Irish bring breakfast to Vancouver

Starting a business is often a difficult undertaking, but embark on a global pandemic when you’re 4,000 miles from home and face a daunting task. But that didn’t deter Mark Kearney and Augustine Schwerin as they aimed to bring the best breakfast sandwiches to Canada’s West Coast.

Kearney, originally from Castleknock, Dublin, spent most of his twenties traveling the world, seeking new adventures wherever he could find them. After graduating in Marketing from Technological University Dublin in 2006, he worked in various sales roles across Ireland but couldn’t help but dream of opening his own business one day. When the global recession hit in 2008, he felt trapped in a position he didn’t like and knew there was something better for him.

After months of searching in a number of countries where he could make a fresh start, Kearney traveled to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. He says he chose it because Vancouver is a “beautiful city with an incredible lifestyle”. He could snowboard on “the world famous mountains of Whistler-Blackcomb, North America’s largest ski resort” in the winter, then sit on one of the sandy beaches lining the coast in summer.

Arriving in Canada in 2011, Kearney was excited to move halfway around the world, but was challenged to arrive with only one suitcase and no friends or family. Peering out the window of his inn, where he was surrounded by strangers, Kearney remembers thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, what have I done?

Kearney and Schwerin say the support they’ve received from the Irish community and Vancouverites has been nothing short of phenomenal

It didn’t take long for him to land a position with a Toronto-based marketing firm, leading a team that managed numerous business relationships in Western Canada. At the same time, Kearney amassed a group of friends who became his “second family”.

Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, Kearney took the opportunity to reflect on what he’s truly passionate about and made “a massive pivot in my career.”

Augustine Schwerin (known as Gus to his friends) is from Ranelagh in Dublin. He first traveled to Canada’s west coast in 2016 after a chance encounter with a girl from Dublin who was moving to Vancouver.

Schwerin had recently left college and said that, like many people at the age of 23, he was trying to figure out what to do next. He also wanted to turn his passion for food into a career and was trying to figure out how to achieve that. He says he “seized the opportunity for a new adventure (and a potential girlfriend) and booked a vacation to Vancouver.”

Schwerin spent six weeks exploring the Pacific Northwest, traveling along the coast and experiencing the flavors and “exciting food scene” from Vancouver to Portland. After getting a taste of the lifestyle on offer, Schwerin “took the plunge” and moved full-time to Vancouver in 2017.

It didn’t take Schwerin long to find his feet. He then enrolled in the internationally recognized school Northwest Culinary Academy. The chef-owned school was the perfect alternative to a more traditional culinary arts institution, says Schwerin, and it helped him settle into his new home halfway around the world, providing him with the support he needed to hone his passion for food.

Schwerin then entered the real world of kitchens, working for some of Vancouver’s finest restaurants, including Ask for Luigi and Anh and Chi. But just as his career was going from strength to strength, “Covid-19 entered our vocabulary and turned the whole world upside down.”

Mark Kearney and Augustine Schwerin (right) with their food truck bringing crack to Canada

Although their backgrounds in Vancouver were quite different, Mark and Gus – as they are more commonly known in Vancouver – had crossed paths in Canada over the years, having met through mutual friends from Irish community. They never thought, although they would work side by side, let alone run a business together, but when the pandemic hit, they found themselves in a similar situation, facing a lot of uncertainty.

“As the world turns upside down, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and that’s what we did,” they say.

After bonding over their love of food and entrepreneurial spirit, they decided to buy a $6,000 truck and set out to convert it into a booming business, tapping into what they considered as a niche in the Vancouver food market – “simply delicious fried egg sandwiches”.

In 2021 they opened Crack On, “bringing a touch of Irish craic to Vancouver while serving cracking egg sandwiches”. All this in the midst of a pandemic.

Kearney and Schwerin say the support they have received from the Irish community and Vancouverites has been “nothing short of phenomenal. From queuing on the street in our first week of operation to expanding our brand and now at our three locations, it’s been a busy, yet rewarding year. The pair now employ eight people and plan to expand this year.

They say that while the pandemic has undoubtedly been difficult, “it has also provided us with an opportunity to step back, pause and reflect.” They say they are “grateful to be part of Vancouver’s food truck industry, which plays such an important role in the community and in the cultural life of the city.” Now they’ve built a business doing what they love in a place they love.

For more from Crack On, you can follow them on Instagram @crackonvan

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email [email protected] with some information about yourself and what you do

Previous Ireland removes most of its remaining COVID restrictions
Next Letter from DHSC to the Department of Health Ireland on the reciprocal health measures in place between the UK and Ireland, 26 November 2021 (text only)