Located on Charles Street in Halifax’s north end, Phipps says there isn’t enough room at their space to accommodate their many services.

“Our kitchen is quite small. We’re just being forced into a bigger space,” said Phipps.  “It’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing.”

In order to expand their business, enVie entered in the ADP small business grant contest. The winners will be awarded a $10,000 cash prize and a year of waived payroll fees.

The contest runs Nov. 1 – April 30. People are encouraged to vote for the small business they would like to see win the contest. The winners will be selected from a panel of judges. In total, six small businesses will win the prize.

“It gets the community involved, so it’s really nice to see the community supporting us in something like this,” said Phipps.

With more than 1,400 votes cast for enVie, Phipps said there has been incredible support from the community.

“People believe in what we do,” she said. “They see the value of it and they want to help.”

For Diandra Phipps, co-owner enVie, the main objective of her business is to “create health in our community and inspire people to eat and live better.” (Photo by Jessica Hirtle)
For Diandra Phipps, co-owner of enVie, the main objective of her business is to “create health in our community and inspire people to eat and live better.” (Photo by Jessica Hirtle)

If enVie wins the contest, Phipps said the money would go towards the startup costs of a new kitchen at a second location, kitchen equipment and educational workshops for the community.

“We would be so excited. It would mean a lot,” said Phipps. “It would definitely show that not only our community but the people that are judging this see the value in what we are doing.”

Phipps says she believes that winning the contest would also benefit the people of Halifax.

“There’s so much that our community needs to learn about healthy eating,” she said. “We really want to be a part of that healthy revolution.”

If enVie does not win the contest, Phipps said they would apply for other grants or start their own campaign to raise funds.

“The restaurant is just the start for us. There’s a lot more to come,” said Phipps. “I think that we really have an opportunity to impact a lot of people.”

Raina the Mermaid splashes her way to success

How a “fish out of water” became a mermaid entertainer, educator and entrepreneur.

Raina the Mermaid’s exquisite custom-made orange mermaid tail hangs over the edge of her underwater stage at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Children in the front row huddle around it in awe.

“Look mommy, a real live mermaid,” shouts a nine-year-old girl.

Raina starts off an afternoon of educational entertainment with some underwater music from her friend’s “shell phone” and a flap of her tail.

A photo posted by Raina Mermaid (@hfxmermaid) on

The real live mermaid

A lot of work goes into making appearances on land and in water when you work full time in the mermaid industry.

It takes 30 minutes from start to finish to wiggle into the tail, gather the appropriate amount of seaweed for your hair, apply rare sea jewels and give yourself that underwater glow.

Stephanie Brown, the entrepreneur behind Raina the Mermaid, has it down to a science.

“How many people get to wake up every day and go ‘this is my life, it’s so cool’?” said Brown. “I’m a mermaid. This is my real job.”

Raina’s tail comes all the way from California. Its state of the art draining technology, fiberglass fins and custom painted orange silicone cost the pretty price of around $4,000.

When she’s not performing underwater for birthday parties, music videos, or educating children on land, she’s managing her businesses: Halifax Mermaids, Atlantic Mermaids and Canadian Mermaids.

Brown turned her background in teaching and love of mermaids into something quite unique. She has managed to find a way to do what she loves, and “not in the traditional sense.”

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The rabbit hole of mermaid culture

In the midst of the pressures of getting her degree in teaching, dealing with chronic pain, and being diagnosed with a learning disability, in 2007 Brown found herself “falling down the rabbit hole of mermaid culture.”

“At that time I didn’t think it would be a business,” said Brown. “I just thought it would be an amazing experience that I just wanted to take part in.”

Her first tail was plain and impractical, and her first time in the water “wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be,” said Brown. “I had never taken into consideration that I was a terrible swimmer.”

By 2009 Brown had a new tail and was performing at birthday parties and doing some photography.

Brown says her professors had warned her about the difficulty of getting a teaching job upon graduating, but she always thought it would work out.

“It was very hard to give up the idea of being a classroom teacher,” she said.

Things started moving quickly after Brown made the decision to commit herself to the mermaid business.

“What started off with a garbage bag and a tail and a girl who couldn’t swim,” said Brown, has now “hit us like a wave.”

Mermaids: the new craze

“We like to joke that mermaids are the new vampires in the mer-world,” said Brown. “Ten years ago you couldn’t even find a book about us other than The Little Mermaid.”

Brown has published two books about how to be a mermaid and her own journey.

When Brown is not performing she’s teaching mermaid hopefuls or handling the business aspect of being a professional mermaid. Her mermaid business is growing so quickly she’s applied to the ADP small business grant contest for $10,000 this month in hopes of being able to keep up with demand.

“We’re hoping to buy a portable tank,” said Brown. “It would make our on-land gigs that much better.”

Information, imagination and inspiration have been part of Brown’s vision for Halifax Mermaids from the beginning.

The fusion of education and entertainment enables Brown to teach children about myths and legends surrounding mermaids from around the world, as well as the importance of protecting our oceans from plastic waste.

“Children learn best through play experience,” said Brown. “The imaginative world of mermaids can teach children information in a new and exciting way.”

In her case, the inspiration comes in the form of a tail.

“Even the world’s worst swimmer can put on a mermaid tail and feel like they are becoming this imaginative creature,” said Brown. “You get to slip into this other world which is so empowering.”

Tales and tails

Appearances like the one this week at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are all part of Brown’s busy mermaid life.

Hundreds of children have been lining up to meet Raina after every session at the museum. They smile for a photo and wait for a personalized postcard from a real live mermaid.

Jenny Nodelman, marketing and events officer at the museum, says Raina’s presence ties in to their efforts to educate museum patrons about the sea, including legends and myths. She says many parents are happy to see their children so enthusiastic.

“Children are coming dressed up as mermaids and pirates,” said Nodelman.

Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)
Austin Wright poses with his postcard from Raina. (Photo: Caora McKenna)

Austin Wright was excited to see Raina the Mermaid. “I’ve never seen one before,” he said. “I like mermaids because they like to swim and I like to swim.”

Austin’s older sister, Kayla, says she likes mermaids because they “are very rare, and have tails and fins.”

Nodelman is happy that thanks to Raina, children and families are having fun at the museum.

“Hopefully it changes the mindset of young ones and families to see that the museum is a community space for families as well as a place of history and heritage,” said Nodelman.

For Brown, the fact that there are so many children excited about the mermaid world makes it all worth it.