My WPG: Chandra Kremski + Charla Smeall

My WPG: Chandra Kremski + Charla Smeall

My WPG is a series introducing you to awesome Winnipeggers who share our passion for community-building and localism. In our latest post, meet Chandra Kremski and Charla Smeall, the dynamic duo behind the city’s wildly popular Third + Bird markets.

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 My story ...

Chandra: I was born in Alberta but grew up in Kitchener/Waterloo and attended Conestoga College for the graphic design program. I fell in love, moved to Winnipeg and got married, and I’ve been with my husband for 18 years. When I moved here, I had a little Chevette that couldn’t go more than 70 km/h. The heating on it – it had no chance in Winnipeg winters (laughs). I remember my first winter here, just sitting in my car and the extreme cold would grip my spine – you know that cold when you’re shaking so much, your whole back is just spasm-ing, and I remember asking myself, “What have I come to? What is this place?” But I remember, and I still say it to this day, moving to this province, meeting friends and feeling that sense of community and belonging hit instantly for me. I just absolutely fell in love with Winnipeg. Even if I had the opportunity to go back to Kitchener, even when I visit, I always feel like I’m coming back home when I get to Winnipeg.

I have two kids, and when I had my first daughter I started painting again. Being in the graphic design program, you have to have a strong art background so I always painted. But becoming a parent, your world kind of becomes like a snow globe: everything is set how it was as an adult, and then someone picks up the snow globe and shakes it, puts it back down and says, “OK, go.” I was a young mom so it kind of threw me for a loop so I started to paint again. I started selling those and had a really successful run being an abstract painter. I was really fortunate to have a few solo shows in a few art galleries across Canada. I even had my artwork showcased at a gallery when (Prince) Will and (Princess) Kate had just gotten married and were doing their Canadian tour, and one of my paintings was gifted to them from the Government of Canada as a thank you for coming.

 Charla: Now she’s working on one for Meghan and Harry (laughs).

Chandra: Yeah, Meghan and I are besties (laughs). But that’s part of the reason why the market (Third + Bird) began – because being an artist and a creative person, I knew how hard it was to have good, talented people never getting a break, or never having their work shown, so that aspect was really important to me. There are so many great people who deserve a platform that may not get into a gallery or may never have a brick-and-mortar. As a creative person, I have that understanding and can relate to them because I use my hands too to make art.

Charla: I was born and raised in Winnipeg, I’ve been here pretty much my whole life. I met my husband here, we met in Grade 11 and I never thought it would actually come to anything, but it did (laughs). He went off to school and my only dream at the time was to have children. I wanted to be a mom, and so we had four boys. But then all of a sudden you have the last one and you realize there’s still life ahead.

When I was younger, my mom did the craft sale scene with her sisters, and those were my favourite days of the year because she’d pull my sisters and me out of school and we would get to run the little craft sale and just see the behind-the-scenes. I had always kind of been crafty by doing things and making things, but I kind of lost that along the way while raising my boys. I’m an organizer – I like numbers, I like to be busy, I like to multi-task. So after we had our last kid and started thinking about Third + Bird, I was able to put those skills to use.

We were both attending the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church, which is where this whole craft sale started. Chandra had put a call out in the bulletin because she was running the arts program. She wanted to run a craft sale because it was a good way to raise money and there were a lot of artists in the community. I didn’t know her, but it was a craft sale and I had done that.

Chandra: So, she messages me and she was the only person that responded to my ad (laughs). We met at the Johnston Terminal, I had a fresh baby sitting in her car seat on the floor beside us, and it was like, “K, you’re hired. Let’s do this!” We wanted to do a fundraiser because I was already running an art program out of the church and it was a great way to raise money for that and also give back to the charity, which is the Nepali Women's Cop-op.

Charla: At that time, it was just the Christmas sale and it was very small. We held it at the church and there were about 35 to 40 vendors. We put the ad on Kijiji, since it was before the time of social media.

Chandra: One of our vendors, who is still with us to this day, is Decadence Chocolates, and she responded to that original Kijiji ad. We call those vendors our pillars. They took a chance on this market and we tip our hats to them. They helped us make this because they used their contacts and community to build us up.

Charla: And it grew every year. Our growth rate is anywhere between 25% to 40% since the beginning, and I think part of that is because we curated it to what we wanted it to be like. Even though it has that craft sale history, we both knew immediately that there was a certain level of quality necessary. And we also wanted to have things that we wanted as young moms. So we eventually added a second floor and then we had more vendors, and it just grew and grew.

Chandra: At that time, the idea of curating a market was really new. With community clubs, you could just sign up and put up a table. We had kind of a new concept, along with calling it a market and saying “shop local.” It was really exciting, and at the time we didn’t know what the future would hold.

Charla: It was nice at the time because we were both in the midst of raising little kids and it was good to do something different and use your brain differently. It was just fun for us.

Chandra: Yep, and for the early years, we were those moms that had our kids with us. I had my baby strapped to me the whole market and when she napped, I had a playpen set up for her. We totally get the whole ‘mom’ thing and working and wearing your kid and what that’s all about because we did that.

