By MAGGIE M, Editor, the wedge.LIVE FYI: Sharing Buttons incl. Facebook at end of story
This writer’s trek through the Ottawa Valley continues with the wedge‘s farthest destination in its northwest boundary–a second trip into the city of Pembroke and its close friend, the village of Cobden. Now, we feature some of its leading personalities and their courageous exploits.
On my first stop, I met Chris Thompson and Chris Thompson (yes, they have the same name), Co-Founders of Whitewater Brewing Co.–just in time to catch both for a few dramatic poses. The village of Cobden which houses their second and largest location is by all reports, an emotional extension of Pembroke and vice versa.
“Lakeside,” as they refer to it, was designed by Ottawa architect, Andy Thomson, and built in October 2016. It stands out beautifully on Highway 17, sparkling with red corrugated metal and contrasting, natural wood slats. The first location, “Riverside,” in Forrester Falls, is a retrofitted dairy barn, reportedly “charming and cozy.” This is where the story began in 2011. In just six years, the evolution of Whitewater Brewing is worthy of a yet-to-be-written bestseller.
While the two Thompson’s bare the same name, there is no familial relationship. They identify themselves by their height. The tallest of the two raced out for an appointment while I stayed on to be hosted by the “less tall” Thompson.
Our time ticked away seated at the bar, discovering Farmer’s Daughter, Whistling Paddler, Class V, Midnight Stout, Legion Lager, and Gilmour KLR 93, all distinctive Whitewater creations. A tasting paddle was nicely laid out in branded glasses. Hops and grains were spread out on the bartop to appreciate their progeny. Beautifully printed cards detailed each beer’s highlights: body, colour, aroma and hops. Thompson patiently detailed their processes, ingredients, flavors and customer preferences with each sip.
“Can you taste the grapefruit?”, he asked as I sipped Class V. It has a light combination of malted barley, coupled with the citrus aroma of hops making this hoppy beer truly distinct and refreshing. (Class V and Farmer’s Daughter are available at LCBO, beer and licensed grocery stores.) “Have you got some bread to go with that?”, I implored, knowing my marathon could end quickly–and embarassingly.
We went in and out of official business during our time together. I was deeply touched by the story behind their difficult start in 2011. I rarely hear of such unusual determination to succeed. Thompson remembers those days, eyes cast down, the struggle visible in his expression for a few moments. How many among us would suffer through sleeping in their cars and eating grains for the survival of their business? Not many, if any.
“We now employ ninety-seven,” Thompson exclaims, perking up. (Whitewater is one of Cobden’s largest employer.) There is noticeable surprise in his tone–having made it this far. I was awestruck by this young man who defies his, “fourty years plus.” His sensitivity to all around him was palpable. Those difficult years seem to have kindled exceptional empathy for others–perhaps gratefulness.
Whitewater have clearly cracked the molecule of success: make a connection to everyone who enters their domain, known and unknown. Their mantra is on everything from coasters to cans, “Brewed by Friends For Friends.”
The Lakeside location at 7,300 square feet houses an expansive eatery with a performance stage. It was hopping at 11:00 a.m. long before lunch. And the place filled up before I left at 12:30 p.m.
The real show goes on behind glass where you can watch brewers in action. Several 7,000 litre tanks, gleaming and spotless, are an impressive sight. This is a company to watch–and to write about.
On the road again, I arrived at the Pig & Pint Public House, formerly JJ’s–for 40 years–on the main drag, east of Downtown Pembroke. Terry Kluke bought the place in 2016 and re-branded it, reopening July 10th, 2017. This young man is one of the most recent entrants participating in the renaissance of Pembroke.
Kluke is accredited as a “Red Seal” cook, having graduated from culinary school at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology), Edmonton, Alberta. He was formerly a Chef in the oil fields at Cold Lake, weapons range. It was very much, “meat and potatoes,” he agrees. In 2016, he returned to his hometown to start his first business.
Cold Lake informed the Pig and Pint’s current menu with a fare that “coats the ribs”. The menu is “two-thirds pork,” he says. “I have eaten pork raw,” he adds, “because it is so regulated, it is safe.” I have heard and partaken of steak tartar; but never, pork tartar, so-to-speak. Kluke speaks boldly of the foodservice business and local food sourcing. He is a dichotomy between bold and gentle.
The towering “Big Boar”–the most popular item– was served to me as my taste-test: bacon, seared side-pork, aged cheddar, beef burger patty (25% pork), lime aioli, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, on a bun. It is perhaps the most delicious burger I have ever devoured.
Live music enthralls diners five nights a week. On Wednesdays anyone can jam; Thursdays is Uptown Blues Night; Fridays and Saturdays, strictly locals perform; Sundays are for songwriters.
Kluke was moved when a male customer gave him a fatherly hug and said, “You make this place a home.” This outcome drives him to work long hours. “I can’t wait to get here each morning and get to work,” were his last words.
