Outstanding Women in the Exchange District

Jen McDonald Blog

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On International Women’s Day, which celebrate womens’ achievements and acknowledges the challenges they still face, we decided to talk to three successful women right here in the Exchange District.

Vicky Ramatanis is a young entrepreneur and the owner of classic-style restaurant, Vicky’s Diner. Nan Campbell is director of the AVEDA Institute and Studio Salon, where she oversees the entire operation, including the shop, salon, and hair school. And Cheryl Oakden is a long-time resident of the Exchange District who has seen her urban design firm grow from a three-person operation to a national organization with over 40 staff.

Vicky Ramatanis

The restaurant business is in Vicky Ramatanis’ blood. When she was only fourteen her family first opened Vicky’s Drive-in, in St. Anne’s Manitoba. Her father and sister serendipitously decided to name the restaurant after her with no idea that she would one day step out and open a location of her own.

“My family has had the business for 16 seasons, and eventually my sister and I ran Vicky’s Drive-In together,” she says. “So we were partners in that, and I decided to venture off on my own and start something in the city.”

The decision to go out on her own was something she had been thinking about for a couple of years, waiting for the right time, location, and moment to leave the security of her family business and venture out on her own.

“I felt like as great as it was there, working with my family— in terms of security, and our established brand— a part of me wanted to just get out of the comfort zone a little bit. I was ready for the challenge. Everything else was secure and safe and content. And I was like ‘ok, lets just do this.’”

In 2016, Vicky’s Diner opened at 58 Albert Street in a quaint little spot she felt was the perfect fit. And once she found the location, she decided to keep the menu very close to the well-established and much-loved family brand.

“Everything is an extension of Vicky’s Drive-In,” she says.  “I thought: that’s been working for us for so long. I’m going to try to do the same, but a little bit different. The recipes are all homemade, all created within the family.”

Her little diner serves up home-made burgers, fries, chili, gyros and more— all in keeping with the classic drive-in style.

“It really is a homemade classic style. And I think people appreciate the classics. I had two guys come in the other day and say ‘now this is a burger. I’m tired of ordering a burger and getting this aioli and this other weird thing.’ There’s a place for that, but here at Vicky’s, you really get the type of food that never goes out of style.”

Opening her own restaurant has had its challenges, but Ramatanis says the community here in the Exchange District has been very friendly and encouraging, and she feels empowered by her decision to open her restaurant in the neighbourhood.

As for being a woman entrepreneur, Ramatanis sees momentum. “With the times now, you see more women becoming who they really are. I love seeing women opening up their own places and not waiting for someone to help them. That’s what I want to instill in the future, if I ever have a daughter. I want to be an independent woman. I always knew I wanted to be my own boss, and as challenging as it is, it feels good.”

Visit vickysdiner.com for her classic menu or, better yet— pop-in for a delicious bite!

Cheryl Oakden

Cheryl Oakden has been at visionary urban design and landscape firm Scattliff, Miller, and Murray, since graduating with her degree in Landscape Architecture in 1989.

The company has been part of the Exchange District’s fabric since then— in four different locations; on Albert, Princess, Market and finally settling into its current location on the 11th floor at 201 Portage Avenue. She has been a key part of the success that has expanded this once three-person local operation and to a firm of over 40 professionals working out of Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and even China.

Part of what has kept Oakden so engaged throughout the years is the diverse range of design projects in the company’s wheelhouse.

“‘When you talk about landscapes, people think more about trees-and-shrubs kind of things, but it’s deeper and more layered than that,” she says. “It can be streetscapes, plazas, and full community spaces.”

As just one of several notable projects, her firm created the Assiniboine Park Adventure playground, which is a good example of how urban design can layer many different kinds of mediums and disciplines.

“We created hills for climbing and running over. Dead oak trees to cross over, a picnic pavilion, a washroom, storage sheds, a trail system and pathways, and the toboggan hill and slide. We were able to collaborate with a lot engineers, working with us to help us realize the vision.”

And it’s this collaboration that Oakden loves most about working in her field.

“What I enjoy most is when we work as a group building those visions. Nothing is more rewarding than working together as a team to make something better than anyone would do as an individual. We never try and pigeonhole anyone into any one area. Everyone always has something to contribute.”

Oakden has always used her personal life as a source of inspiration. As a mother of two children who are now in their early 20s, she is often inspired by the things her children are doing in their lives.

“My kids have always been a big part of it. I’ll reflect on this throughout my career. Conversations within the office are sometimes more related to our lives, and they then work themselves into the projects in a bizarre way. Working in a creative field our personal lives can be a real catalyst for creativity.”

Check out Scatliff + Miller + Murray’s website to learn more about Cheryl’s team and see some of their impressive work.

Nan Campbell

Nan Campbell is on her 4th career.  After working as a middle years teacher— a job she loved— Campbell decided to open a business with her partner while they raised 4 children. It was after a move to Victoria, where her children were attending college, that she began her career with Aveda, and she felt an instant connection. That connection eventually led to her current position as director at the AVEDA Institute and studio salon in the Exchange District.

“I was passionate about Aveda’s products, but also their core beliefs and mission: creating products that are good for you and good for mother earth. All of this fit who I was as a person. It was kind of a religious experience when I first heard about it. Everything was resonating for me so personally. This was my personal credo.”

She quickly moved up in the company and was invited to be part of the team to help open the new location here in Winnipeg at 80 Rorie Street. The business partnered with a hair academy and became a hair college, retail shop, and salon. This mix perfectly blended her passion for education, business, and ability to connect with people.

“So now it’s kind of like all of my career paths have merged, this is an educational place, a place for retail, and a place that provides really profound experiences for people,” she says.

And providing profound experiences seems to be at the heart of what’s important to Campbell. Her personality is warm and inviting and it’s no surprise that, while well into her 4th career, she is also training to become a therapist. She cares about every student that walks through her door to attend the college.

“I love really connecting with human beings on a profound level. Whenever a prospective student comes to school here, I literally look them in the eye and say: if you come to school here, we’re committed to make your life as good as it can be.”

And on International Women’s Day, Campbell is especially passionate about the work the AVEDA Institute does to support women and girls in developing countries. She feels strongly about the importance of promoting equal opportunities for everyone.

“Because this is an industry that does sort of focus on women’s wellbeing, you’d perhaps assume that the director of a place like this would by definition be a woman. But in reality, there are mostly men at the top echelons, like Michael Anthony and Edward Carrier. But I consider that to be quite old school. I really want every woman and man who comes into this building to feel like the opportunity is here for them. This is a place that lets you be who you really are.”

You can learn more about the Aveda institute on their website.