Charla: I think for her, it let her have that outlet because she’s artistic and it let me have an outlet for the organizing and logistical side. That was really fun and essential for us, and I think that’s what kept us going.

Chandra: We’re complete opposites in so many ways but it seems to click. Opposites attract, but in some ways, we’re exactly the same. Our work ethic is the same, our perfectionism. She’s very organized and artists are typically very free-spirited, and I am too, but I also have this really weird ability to be super administrative and organized as well. But numbers are not my friend so thankfully Charla is good at that. So it just fell into place.

Charla: We’re just meant to be. I call her my star-crossed wife (laughs).

Chandra: Yeah, she’s my business wife. It’s like any relationship though, it takes work and communication and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I think at the end of the day it’s about total honesty and being able to sit across from the person and say, “I love you, but you need to hear this and this and this,” and vice versa. But it’s worked and it’s amazing. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. Like if Charla was done, I would be done.

My hood ...

Chandra: I live in Windsor Park and I’m super proud of it. All my neighbours are like 90 years old so it’s an old person neighbourhood and I love it. Everyone’s lawns are perfect.

Charla: I live in the North End in Scotia Heights. We moved there about 10 years ago when we had our third kid, and we initially thought it would be temporary but it’s actually a great neighbourhood. My husband works downtown and it’s literally 10 minutes away, so it’s nice. We like it and we’re staying.

My go-to takeout …

Chandra: I love Thai food and I always go to Thida’s Thai. That is my go-to. It’s like, you’re not sure when you walk in, but you’re so happy when you walk out. I always get vegetable Pad Thai. 

Charla: Mine is Santa Lucia. The one on Main Street, I live a block away. When we need food, it’s easy – I can walk there and get it. I’m plain Jane – we just get pepperoni pizza. When I call, they know exactly what I want. They’re like, “Oh hey, Charla. A large pepperoni?” I’m like, “Yeah!” I love it.

My ideal date night …

Chandra: My ideal date night would be at Falcon Lake. We love to camp but we don’t have a cabin. Sitting by the fire in our hammock with a good drink in hand. We love just hanging out and being with each other. We’re very outdoorsy that way but we don’t need much or make a big spectacle about it. So yeah, just being able to have a nice drink and sit in the hammock together under the stars. Every summer, we like to go camping and make time for that.

Charla: Date night … we get them quite a bit now because the kids are a bit older. We’re really busy and we just love being in our house half the time because we’re out, out, out. But we do like to go out for a nice dinner. Like Segovia, Passero, we like to try out new Winnipeg restaurants. Then we usually pick up dessert, we have a hot tub outside, then watch Game of Thrones. Just having the house to ourselves is nice.

My favourite guilty pleasure …

Chandra: I always take everyone I know to Baked Expectations and they’re always so pumped. My sister is visiting right now and she was like, “Can you take me to that dessert place?” Baked Expectations is just so classic Winnipeg. It’s one of those businesses that’s stayed strong all through the years, they’ve had great branding even from the beginning, they’re always changing up their window displays. I always get strawberry cheesecake; I’ve never tried any other dessert there. It’s the only one I’ve ever had and the only one I’ll ever get. I’m a one trick pony. I know what I like (laughs).

Charla: I think ours is the same. We’ll always pick up a piece of cake from Baked Expectations. Always cheesecake, we usually get Skor.

 My favourite coffee shop …

Chandra: I’m gonna say Stellas.

Charla: Yep, me too.

My favourite brunch spot …

Chandra: My favourite place is a little hole in the wall, I really like hole-in-the-wall places. It’s the Southdale Village Family Restaurant. You can get breakfast for $4.99, it is the most amazing place ever. When we talk about date nights, I’m not in her (Charla’s) shoes yet, like I don’t get to go out in the evenings. I’m in the thick of young kids, programs, bedtime routines, all that stuff. So with my husband being a firefighter with shift work, we have more opportunities to go out for dates for breakfast, so once a week we go to the Southdale. We call it our $10.10 date because our bill is always ten dollars and ten cents (laughs). It’s like the show Cheers – all the waitresses know our names, they know our order. We don’t have to look at menus. We just sit down and our meal comes out five minutes later. I highly recommend you try it. You just sit there and see a sea of happy people.

Charla: My dad goes there (laughs).

Chandra: It’s the best. It’s a local mom-and-pop restaurant. They’ve owned it from the beginning; it’s the same staff from day one. So you just walk in there and feel good about supporting a local joint and you’re getting good food for five bucks.

Charla: If I’m going for a nice brunch, my sisters and I go to Pineridge Hollow. It’s so good.

My favourite local event or festival …

Chandra: I’m gonna say Folklorama. It’s a fun one for the me and the kids. I really like being able to introduce my kids to other cultures, other foods, other sights, sounds, smells. They walk away feeling super inspired, so I like that. It’s a great way to celebrate culture and diversity.

Charla: Tyler and I love Comedy Fest.

My best-kept secret or hidden gem …

Chandra: Vicky's diner. Delicious hand-made burger and fries, fresh salads. Owned by Vicki and she does it all: makes the food, greets you, takes orders, etc. The food is amazing, and yes I'm a big fan of the poutine. Also, Black Market Provisions on Osborne. 

