Ottawa Magazine declared it was “a big loss to the local chef community” when Paul Dubeau left Ottawa to join Tony Deodato & Sons in Kingston. Working for that venerable company (purveyors of top quality fruit and veg for almost 100 years) Paul traveled often to Prince Edward County with Zach Deodato. “I was always blown away by the beauty of this place, and particularly the waterfront property in Wellington that Zach owned. It has been a restaurant a few times, but it had been empty for quite a while. I was acting as a consultant to help Zach lease it out, but then we said “Hey, let’s do it ourselves!” We work well together and we make great business partners. We see eye to eye on things, especially the ethics of business. It was no-brainer, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m back in the restaurant business with North Docks!
THE FOOD: I work very closely with our chef. In my career I mostly did fine dining, but the food here is more casual. When I was executive chef at the Clocktower Group in Ottawa, my friend the owner would say “Everybody deserves a pint and a burger,” and he made sure there was always a price point that everyone could enjoy. All the restaurants in this location have been local eateries. I think people expected this time it would re-open as an upmarket, expensive place, but we want to keep it a popular community spot, with reasonable prices. Having said that, our first summer showed us what the clientele wants, and we are going to elevate the menu a bit. Keep it casual – the club sandwich, the wings, the burgers will stay – but we’ll go lighter, more colourful, sort of a California beach style with more seafood next summer. Right from the start we said we would evolve. We’re listening to our clients. You have to do that anywhere, but especially in The County. You have to get here and find out what people want. I see a lot of places that started as one thing and evolved into something else. We’re taking feedback and getting constructive suggestions. The locals have been good to us, they’ve got opinions! Tourists told us what they’d like, too. We need more children’s food. We’ve come in with good simple food and we’re taking it from there, keeping the favourites and evolving from there. I had eaten in the last restaurant before it closed, but it was in rough shape. We had to gut the whole place. But the upstairs had already been turned into a vacation rental and it’s beautiful, huge. Sleeps about 12 people and really takes advantage of the location on the harbour.
ADAPTING TO THE COUNTY: I’m very aware that I’m an outsider, of course I am. We come here from somewhere else, and we visit and love it and if we’re luck we move here. And people really are welcoming. But we don’t really know this place when we first move in. The community is tight. There is a little apprehension about too many tourists, and they look at newcomers to see if you’re going to announce, “Well this is MY place now, and I’m going to change things around here.” We try hard to learn what people want from us. We didn’t have fish and chips at first but there was an overwhelming number of requests, so now we do. Okay that was my bad! It was an obvious choice for a waterfront restaurant, but it’s not that simple. It’s a small kitchen and you have to do fish and chips properly. You need a dedicated fryer and I wasn’t going to do it unless I could do it well. I’m not going to serve mediocre fish and chips. We altered the menu so we could do it.
You come here for weekends, taste the wine, go to the beach and it’s fantastic. Then you move here and discover there’s a whole lot more. It’s an amazing, tight knit community that’s been here a long time. To us it’s new territory, the new wine region, the new vacation destination. Sometimes we forget The County’s culture goes back like 250 years. A gentleman, Herb Cooper, visits us once a week. He was a high school history teacher, his family were fishermen, lighthouse keepers, and he tells us amazing stories. I want to live in The County, but I couldn’t find anywhere, so I took a place in Belleville. Affordable accommodation is a problem right now, it affects business because we can’t always get staff. I’ve been very vocal about this. We’ve got to get it figured out.
North Docks is a main sponsor for The Dukes. If you’d told me five years ago I’d have my restaurant name on a hockey rink board, I would not have believed you! We’re on their jerseys! We give discounts to Dukes players. We’re fans! We’re just down the road and we can accommodate them at the big horseshoe bar.
I want to keep my prices attractive and I also want to offer a living wage to my staff. It’s a balancing act. I’ve been blessed with great people this summer, they’ve been loyal, and it can be a bit cutthroat in this business. I’ve been lucky, and I guess people have been happy. For winter, I’m offering really good value, warming food. We aim to take care of the locals who want to hunker down and stay put. It’s cold, we’re so close, they can come and relax with soup and a sandwich. No big deal. I want to be a little escape from routine that won’t break the bank.
FUTURE PLANS: I’m doing the Ambassador Training with Rebecca Lamb. I want to do everything I can to be part of the community. I want people to know I’m here and feel free to ask me to help. I like running my own business – I can make the decisions and take opportunities. We sponsored The Festival Players play, A Beautiful View. That felt good and the play was fantastic. I have always wanted to do the right thing and now I am actually calling the shots. I mentioned ethics and I’m serious about that. Respect in the restaurant business is huge in the media now. I’ve had to deal with those issues in my career. This industry can get a little crazy, and we’re totally onboard with No Tolerance policies. We made our own handbook that works for us. I believe in nurturing staff, so everybody feels comfortable and at home and that they can talk to me. Restaurants can be high pressure, but getting snippy doesn’t help. I am strict about that. You don’t lash out at co-workers. I want everybody to have a good time in our restaurant – the customers and the staff.
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