Small towns benefit when entrepreneurs set up shop and rural business owners achieve better work-life balance
SHAUNAVON, Sask. — Finding the sweet spot between upscale cuisine and kick off your shoes comfort is the goal of the Harvest Eatery and Fresh Market.
This afternoon, friends Wayd Sagal and Nick Smith of Shaunavon meet Chad Auty of Regina at the Shaun-avon restaurant for a little of both.
Sitting at bar stools overlooking the cooking theatre where chef and owner Garrett Thienes works, they can watch how their meals are made.
“You come to a small town like Shaunavon, you never expect to find such high quality food,” said Auty, dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans.
The trio are glad to see the chef, who grew up here as the son of the town optometrist, come home and make good.
Garrett, 36, chose the restaurant name to reflect the feeling of post-harvest time meals where communities gather to relax and share a meal.
“I wanted great delicious food without all the pretentiousness of fine dining,” said Garrett, who trained under Michael Noble, worked in Calgary restaurants and has cooked for stars such as Mark Wahlberg.
A smattering of wooden tables and chairs fill the dining room beneath a richly textured ceiling, the walls are adorned with area artwork and musicians are regularly invited to perform here. Sliding doors open onto a patio seeing an unusually heavy downpour this late spring day.
Garrett’s wife, Kristy, who brings her design and marketing skills and her experience in restaurant service in Calgary to the business, said the goal is to create a unique dining experience.
“We created something beyond just a good plate of food. We created an amazing atmosphere,” she said.
Garrett and Kristy have enjoyed much attention since they opened the eatery in 2013, including Tourism Saskatchewan’s rookie of the year award in 2013, a service excellence award finalist designation and being named to CBC’s Future 40 under 40.
The business offers eat in, take out and catering and one day could be duplicated in smaller urban centres elsewhere.
“We’ve shown by doing it here, there is a demand,” Garrett said.
He is known for a slow cooked brisket that starts with Angus beef and a Texas style rub with wild chanterelles, foraged from northern Sask-atchewan.
Buying local is key to the business. The beef comes from three area ranches, eggs from a Hutterite colony and the spirits from a Saskatoon distillery.
The couple said that allows their staff to explain where the food comes from while the cooking area, which is the focal point of the restaurant, allows them to see how it’s pre-pared.
Garrett said it’s not necessary to be in downtown Calgary to start an eatery, saying small business can give longevity to rural areas.
“You can start a business here and help the community,” he said, citing his interest in mentoring others interested in food service.
“Helping other people realize their dreams, their potential, is most rewarding.”
For Kristy, a fitness buff, small town life means more time for sports and less time commuting to work. The restaurant closes on Sunday and Monday.
Garrett thinks there is room for many types of restaurants in town.
“People aren’t as concerned about the price as they are about the value they receive for the money,” he said.
The business will be challenged this week when it tackles an al fresco four-course meal for more than 100 during Fort Walsh’s RCMP musical ride event.
Gail Kesslar, executive director of the Cypress Hills Destination Area, said the fort, originally built in 1875, is hosting a black powder demonstration, stable tour, pipe and drum band and First Nations drum and dance.
She said the event will show people what to expect if they make the drive to the southwestern region.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to showcase (Garrett’s) talents and show what he can do,” she said.
Kesslar said her community has a wealth of dining options, both in the park and neighbouring communities, and called the Harvest Eatery one of her favourites.