Seeking Perfection: Delivering His Personal Best on Every Plate
Gabrieau’s Bistro is a casual fine dining restaurant that could be a love story around the culture, and creativity of culinary arts, community, and family.
Like any great love story, it starts in the 90’s with Mark Gabrieau, a wandering young chef from Ontario. Working since his early youth in foodservice operations, he travels east to the Maritimes, where he immediately falls in love.
Mark first falls for the general rustic charm of the Nova Scotia town of Antigonish, then, specifically, for a young woman named Karen. Fast-forward and Karen is now his wife and business partner with a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University. Together, they are operating a 65-seat “casual gourmet dining Mark says Karen is the backbone of their fine dining operation; it is a remarkable story of achievement.
Numerous foodservice and hospitality awards and culinary distinction citations follow the launch of the restaurant. Gabrieau’s Bistro’s website lists a significant number of industry honours including 14 consecutive years listed on Where to Eat in Canada.
The other part of the love story is Mark’s genial enthusiasm for the creative food preparation. Mark is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Institute of New York.
In 1998, Mark married Karen, and in 1999, together they launched Gabrieau’s Bistro as a shared adventure of culinary expression. Their Antigonish location is near both the University and the TCH connector to the tourist attraction, “The Cape Breton Trail”, which has helped to build restaurant volume.
“We built this business on serving our customer’s palate in a less formal environment with a variety of choice and a great selection of wines,” says Mark.
“We recently integrated our bar area into our restaurant for customers wanting a relaxing cocktail, or wine drink before their meal.”
“We have been working for a long time at featuring local produce and menu ingredients to highlight Nova Scotia-based producers. We strive to support local producers where and when we can,” says Mark.
Excerpt from Taste of Nova Scotia:
[Mark has seen food trends come and go...but the local movement has been a part of Mark’s philosophy since he first started working in kitchens at the age of twelve].
“I’ve always used local…I just thought that’s what you did because it’s the right thing to do.”
For Mark, eating local isn’t just about maintaining his own acreage, abundant with cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, beans, snow peas, asparagus, heirloom carrots, Swiss chard, spinach, beets, tomatoes, edible flowers and herbs.
[It’s also about employing residents to work in his restaurant and giving back to the community].
Source: Seeking Perfection on the Patio, by Jessie Harold, September 2013, Taste of Nova Scotia.
“Our menu offering is what I call casual gourmet dining. We offer a complex menu of choice in dishes for the discerning palate in a less formal setting.”
“We have also won awards for our extensive wine menu and selection. We have over 400 selections available on our wine list. I believe we have the largest wine list inventory in Atlantic Canada,” he says.
“It is a struggle to be a higher-end dining operation because of the increased costs, including labor costs driven by a higher minimum wage. When you combine higher costs with a weakened regional economy that has never fully recovered from the last recession, it is a real challenge right now.”
“The last two years have been harder for me than the previous six, when the rest of North America was suffering from the recession. Locally, I think we are still in recovery, which makes it harder to keep revenues and margins up, and our costs down.”
“This is where I give much credit to my belonging to UNIPCO for my business success.”
“When you have UNIPCO negotiating the cost-plus-amounts and monitoring price increases, and available rebates on your purchases, it is a real time-saver. Alternatively, you can spend time in your office monitoring costs for too long, and meanwhile you’re losing money out of the front-end operations. UNIPCO saves time and helps you to be a better operator.”
“I spend much less time monitoring pricing, because of having UNIPCO doing it for me. I have been a member of UNIPCO for 15 years, and I have seen it grow. It has proven itself over the test of time. “
Mark is also a big believer and user of social media. He sees social media as a new form of advertising but with a catch.
“With radio or newspaper you paid more money, but they did the creative work, and you paid the bill. Now, with social media it is largely free of costs or purchases, but using social media takes valuable time. Time we don’t have.”
“I think you need to spend the money you used to spend on local media and have a person on staff, or in-house posting to social media and creating promotions.”
Mark, Karen and Gabrieau’s Bistro are gaining lots of positive reviews on all social media platforms. A recent one from Trip Advisor was posted in January 2014. This review is written by noted Cape Breton writer and social commentator, Silver Don Cameron.
He writes, “Still my favourite restaurant. I have been going here for 15 years and still consider it fantastic.
I have gone numerous times in the past month and the consistency of service, food, atmosphere and value is outstanding. What more can I say? Food has flair, the staff (is) excellent and friendly, the atmosphere is gorgeous.
Perfect place for a date, business or just hanging at the bar for tapas. Enjoy!”