By Janet Davies
The square white building at the corner of Corey and Main has been a focal point in Bloomfield for generations. 257 Main Street housed County Magazine and the local bank for decades. Before that it was a grocery store, so it’s always been a very public place, and the new owners Laura Borutski and Elliot Reynolds wants to keep it that way, with their Restaurant Bloomfield Public House. They ran the popular Hubb Eatery at Angeline’s for 5 years, before opening the Bloomfield Public House.
“We want it to be a neighbourhood spot,” says Laura. “I think we have breathed new life into a good old space.” She’s not kidding. When they took possession in spring 2018 it needed more than a lick of paint. For one thing the floor was on two different grades, 14 inches in some spots. “We did a lot of fixing,” says Laura. “But there were no structural issues, it just needed a bit of love and a lot of elbow grease.” Elliot is more pragmatic. “It’s a super solid building, we took it right back to the concrete walls and did some minor concrete repairs – but still made it look natural as we could. The two-bedroom apartment upstairs was empty for over 10 years and needed some attention. So we just stripped it all down to see what we had, how we could make it work, where to put the kitchen and how to get a good flow & distinction between the coffee shop and the dining room.
Laura says “When we saw how the light pours in upstairs and saw the view of the giant Manitoba Maple (largest tree in Bloomfield – ask Peta Hall) through the window, we decided to open up the second floor, and we pulled it up board by board. We saved the joists boards, which are now repurposed flower boxes on the patio.” Having opened later in the season in 2018 they now can’t wait for the good weather to come again. “The garage door on the front of the building is a great addition for the coffee shop & front patio,” says Elliot. “We’ll open it up as soon as we can, so we’re open to the street. It gives a great indoor/outdoor feel and very inviting for people to come in.”
Their demo work revealed industrial materials, steel, concrete, old wooden beams – even the original bank vault – which they preserved. “We planned to turn the vault into a meat curing chamber,” says Elliot. “But yanking a three thousand pound door out of the wall seemed a little much to say the least. If it went through the floor we’d be in trouble, so we left it as is.” They discovered a second vault in the basement and turned that into a walk-in fridge. “It’s 16 inches of poured concrete and rebar, very sturdy,” says Laura and adds wryly, “But that’s the first and last walk-in fridge we’ll retrofit together. It was two weeks of hard labour, very hard work, but a perfect use of space.”
“I always wanted to build an authentic stone smokehouse,” says Elliot. “But it had to be practical, and we had to be able to use it & not just admire it.” So they built it at the west side of the building & integrated it into the patio, with the idea it would act as a constant to utilize weekly with their menu development through the seasons. It has 2 separate chambers, one for cold smoking & one for hot smoking. This gives them the ability to do anything from a delicate cold smoked salmon, ribs, county smoked ham, & farm stand vegetables from our neighbouring farmers. They plan on using it for outdoor events & cookouts through the calendar year as well. Retail items are in the works as well.
“Not being ready to open until mid-autumn was a blessing in disguise,” Laura reflects. “It meant we could work out the kinks, sort out staffing and find our feet without having to cope with peak season crowds.” It also let them reintroduce themselves to the community. “We never closed off the windows or hid the space away. The whole village was interested in the progress of our renos,” she laughs. “There was always people coming and going, and being very interested in the progress & plans. We really didn’t want to rush or scramble, but tried to keep a tight schedule anyways. We took our time with the design and the business, to make sure we were doing as much to benefit the property, and to do it right. When the busy season hits we’ll be firing on all cylinders.” Laura confides that she has the occasional workmare. “It’s like a nightmare but it’s all about work!” she laughs. “But we’re excited for the summer.”
The exposed concrete walls and eclectic wood furnishings have a strong County aesthetic, and the open kitchen adds a fun dynamic. You can sit at the bar and watch them cook. The floor to ceiling menu chalkboards are stylish and fun but completely practical. “They’re organizational tools for us,” says Elliot. “They connect the customers to our kitchen, you may see our order lists, upcoming features, ideas we have working on, all up there, it’s great, it starts conversations and involves everybody.” The old apartment upstairs has been opened up and turned into a venue space for private functions, dinners, corporate meetings, and short term commercial opportunities, it can comfortably accommodate 30 people. “It’s good, usable space and a blank canvas that can be configured for whatever the needs are,” says Laura. “We’re lucky in Bloomfield to have the Baxter building and the town hall for bigger groups. It allows us to offer a smaller & more intimate space.”
