In the Windsor Square medical building at 152nd Street and 19th Avenue in Surrey, B.C., in a tiny space that extends into the ground floor hallway, Danica’s Bistro offers delectable goodies. Everything is prepared by hand by two hard-working women with charming Eastern European accents.
Danica started the bistro twenty years ago. That’s a long time for a small business to survive. Sometimes she gets tired. If she isn’t behind the counter, you might find her smoking in the parking lot. There’s a chair on the sidewalk. Sometimes someone else sits in it, not realizing.
On a Saturday, when the soup selection is limited, I might order a sandwich. Danica says, “I bring to you.” I flip through a newspaper while she slices and dices and adds pickles and chips, and delivers the mouth-watering plate.
Danica’s partner, Marijana Slavnic, is not a smoker and sometimes teaches cardio kick-boxing. She never appears fatigued.
I started going to the bistro when I was getting my teeth straightened by Dr. Bo (“Boo”) Hoglund on the third floor. The glass-walled elevator gives you a view of the concourse when you ascend. At the top, a floor-to-ceiling window offers a panoramic view of homes and trees to the west. It’s worth a trip up the elevator for that view. After my appointment, I would pick up coffee and a muffin to take to work.
Later on, I would sometimes see Dr. Bo in the lunch line-up. Once when Marijana erased “jambalaya” from the whiteboard, she asked him what he would like. He said, “I would like jambalaya.” We all laughed.
Dr. Bo and I were both in the Semiahmoo Rotary Club for a couple of years. I organized the club’s adopted street clean-up, and he played in the annual golf tournament. But we both found the commitment to weekly 7 a.m. breakfasts too onerous after a while.
When I had to take time off work, he was sympathetic. “It takes a lot of time to get over stress,” he said. But I saw him less and less, and then I saw an article in the Peace Arch News. A team called “Hoglund’s Heroes” was fundraising in the Walk for ALS, the disease that took him from us in April 2016. His smile radiates warmth in the photo on that article. His light surely still shines.
One day I brought a fascinating book with me, Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. I didn’t usually indulge in giant chocolate chip cookies, but this time I did. As I ate it and saw the book’s title, I thought, I need no further proof. I went back to Danica's for “proof of heaven” whenever I felt the need.
Marijana still has her refugee card from the time when Yugaslavia was divided by war. In 1991, she was studying and working in what became Serbia. “The two countries separated. I couldn’t go back home,” she said.
Her parents left everything in Bosnia and joined her. They were homeless for a while, living in dorms and whatever they could rent. Her father worked two jobs. Every month, they got their refugee cards stamped to get clothes and other necessities from the Red Cross.
Marijana’s brother was the first of their family to come to Canada. When she saw him off at the airport, her heart pounded. “I thought I would never see him again,” she said. There were no other siblings.
She moved with a friend to a Greek village for a few years, where she worked in a bar. She planned to make enough money to go to England, but her brother recommended Canada. She arrived as a live-in caregiver for his children in 2002.
“I arrived on February 2, my birthday,” Marijana said. “It was my longest birthday ever. It started there (Greece), and with the nine hour time difference, it was still my birthday when I arrived." On the way, they had to stop in Amsterdam. She was delighted to find the airport was filled with heart balloons.
Marijana became a partner at Danica’s in 2009. Both women occasionally travel to see family, always leaving the other partner to mind the store. In one of Marijana’s visits to Bosnia, an old flame sparked. They married in 2016.
“This is his name,” she said, and wrote “Amer” on a notepad. “But this is what they call him,” and she added “Hondo.” His parents liked the 1953 John Wayne film with the same name.
Hondo is Muslim, while Marijana is Orthodox Christian. The difference used to be a concern twenty years ago when they first dated, but not now.
At the time I first wrote this blog post, Marijana and Hondo were still waiting for his visa to allow him to immigrate to Canada. She hadn’t seen him since the wedding. Thankfully, Hondo arrived early in 2018. He was able to begin working right away, unlike frustrating delays that happen elsewhere.
If you have a chance and are in the area, stop in and support this independent business. If it’s your first time, you’ll notice it from the mouthwatering aromas.
- Irene Plett
Photo: a platter of home-made treats from Danica’s that I won in a silent auction, raising money for the Food Bank.
TOPICS: Immigration, romance, food, culture, religion, South Surrey, Proof of Heaven book