ROBLIN, Man. — The train doesn’t stop here anymore, but the spot where passengers are now picked up is still visible from the patio at the Starving Artist.
The station-cum-restaurant in Roblin has a train schedule on an outside wall just metres from the tracks. Inside, patrons dig into a chef’s salad where tickets were once dispensed and shop for tea cup bird feeders where they used to wait for a train.
Garages that held cargo bound for points along the Winnipeg-Churchill Canadian National Railway route are now used for storage, and horticultural gear has replaced coal in the shed.
Owners Linda Regehr and Wanda Jordan are the mother-daughter team who took on the business in 2013 after finding similar enterprises in their own travels around the world.
“We enjoyed going to places like this,” said Jordan, who prepares meals from scratch in the original stationmaster’s tiny home kitchen.
The former hairdresser said there are similarities between her new and old jobs.
“It’s about making people happy.”
Jordan, the married mother of two sons, said she taught herself to cook and today seeks out new recipe ideas online.
“When I met my husband, I never knew how to cook rice,” said Jordan, who considered her cheese and garlic buttermilk baking powder biscuits among her most popular dishes.
Reghr called the art a service for her customers, but it also provides a space for local artists like her to display their work. Anything that doesn’t sell is returned to the artist.
The restaurant offers a slow food alternative to fast food, catering to a brunch-lunch and dinner crowd and featuring special nights with Italian or Mexican entrees and live entertainment.
The town has a number of eateries that compete for business with different offerings.
“As much as people say they want to eat healthy, they don’t,” said Jordan, citing the popularity of fast food outlets.
She tries to buy local products such as steaks and greens when possible but finds it’s often not cost effective or available year round in consistent amounts.
“A lot of people talk about local, but when it comes down to it, people think about their pocketbooks,” she said.
Finding workers is also challenging.
“People complain there are no jobs in small towns, but it’s a lie. They just don’t want to do the job,” said Jordan, who employs three part-time servers.
Regehr, who occupies the living quarters upstairs and serves as a waitress and gardener, leaves the cooking to Jordan.
“I am a good cook, but I don’t work good under pressure,” she said.
Regehr said her landscaping “ups the value and enhances the restaurant,” which also hosts a farmers market every Tuesday.
The pair hoped that would translate into more customers on the town’s busiest shopping day, but it hasn’t happened.
They say business ebbs and flows through the day and slows come winter, when they close the restaurant for a few weeks. They also hoped for more of a coffee crowd and greater numbers of men.
They have also have dabbled in catering and school lunches with mixed success.
Beth Hojnocki, manger of the nearby Harvest Moon Inn, recommends the Starving Artist to her customers, praising its hospitality and food.
“It’s the uniqueness of it. It’s not a chain, but in the old train station,” she said of what was formerly an Austrian themed restaurant.
“When you’re having a meal in there when the train goes by, it’s very interesting,” Hojnocki said.
She said its limited hours can challenge some late check ins, but Jordan will accommodate guests if they can phone ahead and reserve.
It’s open for supper Thursday and Friday but shuts down at four Monday to Wednesday and Saturday and closes on Sundays.
Jordan and Regehr promote the restaurant on highway signs and maintain a website and Facebook page, citing the low cost and effectiveness of social media. They are content to stay the course but plan to sell before they burn out.