By MAGGIE M, Editor, Wedgee-in-Chief, theWedge.LIVE 💜 SHARE buttons at story’s end
I fiddled awhile searching for a descriptive for this town with a musical name. I settled on “cosmopolitan.” It may be a town by size, but it is worldly.
Carleton Place business leaders are affable, cultured, rich in talent and evidently, deep-thinkers. A backdrop of natural beauty, a river flowing through it and a natural trail amplify my notions.
Mark my words, love is in the air. It is a thread through this story–a spontaneous response that surprised and delighted this writer.
The wedge selected seven of its best business leaders featured here, romantically, touchingly and hysterically.
The Grand Hotel
“You are Heathcliff Steve!,” I shouted, guiding Steve Moodie to strike a dramatic pose in his glorious dining room dripping with crystal and the patina of excess. He brooded for the camera, gazing far into the distance, summoning the main character in Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights. It is uncanny that this tall dark man has the perfect name for this romantic brooding figure.
Our feet were on legendary ground in Carleton Place’s acclaimed boutique hotel, a place with centuries of tales, evoking the days of the Victorian author.
This regal building, The Grand Hotel, had its first stone laid in the 1850s and its last, in 1872. It’s had some ups and downs until Rod Scribner, Janice Mathers and Steve Moodie pulled their funds together and bought it.
“I looked at it for twenty years [before buying it],” Rod Scribner said. Clearly, he was smitten.
“They use to call it the Grand Ol’ Lady,” Scribner adds. “Stompin’ Tom Connors played here, and had a romance with its previous owner.” While the stories endure, this edifice is truly grand and there’s nothing ‘ol’ lady-ish’ defining her any longer.
The Grand’s architectural details were restored through Mathers’ skillful eyes. She returned the hotel to its Victorian elegance reminding us of an era in which British aristocracy ruled the day.
Fifteen ‘king’ rooms and a bridal suite accessible by a sweeping staircase and a brass-lined elevator fill its upper floors. Each room is titled with an author’s name. Its owners are evidently passionate about the written word.
You can request the ‘Lewis Carroll’ (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), the Edward Fitzgerald, an English poet, the ‘Matthew Arnold,’ an English poet, the ‘Alfred Edward Houseman,’ an English poet, the ‘Susanna Moodie,’ a Canadian author and early settler in the region, (also Moodie’s great great grandmother,) and the ‘Pauline Johnson,’ a Canadian poet, among several others.
I have visited many bridal suites in my travels–as a storyteller, not a bride. Rarely have I seen one with scale and beauty as this one. It is fitting for a sultan or visiting royals. There are two–not one–sitting rooms added to its sumptuous sleeping quarters. A bride could receive many visitors in this suite before the great tying-of-the-knot.
Below, the dining room and hall can host up to three-hundred-fifty guests with two service bars and entertainment staging.
The Grand can seat two-hundred and fifty guests in elegant form. They would experience the creations of Executive Chef Jordan Forester. He is an unlikely creative as the man is built like an anvil (with permission, I squeezed his arm and there was no give).
You can read the side of his head, three tattooed lines, excerpts that disclose his humble spirit.
You can also read his tantalizing menu featuring chicken liver and foie gras mousse with red currant port wine sauce, and vanilla bourbon creme brulee. This is where Forester channels his higher power.
The public does not have to hold an event to experience The Grand. The dining room is open to the public on days with no private events. Alternatively, the pub below ground opens its outdoor patio in season; so, you can leave the tiara at home.
“Where’s the pickle dish?,” I asked Jan Kittle when I arrived. I learned it is a traditional quilting pattern, the very shape of their logo. “Ah!,” I responded, totally out of my element.
“It resembles two wedding rings,” she explains. “It starts conversations.” The name PickleDish is ostensibly a secret code signalling, ‘real quilters come here.’
The sunlight pierced through the main room’s exquisite stained glass windows in this already colourful Victorian place bursting with bolts of fabric–there was no bad angle for my lens. Some of these fabrics were batiks from Indonesia. Every bolt is 100% cotton.
Memories of my teenage sewing lessons bubbled-up in me. This was a good place.
The PickleDish bristled with the chatter of women enjoying their craft in the rear room. On my way there my eyes landed on a massive digital machine that produces quilt masterpieces.
So the craft is both organic, from the fingers of creators, and also, able to materialize swiftly from thousands of patterns.
Just before my departure, our conversation shifted to Snoop Dogg. It seems he is good friends with renown fabric designer, Tula Pink. You can’t make this up. The store is well-stocked with her beautiful designs. Pink is renown especially in the music industry. She had been an album cover designer–she just changed the media.
Black Tartan Kitchen
“He is so nice,” I heard again and again from my collaborators about Chef Ian Carswell, Founder, Black Tartan Kitchen. While his culinary skills are to be hailed, the affection for this man may be the principal driver to his success.
I met Carswell two days in a row–one for photos, the next to sit-down and get to know him. He did not show me his wings or his halo. Such is humility.
The first day in the kitchen was filled with hilarity. My derriere was almost on the grill–thankfully, my slacks were black. Christian, the sous-Chef, Carswell and I were crammed in a trinity of foodnishness.
For my lunch, Chef prepared rainbow trout, pan seared, with seasoned garden vegetables and crisp potato wedges (my favorite descriptive), plated on beet drizzle and beet dust. Add in a few home grown sprouts for color and you have art on ceramic canvas. Subtle flavors joined every bite of this tender, tasty local fish.
