The Family Restaurant That a Family's Life is Building in Souris, PEI
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a family effort to keep a restaurant growing and serving their community.
Such a family is growing a restaurant community in Souris, PEI, meet Donnie and Jacqueline Aitken of the Bluefin Restaurant, and Black Rafter Lounge. The Aitkens have enjoyed the support of their four now adult children, plus a stream of visitors passing through, as well as their community region located on Prince Edward Island's eastern coastal shore.
The Bluefin Restaurant is a family-casual restaurant. It is also the last food stop when taking the daily vehicle ferry to, or from Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, at Souris (pop. 1,200).
The 90 seat Bluefin Restaurant celebrated 40 years of continuous service to the community of Souris in 2015, and for the last ten-year period has been operated by the Aitkens.
"We took over the restaurant ten years ago, and it was already a success. So we did not try and fix anything that was already working as a restaurant business. We keep to the same success formula today", says Jacqueline.
"We serve lots of seafood fresh from the area on our menu, and we cater to local customer tastes. Our most popular menu item is our generous portion-sized Fish and Chips plate. We bread our fish, and it is not deep fried".
"Our customers appreciate a good hearty meal, and so we serve a large plate of food for their appetite. We make everything we serve, and we have our own bakery on site. We bake all our own pies, biscuits, and bread", says Jacqueline.
"We get a lot of comments from customers on the quality and quantity of our seafood chowder, which is made entirely from scratch in our kitchen. Our Customers love it and tell us often that they prefer it".
"When there is a downtime in customer traffic, we all work on the preparation recipes, because cooking everything from scratch adds a lot of labor and time for us. The advantage of scratch cooking for our business is that a better product is going to sell more. We get a lot of positive comments in the restaurant, and on the media. (Recent posts in TripAdvisor highlight customer comments.)
“LUNCH BEFORE THE BEACH”
￼Reviewed 6 days ago Margaret O (Visited July 2016)
"While in Souris to search for beach glass with my cousin from Ottawa we ate at the Blue Fin for the first time. I liked how it has a beach feel to it inside the restaurant. The staff was very friendly, and we both ordered the fish sandwich and was very happy with it. It was the special of the day, and it was delicious." Trip Advisor
For the Aitkens, the days are long but rewarding. Donnie Aitken manages the Lounge's bar service next door to the Bluefin Restaurant. Currently, their youngest daughter is a line cook in the restaurant, continuing in the tradition of her older sisters. Her two sisters are now working as nurses, and their brother is working on a career outside the restaurant.
"Our business hours are long from 6 am to 10 PM daily.
We are fortunate to have a steady traffic of locals and visitors, because of the daily ferry service to the Madeleine Islands. We employ up to 40 staff in season and half of that number in our off-season."
"I always wanted to have a business of my own. I spent the previous 18 years to buying this restaurant, working as a head cook for another Island restaurant. I have worked my way up from the start of my foodservice career and picked up my cooking skills along the way. "
"From my youth, my passion was and is to own a restaurant business. I took the time to study business in school and then had my children. When this restaurant became available to purchase, my husband and I decided to do it as a team. Donnie takes care of the bar, and I manage the food operation along with our staff."
"There is a hard reality to the restaurant business. You are buying yourself a job. The job of restaurant owner does not meet the minimum wage hourly rate for the amount of time that it takes from your life. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep up with the fast pace of a restaurant. Still, I love it."
"When I am asked by friends why I do this job with the pressures and long hours with little vacation time, my answer is simple. If I worked for a corporation, they would be renting my time and body. Instead, I am building an investment for my time, and when I am ready, I will sell my personal mortgage of time to the next owner. This is an investment that I get back, instead of a handshake and maybe some pension if I was in the public service."
"Not everyone I know thinks this way. But, this is how I view working for less money per hour now, so I can have a real pension to live on when the time to sell comes," says Jacqueline.
"I have three grandchildren, with one more on the way. There will come a day when I will step away from the counter and turn over a successful restaurant business to another owner. This is a real investment to me."
"I was fortunate to be grandfathered into UNIPCO when I took over the business. I did leave the membership for a period. I lost so much money during the time when I did leave that I asked to return. I came back to UNIPCO and will never leave again, or tell anyone else to leave or experiment with other suppliers. On your own, you are on your own with every problem."
"Today, if I need help, I call Dave Farrell (UNIPCO Member Representative), and he takes care of any problems that I may have. UNIPCO totally understands any issue that I have, and they immediately help me with it. The whole crew there (UNIPCO) are great to work with" says Jacqueline.