Charla: I have two answers for this one. For food, we love Pho No. 1. A lot of people don’t know about it, but when they go they’re like, “Oh, my goodness.” So there’s that, but we love summers in Manitoba and we love swimming, but we get sick of Grand Beach, Birds Hills and Gimli, so we go to the Pinawa Dam. It’s an hour away from here and it’s like a water park. You can cliff jump and you can take your tubes down the river. It’s just fresh, clear water. No one’s ever there; it’s truly a hidden gem.

My ideal day off …

Chandra: My ideal day off would be sleeping in, waking up and someone just making me a really simple but nice breakfast and then taking me out for a day where I don’t have to think about anything. If my husband could just wake me up, make me breakfast and take me somewhere like Thermea, where I could just relax, unwind and not think about anything. Then come home and watch a great movie – an old-school movie like Bring It On. So good!

Charla: The beach. Victoria Beach is our go-to. So there, plus a good book, sun tanning, a bag of chips, a can of Coke. I love it.

My favourite local band or musician …

Chandra: Dan’s Band, The Rippers.

Charla: Dan is our floor manager.

Chandra: Yep, he’s my music bestie. He and I follow U2 every time they tour. We’re both old-school U2 fans.

My favourite place to splurge …

Chandra: It’s our market. I blow up a giant hole in my wallet at Third + Bird. I’m just as excited about it as a shopper as I am as a facilitator of it. That’s my total splurge.

Charla: I have to say travel. We splurge on experiences. We just went on a trip to L.A., but it wasn’t traditional, we didn’t go to Universal or anything like that. Our boys skateboard, so we rented surfboards one day, just stuff like that. We love experiences, like food. Everything’s about food with my crew (laughs).

My favourite place to take out-of-towners …

Chandra: A few things I love to do is take them to The Forks, Baked Expectations, just going to local restaurants. My family is vegan so we go to Nuburger. Whether you eat meat or not, everyone loves it. It’s like an In-n-Out experience, but then you can stay and visit and hang out. Whenever family comes, I absolutely love taking them to festivals and whatever is going on at the time of the season. I also love taking people out to Falcon Lake. Get them out of the city and go see the beautiful lakes.

Charla: I feel like you can go an hour in any direction and get somewhere different. We take family an hour east to The Whiteshell and they love it. Even south. My family is from south of Brandon in Turtle Mountain and it’s hilly, the lakes are crystal clear and it’s just all so different. It’s just nice when family comes from out of town and we can show them that Manitoba is actually really beautiful.

 Best bang for my buck …

Chandra: Gotta take it back to Southdale. You can’t beat a $5 breakfast.

Charla: Pho No. 1 again. We often order that. You can get spring rolls, coconut soup, and it’s cheap for the kids. It’s a good one. After the sale every year, when we’re done, we either get Santa Lucia or Pho No. 1.

The place I can’t leave without buying something …

Chandra: I’m a sucker for any local market, whether it’s ours or a farmers’ market. I’ve never seen someone walk out with nothing, because you may not buy something for yourself, but you might want a coffee or something to eat. Your tummy talks, too.

Charla: I’d say farmers’ markets. Guaranteed, if I’m at any kind of food market, I’m buying something.

My favourite day trip or weekend away …

Chandra: A weekend trip might be my husband and I dropping off the kids at their grandparents’ and we’ll do a quick getaway to Montreal. It’s our grown-up trip, and even 48 hours in Montreal is enough to re-charge the batteries. The culture is so amazing there, the food and wine are phenomenal. We always stay downtown and just live it up. But if I had a weekend getaway here, I would be camping. Get me to The Whiteshell, get me to Falcon Lake, anywhere that’s outside the city where we can just relax and get away from the noise, and definitely shut that cellphone off.

Charla: We either go to Minneapolis – it’s only eight hours away and our boys skateboard there all the time – or we go to Banff and go snowboarding.

Chandra: Travel is important for both of us.

Charla: It is. I always tell my friends that these are affordable things you can do that don’t include flying.

 One thing I want everyone to know about Winnipeg …

Chandra: For me, since I’m somewhat new to Winnipeg, the one thing I always admired about the city is that Winnipeggers are actually individuals. We’re sitting in this restaurant, and you can see that everyone here has a uniquely different style. When I go home to Kitchener or Toronto, everyone has that European kind of look, and that’s not bad, but it just feels like everyone is very professional. I just feel that people here in Winnipeg are so good at their fashion and beating to their own drum.

Small businesses thrive in this community, and Winnipeggers are so loyal. So, so loyal. I absolutely love that. I often wonder if we were to transplant Third + Bird to British Columbia, Calgary, Saskatchewan or Ontario, would it look the same? Winnipeg is magical that way. I love the individuality that lives here, the artistry. It’s powerful.

Charla: It’s the people. What’s kept us here is our family and friends, and I think a lot of people move back for that. We know someone who just moved here from Ontario and she said she feels instantly at home because everybody’s friendly and welcoming. I also think that because homes aren’t expensive, you can have a really good life here, and have those extras and be able to travel. So for me, it is definitely the people.

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