The prize winners of the Win This Space competition in Burk's Falls will start their one-year free lease at the Burk's Falls Welcome Centre this Victoria Day weekend. That's when Rob Taylor and Tim Pettigrew open their Pulled Smokehouse Welcome Centre Cafe at the centre, where they will provide a variety of food to area residents and tourists in addition to informing them about the tourist attractions and points of interest in the Almaguin Highlands. In conjunction with several partners, Burk's Falls ran the competition several months ago as a means to help grow entrepreneurship in the community. Taylor and Pettigrew are no strangers to the food industry and their specialty is food trucks. They own the Picnic Bistro in Huntsville and Big Doe Pizza Co. in Katrine. The food business that will be run from the Welcome Centre is actually one the partners operated at Doe Lake Beach as a food truck last year. They transferred that concept to the Welcome Centre, created a new name and are adding more food varieties that will be prepared at the centre. But Katrine area residents who enjoyed the food truck at Doe Lake last summer aren't losing out. “We will still have a presence there,” Taylor said. “We're finishing up another food truck and it will feature food items like gourmet grilled cheese and tacos. We're calling it Cheesy Rider. And the food truck we had there last year will become a mobile catering vehicle for us.” Pettigrew is the man behind the recipes and business names. He has an extensive background in food preparation and with Taylor has also helped open restaurants in the past. Taylor, 47, and 49-year-old Pettigrew met 30 years ago when both were working at a diner in Huntsville, with Taylor washing dishes and Pettigrew cooking. The business partnership was more recent and includes a third member, Trevor Lee. Several years ago Taylor left the restaurant business and did sales for about five years. “But I wanted to get back to my restaurant roots,” he said, adding COVID made that possible. “The industry changed during COVID. That seemed like an opportunity for us. Food trucks were no longer chip trucks and the necessity for food pickup and outdoor dining was on.” During the first year of the pandemic, the partners opened their Picnic Bistro in Huntsville. Pettigrew, who lives in Toronto but has a cottage in Gravenhurst and parents in Huntsville, was off for the summer and came onboard as the Picnic Bistro's chef. “We had an awesome season,” Taylor said. “Tim came back for a second summer and we created a partnership opening the pulled pork barbeque truck at Doe Lake.” Pettigrew has created a quick serve concept with the partners' food business. Taylor, who will handle the business end, says the Welcome Centre has indoor dining for 12 to 14 people, a patio with seating capacity for 28 people and several picnic tables on the Welcome Centre grounds that overlook the local waterfall. He says people can stay and eat at the site or order “grab and go” meals and even order family meals they can take home and reheat. The Welcome Centre has a basement with a large kitchen. Taylor says this is where all the cooking takes place not only for the people eating at the Welcome Centre but also preparing food for the businesses in Katrine and Huntsville. Although the Welcome Centre business name refers to pulled pork, Taylor says there is plenty of food variety. In addition to the pulled pork, the kitchen staff will also prepare meals involving foods like briskets, chicken and turkey. “We are also baking our own bread, making our dressings, vinaigrettes, soups and salads as well as sauces,” he said. “People can also buy our sauces and cook their own versions of our food in their homes.” Taylor lives in Katrine and has a large vegetable garden plot where he will grow some of the food that shows up at the partners' businesses. Over the last several weeks, the pair have been renovating the Welcome Centre themselves with some outside help. The ground floor has a small kitchen in the back to handle the food prepared in the larger basement kitchen and the seating area will feature a large wall mural that surrounds a circular window. The mural is called Blue Grey Hidden Bird which depicts trees set against a grey sky background. Taylor says he's still trying to find the hidden bird. In keeping with the nature theme, the interior also has a solid walnut panel that Taylor and his father-in-law built. The panel holds a sheet of poured resin which includes natural birch saplings that were placed in the resin during the pour and are now embedded between the resin layers. After the lease for the first year is up, there is a three-year extension for the partners to continue at the Welcome Centre. But they're hopeful the business will be successful enough that they can stay well after the extension. The municipality will supply the tourist-related information and during the summer the Welcome Centre will be open seven days a week. Once it closes for the season, Taylor and Pettigrew want to continue to offer food at the site. Taylor says the hours will be shortened and the facility will be open for fewer days. When fully operational during the summer, the business may employ about 12 people. The Win This Space competition had a second component involving $5,000 donated for leasehold improvements and rent. The winner of this Ontario Street storefront was Cheryl Neale. Neale opens her Custom This Apparel and Gifts shop in July.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget