Former Movie House Marquee Features Food Fare
Independent restaurant owners in Canada often have interesting stories to tell about the how and why of their entry into the foodservice industry.
Those same restaurant owners frequently say they live to serve customers with their food artistry skills. An example of this desire to serve customers with his personal best effort is John Bartlett, of Nova Scotia's Capitol Pub.
The Capitol Pub is anchored in the farming community of Middleton, (pop. 1,800) deep into the agricultural farming region of the Annapolis Valley (pop. 123,000+).
John explains how he came to own and operate a pub themed restaurant featuring a large neon-lit, former movie house marquee looming over his front entrance. John says that in warm weather he fires up the original neon signage for the entertainment of his guests.
What is less visible but still a unique feature is the remaining jail cell anchored in his restaurant's basement from an earlier building use as Middleton's Town Hall on Main Street. Makes for interesting conversation with first-time visitors. More of the history of the building housing the Capitol Pub is available here.
John served in the Canadian Armed Forces enjoying a career as a military chef until 1997. He was posted to the Royal Military College, where he learned how to be a chef “because of the people we served and the food we prepared”. Along the way, John attained his Red Seal Chef designation.
What caught John's eye for his new civilian life was the then Capitol Lounge and Grill. He purchased the business and renamed the business as the Capitol Pub. He has operated the restaurant-pub for the past eight and half years. "We are doing well today, but I keep asking my staff to think of ways we can do things better for the customer," says John.
"We were able to locate a 1944 movie theater era movie projector, which we have on display in the restaurant. We also have movie posters from that time displayed on the restaurant walls. The community movie house operation closed in 1999".
"We prepare and cook everything we can on our menu in house. I have a kitchen manager Michelle Friel who leads a great team for our featured menu recipes. Michelle has been with us for the last two years. Megan Giffin is our bar manager, and she has been with us for five years. Megan maintains our Facebook page, which promotes our menu specials and community events.
"Aside from our attention to food quality, my recipe for my restaurant success is to focus on retaining my current staff. We have a full and part-time staffing totaling 13. Our staff is the face of the restaurant to our customers. The restaurant is licensed for 150, and we have 110 seats available with 25 more during the patio season outside on the sidewalk."
"I invest a lot in a retention strategy for our staff. Even though we are a small operation, I cost share health care for staff members as an employee benefit. The money I spend on the health care benefits package is a good investment. I think our program is a game changer for us."
"Foodservice staffing is a problem all over the country. This is especially true in rural areas like ours, so keeping the staff you have is critical, in my opinion,” says John.
"As a team, we keep our menu updated and responsive to our customer's food preferences. Our staff focus is on our customers and their satisfaction with the quality of our food. We work a lot on staff training. We challenge each other to be a better food experience for our customers."
"To me, staff attitude and personality are the brand experience of any restaurant. The staff service quality is as much the restaurant brand, as is the food itself. By retaining staff, I deliver a better food product and a better customer experience. This continuous improvement happens because the staff gets to know the customer and a good relationship develops. Our food product quality and our menu server experience strive for consistency as a brand.
"If you think about the big corporate brands, one of the keys to their success is consistency. If it is good for them, it is good for us. Our goal is for the customer ordering our popular Capitol Burger, to have a great food experience. The product on their plate should be the same as the first time they ordered it. The customer's food experience should be the same, regardless of who cooked it, or who served it."
Product consistency and our community support is our restaurant success strategy," says John.
The Capitol Pub offers free Turkey Dinners on Christmas Day. John says as a group they believe that no one should be without a special meal on Christmas Day. Staff raises Wish List funds to support up to seven families at Christmas, including assembly of donated items for Christmas hampers provided to those in need.
During the rest of the year, the restaurant is involved in many community fundraisers and events. There are sports team support events, and during summer we help deliver a community Beer Garden. "We support the people who support us. We have a great sense of community here", says John.
"Our menu fare is varied for our wide customer base. We have a large-size, beer battered Fish and Chips, which is very popular. We offer breakfast all day. We serve a seven -ounce fish dinner that customers like for its generous portion size. Our Capitol Burger is a popular item. We buy as much local fish product as we can from Digby and nearby coastal areas. We also source out as much local produce as we can to support our local farm and fishing community."
"I have been with UNIPCO for a year and a half. Since April (2016), there has been a great improvement in delivery and everything else. UNIPCO has always dealt with me fairly. They accepted my criticism when I had some, and they have made sure that they made things right", says John.
"We are always working on how we can make things better for the customer. As a restaurant business, we are still a work in progress. We are doing all right as a business today, but we are also constantly asking ourselves, how can we do better? Today, we are focused on our next menu and how we can improve it for our customers”.