I had never heard of “balsamic-on-demand” until I met Tracey Dean, Founder of The Urban Gourmet. This artisanal gourmet shop carries traditionally aged balsamic–in this case, eighteen years–in “sixty odd flavours.” This is not the balsamic vinegar–a variant of white vinegar from the factory. So, I learned.
I was astonished by Dean’s depth of knowledge of her niche. It’s no surprise, Veronica Foods Co. of Oakland, California, have promoted her to, “Master Sensory Evaluator.” Before her launch, October 2014, the corporation put Dean through her paces to ensure The Urban Gourmet would represent their products expertly.
Dean pivoted from her days in the military to becoming a “sommelier” of balsamic. She is no stranger to exploding IEDs in the heart of conflict in Afghanistan. She is quick to add, she “does not suffer from PTSD” (post traumatic stress disorder.) The bounce in her step and her positive gait are undeniable. (I could credit her Newfoundland roots.)
The Urban Gourmet draws customers from long distances. So much so, it was selected as a key supplier to the Invictus Games in Toronto. Locally, tasting events occur both privately and in the shop, continuously. People can select balsamic suffused with a variety of herbs and spices from rosemary to exotic, Baklouti Green Chili Peppers.
A taste test of one of her many balsamics, exclusively from the Trebbiano grape, is an awakening. It was rich, bursting with flavour. A few drops would suffice to flavour a salad. Balsamics can be procured, aged up to two-hundred years; but, the more aged, the higher the price. “Balsamic in the stores is just white vinegar,” Dean discloses, perjoratively.
Dean’s mission also takes olive oil to new heights. The shop dispenses unrefined extra virgin olive oil with varying intensities, mild to robust. “Reeaaal olive oil is actually a fruit juice,” she exclaims. “People think Italy is the origin but olives grow on two hemispheres.”
“Freshness is more important than whether it hails from Italy,” pontificates Dean. (Her eyes roll at any obsession about Italy as the obligatory origin.)
Dean also discloses that “olive oil is the only medically documented oil.” Its healing properties are widely reported and too long to list here (among them, anti-aging.)
Thought-provoking sound-bites pour off Dean’s lips in her presentation. It is a script she knows well–an experience no foodie should miss.
“We are so close, we even spend evenings together,” intimates Noella Stevens, sister to Eileen Malette, Founder, Custom Draperies & Home Decor. These siblings finish each others’ sentences. I imagine that working over three decades together since the business’s foundation would render conversation, telepathic. The love and respect between these two designing women may be the key to their success. Their cheerfulness permeates the atmosphere, three floors saturated in window coverings, bedding and decorative furnishings.
A good chunk of their revenue is blinds: Hunter Douglas, ShadeOmatic, Altex. Chances are, if you’re looking through a window in the region, they’ve dressed it. This company reaches outside of its quarters on the main drag into homes, hotels and businesses up to a one-hundred mile radius. It is ostensibly the ‘go-to’ decorator in the area.
During our time together, I preferred two lamps to be lit for my photo; however, they were without bulbs. Stevens relentlessly scoured the premises with staff to find bulbs. Such is a passion for aesthetics in design.
I later asked Malette–who founded the company in her home basement 35 years ago–where she gets the energy to do so much (she was pricing blinds while replying). “Moringa !,” she bursts, “I drink a Zija smoothie (made from the Moringa tree) every day to get all the nutrients I need.” Meanwhile staff are seeking her attention. “Just tell her I’ll call her back,” she whispers. Her energy is especially noteworthy as a sixty-one-year-old, great grandmother!
We gravitated to bedding in our talk (duvets, duvet covers, sheets…) Malette drew a guffaw from me on her quality statement, “not the stuff from China.”
As I explored the company and its sister company, Ashley Home Store Select, also in Pembroke, it became clear to me, the Malettes are a “homemaking dynasty” in the region.
On the west side of town, another Malette adds to my “home dynasty” narrative. Tessa Malette is the daughter of Eileen Malette (and a grandmother) and Co-Owner, Ashley Home Store Select. The company formed in 2011 as Furniture King, Petawawa, and later, moved to Pembroke in 2015.
The goal was to procure a larger location. She scouted the area and found 12,000 sq. ft. on Matthew Avenue–and re-branded the store. Ashley U.S.A., with 200 locations worldwide, broke with tradition, dispensing with its standard 50,000 sq.ft., and licensed Malette with the first “Select” brand. It was quite a coup. “The size has to fit the market,” Malette says.
A little prodding from myself shifted our conversation from factual to informal. Our exchange may seem odd; but, its nice to learn that you can be amused when you drop serious money for furnishings.
“We are not boring sales people,” Malette says. “Do you sing and dance?,” I replied “Yes, we sing, we dance,” she returned without missing a beat. She is every bit, her mother’s daughter.