“Dorothy Fraleigh is Bloomfield’s unofficial historian and she has been so gracious to us,” says Laura. “As soon as we purchased the building, we went to see Dorothy to see if she had any old photographs of the building. She gave us her pictures to use and a whole lot of insight into the history of Bloomfield.” Inspired by the old photos, local artist Stewart Jones sketched charcoal illustrations onto the concrete walls, and an 8-foot mural of a little girl peering down main street Bloomfield from long ago. “There are sketches of a little boy, a bicycle, a plane,” says Laura. “We’ve got a blacksmith on the safety deposit box. We’re recycling the village’s history, giving it a breath of fresh air, and we’re giving those old pictures new life in a different sort of way, instead of just copying and framing them. I really like the vibe it gives the room.”
They have taken advantage of their visibility by emblazoning their name in bold black letters that run around the corner of the white building. “It’s a very simple structure,” says Elliot. “Just a white box really, so the lettering really stands out. We’re happy with what we’ve done so far here, so we’ve put a proud stamp on it.” Having done the demo work themselves they got help with the rebuild, and one of the key people in re-imagining the building was Sam Elbadawi of Structural Anomoly. “Sam did a great job of helping us with designing the flow of the interior.
“Our food program” Elliot says, “will be really diving in to define what “county cuisine” is – we are here in PEC one of the richest and storied agriculture areas in Ontario, so let’s celebrate that. The current focus is taking ideals from the past, and bringing them to the forefront. We look at what the county used to be known for (canning industry, fishing, agriculture, grain production, etc.), we also look at what it gives us every year naturally (foraged ingredients, ripe crops, full pastures) and what was common place for a resident to have on their homestead to feed their families (stone smoker, open fire pits, preservation techniques, cellaring vegetables). If we take these ideals, we can establish a starting point for our menu planning, not only for the seasons, but for our kitchen team.”
“We didn’t get the chance to lay products down last year, but we will use fermented vegetables and cellared roots next winter. I’m in favour of menus that continually change, not everything, but that are in season. If we can’t get tomatoes down the road from our farmers – they won’t be on the menu, that’s our credo and it’s worked out for us so far.”
“We decided to do “all day dining”, meaning we are open all day with one menu during lunch & dinner service. There will always be additions to our dinner service that differentiate it from lunch, such as; our oyster bar, dinner features ex. half smoked rabbit, cote de boeuf for 2. The menu is divided into bar snacks, small plates, and petit entrees. “The focus is on highlighting the flavours behind each dish, and doing something a little different,” says Elliot. “It’s important to keep things moving & evolving.”
“It’s motivating for our staff to say “what do we want to cook?” We all think seasonally and are committed to where we want to see our food evolve to, but we are conscious, too. And we don’t want be so left field that nobody shows up to the restaurant!”
“As we look forward to the upcoming patio season, our open air fire pit, will be in full swing, with small plates straight off the open fire – outside of course.” says Elliot.
“For us, it’s all about being accommodating,” says Laura. “Guest interaction has always been the face of our business approach, it makes people want to be there (the restaurant). I guess you could say it’s us just wanting to give an authentic experience, and for us it’s expected, so we like to refer to it as “rural hospitality””.
“Using a large percentage of county wines, beer & spirits has always been high on our priority list, they deserve to be talked about, featured, and appreciated – it’s a part of our process when creating our beverage menus, and its important to support our producers, this is how it goes!!” Laura explains.
“We came to Prince Edward County almost 10 years ago now full time, and what grabbed us right away was the “charm” says Laura, just the natural conversations with locals, everybody was always really happy & excited to see you, and to tell their story!! I think it’s always been the people and their stories that made have PEC what it is today, and I think that speaks volumes not only for an agri-tourism destination, but a region that is really selling an experience – they go hand in hand Elliot notes. Even being an “almost local (Stirling)”, and growing up & going to school in the area, PEC was not a high tourism area yet, so it‘s taken some time to grow up itself, but once you come and experience the area, you know why it’s such a special place.”
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