From the North to South Poles: Jessica Patterson is Serving Pizza and Smiles
“When you're born and raised Indigenous, that never leaves you. No matter where I go, no matter what foreign place I'm in, I will always be Inuit and I will always have that culture behind me and share it with pride,” declares Jessica Patterson. She is from Iqaluit, Nunavut but by happenstance and accidents she ended up running a mobile pizza truck in Queenstown, New Zealand called Francesca's Mobile Pizza.
It all started after a ten-year career with Canadian North Airlines, just as she was about to turn thirty. Patterson realized she had always lived in the North and wondered what it might be like to move outside of her comfort zone… and outside the country after a lifetime thinking she would never leave.
She went to meet the Indigenous people of Australia she learned about in high school on a one-year working holiday visa. Patterson returned home early to meet her brother’s new baby back in Canada. Next, she got a working holiday visa for New Zealand. A six-month stay turned into eight years of delighting in the culture, community and scenery, though she’s eager to bring home her New Zealand-born partner to meet the family.
“I'm super rare over here, but that also makes me really, really proud of my culture, my heritage, my language, and I speak about it as often as I can.”
She tried to go home every year, but the pandemic and travel costs got in the way. “I think sometimes, as Indigenous people, we feel like we have to be in Canada, we have to be around our group, we have to be speaking our language, but I will tell you this much: I've never felt more Inuk than since I've been traveling, because I'm the only person in my town from my area who speaks my language with our culture. Every day, I'm reminded of that, and I'm more proud. And I'm more Inuit, if that makes sense,” Patterson reflects.
Boston Pizza was where she got her start in food service, taking delivery orders by phone and hostessing. Her love of interacting with people sparked a career in food and travel, from the airline to many restaurants in Australia and New Zealand. When she had the chance to buy a pizza truck with a good reputation, she jumped at it and now she’s a girl from a place with no trees who sells woodfired pizza.
After years of working in high-stress environments, the pizza truck was a much better choice that leveraged her skillset. A proud business owner, she integrates her culture and story into her business which is rooted in wanting to serve nice food to nice people at nice locations. “It's a very, very simple approach to business, but it seems to be working,” she reports.
Beyond what she’s learned on the job, Patterson has a Hospitality Business Management course, offered by her former employer, where she learned to run anything from a food truck to a corporate chain of restaurants with multiple locations. That education has come in handy in her business.
Her advice for anybody who might be thinking about leaving their community to either go learn abroad or explore is “If it doesn't work out, you can always go home and home, that's never going to change. I will always be from the north and Canada, I will always be Canadian. That will never change. Nobody can ever take that away from me.” With social media, video calls, the internet and better travel options, she’s got a way to reconnect when she needs to with the people from home. She’s also found ways to connect with people in her new home, even with a language barrier.
In Asia, she used hand signals and gestures to overcome her inability to speak the language. In New Zealand, she’s found complete strangers are happy to help her navigate new places when she looks lost. “The hospitality is fantastic around the world and you don't know until you get out there, right?” she beams.
Raised by her parents to maintain an optimistic outlook, she takes her simple perspective and her ethical desire to treat everyone well and applies it to her work. “I might not be solving the climate change issues, and the colonial repercussions of our history but I'm going to be kind, and I'm going to be nice and I'm going to treat everybody the way I want to be treated,” she explains.
“I might not be solving the climate change issues, and the colonial repercussions of our history but I'm going to be kind, and I'm going to be nice and I'm going to treat everybody the way I want to be treated.”
As a resident of New Zealand, she looks forward to starting a family and implementing the five-year plan she has for her business. Down the road, she wants to explore voiceover work she once took a course to pursue in Vancouver, supported by the profits of her successful business as it grows. To maintain her mental health, she plays squash, darts, guitar and sings. She loves arts and crafts and volunteering in the community.
In closing, she shares these words of inspiration, “If you've got a little burning desire inside of you to live somewhere else or get on a plane and go somewhere crazy, I say ‘go for it! You can always go home, so get out there and explore! It's really fun. You might live abroad, or you might just go home and it'd be awesome.”
Far from home, Jessica Patterson knows when you're born and raised Indigenous, that never leaves you. She’s learned that no matter where she goes, she will always be Inuit and will always have that culture behind her to share with pride. Serving up pizzas and a uniquely Canadian perspective, she’s jumped from near the North to the South poles and into the arms of someone she loves, somewhere she loves, knowing she can always come home.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.