Lance Calvert and Ashley Inglis both grew up in the Quinte area. Ashley went away to study in Kingston, Lance had gone to Toronto, and they met each other when they both moved back three and half years ago. They were both working in the hospitality business, Ashley in a restaurant in Trenton, Lance part-time at the Drake Devonshire in Wellington. Lance tells us how they came to be cooking Latin street food in a winery in The County.
“I’ve had a passion for cooking all my life. I’ve travelled through Central and South America and Mexico, and I lean towards Latin food. When I came back to The County, I had a small import and wholesale business with my sister but I really wanted to try something new, and Ashley was ready for an adventure and we wanted to work together. We thought about getting a food truck, but then we met Mike Traynor. He was excited by our ideas – and our food. He wanted to offer food at his winery but couldn’t handle it all himself, so he suggested rather than spend money on a food truck, we could put together an outdoor kitchen with him at Traynor Family Vineyard and run it as our own separate operation. We did, and it’s going great.
We had to get all our permits in place for the outdoor kitchen. The fire inspector makes sure everything is up to code, the health inspector has to approve our food prep, cooking temperatures and hand washing stations, and then there’s the TSSA inspector (Technical Standards and Safety Authority) to make sure all equipment is working properly. We are classified as a portable barbecue and the permit process was straightforward. I’ve heard it can be more involved, getting permits for a food truck.
Our food is based on classic Mexican – with a twist. I have eaten and learned about local foods in so many different places. I worked on a cruise ship for a while and I have backpacked around Central America,. Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina. I’ve experienced a lot of great food and I go to cooking classes and do as much cooking as I can when I’m away. Our tacos include apple braised pork shoulder and five-spice-marinated chicken. It’s Latino street food, using as many local ingredients as possible. We’ve got sides like roasted corn salada and yuca fries served with some really good crema. You can wash it down with a white wine margarita. We change it up to keep it interesting.”
Ashley takes up the story. “I’m not from The County but close by, from the Bayside area in Trenton. But I’ve got to say I love everything about The County. I’m not a morning person but these days I wake up and know I’m coming here to the Cantina and it’s wonderful. There is so much going on here, you’re never bored – well not in summer. I love all the wineries, and people in the hospitality business here are so helpful to each other. There really is a great sense of community. I’m amazed how restaurants recommend each other and send people to us – Rosehall Run and The Drake do it a lot – and we do the same for them. Like you’re eating here today but do go and try this place tomorrow.”
Lance continues, “We wanted to do something different. There are already some some great pizza patios at the wineries, Terracello, Norm Hardie, County Cider. So we went with something ethnic, which is still a bit missing in The County. Latin food is what we love, so this is a natural for us. We love Latin culture, the people, the food, and we celebrate it the best we can with our own food. In winter we go to Latin America, to Mexico or Cuba. But this winter we might stay here. We haven’t done any big catering events yet, other than feeding groups of 20 who call ahead, we are still pretty new. But we could stay and do pop-up events and maybe some catering. On the other hand we might just decide to run off to Belize for the winter!
We are tweaking things in our first season. You notice what works and what doesn’t. We’re finding it easier now to gauge day to day how much food we need. Our first weekend we had no idea what to expect and it was BUSY. It was a bit of a shock because we didn’t have a soft opening, we jumped right in. Now word of mouth and social media is spreading the word for us. Instagram in particular. People like to share pictures of delicious food. We’ve had bachelorette parties where the girls share pictures of something they’re really enjoying and their friends join in and say “Yeah, let’s go there next week!”
Instagram is like the best thing to happen to the restaurant industry. You can explain how good the food is all day long, but when you actually see a dish, it really gets your interest. It’s inspiring for us, too, if we see things we like, we try them at home and then incorporate them into our menu.
Our location is great on the Danforth Rd. A lot people enter The County this way and of course all the people touring the wineries. We’re close to Norm Hardie, Hinterland, Closson Chase. It can be hungry work trying all that wine! People see our big open sign and know they can drop in and eat. It’s great visibility for us, and we love it at Mike’s place. His wines are good, his reputation is growing and we’re pretty like-minded about business. He’s a great guy and it’s a good collaboration.”
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