The “proof is in the pudding” as they say. Malette did not hesitate to lay down on their Tempur-pedic bed for the wedge armed with a remote control. Apparently, this mezzazine floor sees a lot of horizontal traffic in a calm, restful setting.
I also learned, their sales staff “are not commissioned.” Praise the Lord!
Pembroke’s coffee and tea purveyor is Calla Bean Emporium, Owned and operated by Nicole Montgomery, downtown, smack-dab across the street from Custom Drapery. She moved back home from the west and opened Calla Bean, December 2014. It is quite telling about Pembroke that so many who grew up here are moving back.
“People think tea comes from China, but we source the world for the best teas, Ceylon, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Japan…,” opines Montgomery.
We shifted to the world’s favourite morning “jump-start”: coffee. I noted on the shelves, Equator, headquartered in Almonte. The co-founder sources the world, spending months in places like Africa for the best beans. Montgomery also stocks Engine House from Eganville–even closer–Muskoka from Huntsville and Barking Barista from Ottawa.
Montgomery glowed in a cerulean blue tunic as she poured me tea from Shanti, Ottawa, steeping for customer sampling. “Serenity” included passionflower, skullcap, lemon balm, oat straw and elderberries–it was smooth and delicious. This is a customer experience that Amazon cannot offer. You will not get taste-a-vision on-line.
The store was well stocked in related items, manual coffee grinders, pour-over coffee makers, French presses, stove-top espresso makers, manual frothers, “stuff that’s different.” I inquired on making a perfect French press. “No more than 3 to 4 minutes, then you press down,” she instructed. Now I know why my coffee is bitter!
The shop has a lot kitchen gadgets for the one who loves to cook: a little bird you stick in a pie to stop the bubbling, “pie bird”; Julienne slicers for Julienne salads; butter keepers; tortilla presses. The foodies will love Hummingbird chocolates–they won “Gold” in the bean-to-bar category. The shelves are stocked with unique, well-sourced specialties.
“We try to source locally,” she affirms. The shelves speak of her support for local success. This political statement is profound and on the lips, hearts of many local operators. This is deep, bred into the bone–untouchable by the impact of Walmart and again, Amazon. Kudos to this woman who feels accountable for her share in Pembroke’s success.
Lisa Borquez stands 5 feet 3 inches, a pint-sized blonde with a demeanor that commands attention from those who cross the threshold at Grey Gables Inn. Her husband, Rigo, stays close-by. They are a tag-team working on several development projects. A keen sense of humour seems to keep this Italian (Lisa) and Spanish (Rigo) couple working beyond their stamina. “Hard work!”, Borquez qualifies as the key to their success.
We were mutually exhausted when we met. Photographing a large bed in the Princess Grace suite at the close of my marathon–without sliding between the sheets for a rest–was a challenge. Yet, we all prevailed against our members.
The Borquez’s bought the Inn a year ago, a stately mini “castle”, built in 1911, which draws breath from passers-by as they enter Pembroke, from the downtown exit off the 17 highway. “It’s the castle of Pembroke,” she says. “It’s how people refer to the Inn.”
The Grey Gables features eight guest suites, each with a unique moniker: Balmoral, Majestic, Kensington, Tiffany (as in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), Dover, Windsor, The Library (filled with old books and a separate entrance), and Princess Grace. It is the “go to” destination for wedding parties, important “boutique” events and dignitaries accustomed to grand style.
The Inn features the “Tea Room” in the original library, where traditional “high tea” is held during afternoons. As in the early 19th and 20th centuries, this social ritual remains sacrosanct; thus, breakfast and dinner are served in the dining room.
The foyer draws many guests. It’s where they check-in; but, on quiet evenings a crackling fire and the tinkling of piano keys render it a favorite social area.
The Borquez’s already operate the Uxbridge Manor & Spa, near Toronto–for ten years now. While the Grey Gables is their second project, another is already on the way in Downtown Pembroke–and it has everyone bristling with excitement.
They have recently purchased the crumbling theatre on Pembroke Street (it was empty for 30 years) and will re-open it as a dinner theatre on December 24, 2018. “Everyone will attend in long downs and tuxedos,” she envisions. “It will be the talk of the town.” Stage theatre may be just what the city renown for its large, beautiful murals needs to complete the image of a creative arts destination.
The theatre’s redevelopment will ensue the completion of the Grey Gable’s Spa Suite encompassing two rooms. Manicures, pedicures, facials and massages by two registered massage therapists will be popular for Inn guests and local visitors. “It will be ready in two weeks,” she says. It won’t be too long now until locals see this couple on main street plugging at their third project.
Borquez recalls a high-school teacher who challenged her to form a sentence with ten two-letter words which have become her mantra. She later unraveled the puzzle, “If it is to be it is up to me.”