The little restaurateurs that could

Vancouverites develop a reputation for offering an elegant dining experience in this small Saskatchewan town

Actress Bridie Lunde is on stage tonight.

But she’s not starring in a theatre production, a musical or a local play. She’s playing hostess at her restaurant in Mortlach, Sask.

As she delights the incoming audience with her words of welcome and lighthearted laughter, the smell from the kitchen foretells of a night of fancy feasting.

Lunde smiles when she recalls the June day in 2012 when her mother, a Moose Jaw real estate agent, called her in Vancouver.

“The Holly Hock Market in Mortlach is for sale,” said her mother.

“Oh, and you’re telling me this because …” replied a confounded Lunde.

While the 25-year-old Vancouver actress thought the phone call was all in fun, she ended up buying the small-town market.

“I had no game plan when I got here. I just wanted to see what Sask-atchewan wanted,” said Lunde.

She took down false ceilings and unearthed stained-glass windows in the 1912 building and began envisioning a trendy restaurant with an adjoining food market. There was only one problem with her vision — it required a chef.

While Lunde was comfortable with being the decorator, ambiance-setter and front-of-house manager for the restaurant of her dreams, she needed a professionally trained chef who was willing to relocate to Mortlach. She knew her Vancouver friend Jon Staszczak was her man.

“Bridie called me up one day and asked if I would be the lead chef at her restaurant in Mortlach. I said ‘absolutely not.’ ”

Having worked his way into the position of sous chef at a successful Vancouver restaurant, the Wynyard-born Staszczak was not about to pull up stakes and move to a hamlet of 300.

But as days turned into months, the promise of the little restaurant on the prairie began to take hold of the chef’s imagination and he eventually agreed to join Lunde as the Little Red Market Cafe’s one and only chef.

Staszczak worked on a unique menu using local ingredients for dishes like duck breast served with Sante Fe cherry relish and pan seared Diefenbaker trout with carrot-tarragon sauce and lemon scented quinoa.

Lunde and Staszczak were sensitive to the fact that their new menu in their new town had to include something familiar and hearty. So they added staples like stuffed chicken, an open-face Sloppy Joe and spaghetti with meat sauce.

“The first couple of months we sold more spaghetti than braised lamb shank and duck breast combined. But as the word got out, our clientele changed and people started driving one, two and even three hours to eat here,” said Staszczak.

The Little Red Market Café, open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and supper and Sunday for brunch, is now booked to capacity with reservations required a month in advance.

‘I’m a performer,” added Lunde.

“I put on a dinner party every night and that’s exactly what we hear from people is that it feels like they had dinner and a show in a place that was as comfortable as their friend’s house.”

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