Carswell opened Black Tartan in November, 2016. It was the culmination of a journey that took him from the vineyards of France to the finest kitchen in Helsinki, Finland, the city where his wife studied. Love changes plans always.
His wife Tessa is a local architect–and the designer of this beautiful interior. Already, they have two children and aim to build their future here. Their love of this town is clearly mutual.
“I enjoy going to work every day. I start at 8:30am visiting farms and farmers,” said Carswell. I listened, sipping his filtered water, chomping on real sourdough bread, spread with butter enhanced with duck fat “for flavor.” There is nothing predictable in this restaurant. I trust even the pepper and salt have a story.
“I don’t want to dilute what we are doing here,” he replied when I asked about growing beyond its thirty seats. It’s not a lack of ambition but rather a state of contentment (my words.)
Et Cetera Home
Love was in the air when I arrived at Et Cetera Home located on the main drag downtown. I quickly learned its founders, Jo-Anne and Bart Seaton, are newlyweds–five years new. They could not resist smooching for the camera. When my subjects know what to do, boldly and beautifully, my task is easy.
Her husband “counts the beans” off-hours as he works full-time as an accountant elsewhere. “I’m the creative half of this relationship,” Jo-Anne Seaton says.
Seaton runs this shop filled with artifacts, artisan creations including accessories for women and the main thing, re-purposed furnishings. The colour purple was ever-present when I visited; from where I stood this was worthy of applause. It is a glorious colour, always underused–and my favorite.
“We are a bit of a disposal society,” she adds. This underpins her founding of this place.
Et Cetera is one of the youngest businesses in our story, but the closing chapter in Seatons’ own. “It’s our retirement plan,” Seaton says.
Re-purposing furnishings is the rage in home decor, but another value drives visitors to this place. Seaton features Canadian-made items including VOC-free, mineral/chalk paint from Aspire.
The ugliest furniture can have its Cinderella moment. Seaton uses half the premises to transform commissioned pieces with a brush–not a wand. She also holds classes for do-it-yourselfers.
And each make their way to the rear for transformation right down to knobs and trim. It’s nice to keep dated furniture in the family with a new fresh coat of enduring, colorful paint.
“Sometimes people just walk in with their furniture,” were her last words. I imagined Seaton triaging sideboards, chairs and tables toward her plastic surgery theatre.
Braumeister Brewing Co.
“Why are the walls yellow?”, I asked Rohit Gupta, Co-Owner, Braumeister Brewing Co. “It captures the yellow of Austrian palaces,” he replied. I shared my fondness for the movie, “The Sound of Music,” cast near Salzburg, Austria, and also shot in a yellow palace.
This is when I learned of his surprising past.
This German style or more specifically, Bavarian brewery, is informed by Gupta’s days in Austria. He actually taught high school in Salzburg, and speaks their language, basically German. We chuckled about our mutual days in the region, “it’s beer, sausage and song.” Mine were ever-so-brief; but, I did sit in neighboring Munich’s immense central square and partake of their beer long ago, and traveled through the awesome Austrian alps.
Gupta had just returned from a short visit to New Delhi, India, when I met him for the first time. He seems immune to jet lag. This beautiful young Canadian, born in Toronto and raised in Kanata, is as affable as he is photogenic. His partner, Ravi Gupta, is also his father, absent at the time on an adventure in South America.
Braumeister is the youngest business in our story having just opened its doors, September 2018. The brewery has a capacity of 20,000 litres in eight vats–all visible through glass panes from inside the visitors tap room.
So far, Braumeister features six beer styles and offers four on tap and in cans to walk-in buyers. We conducted a taste-test and resolved that Dortmunder, the German pale ale, was my favorite. I have swung over the years to the more hearty styles.
There were five of us in this taste experience including three jolly, unwitting participants and guests–each had their favorites.
I started with the lighter, ‘Route 21’ (the name of a route Gupta traveled frequently with friends in Austria), a Marzen style. I followed with the ‘Biergarten Blonde,’ a Helles style, then ‘Dortmunder,’ a German pale ale and finally, the dark–not of Krampus legend–‘Krampusnacht,’ a schwarzbier style. The beer is dark but it won’t corrupt your soul.
This is a unique craft brewery supplying restaurants in the region including The Grand Hotel next door. Braumeister opens the door for new pairings and taste experiences.
The Beckwith Kitchen
Again, love was in the air on my last visit of the day. Rob and Kathleen Carpenter, owners of The Beckwith Kitchen, struck an amorous pose, feeding each other their acclaimed butter tarts. They needed no direction.
I mused, maybe it’s in the Carleton Place water.
I met Rob Carpenter many years ago. He was my always cheerful, local butcher. A few years ago he expanded, opening a new retail shop next door. The Beckwith Kitchen is the go-to shop for prepared meals, fresh and frozen.
Refrigerators line both South and North walls with meals prepared from scratch. His wife Kathleen is now a presence over the operations and, wait for it, a former Canadian Food Inspection Agency employee. Food safety is on her mind always and the sparkling, large kitchen proves it.
“Our nine inch pies are reeeaaaally deep and filled with reeeaaaal fruit filling made in our kitchen,” the couple exclaims completing the sentence together. Their tone clearly condemns the shorting of scale and quality by the other bakeries.
“Our meat dishes are looaaaded with meat,” they added.
We had a deep talk about farming, practices, organic, etc… I listened intently. I earned a butter tart so large, I had to wrap it for the road.
“I am a vegan,” I quipped at one point. The facial response was priceless. I bellowed. I am an avowed carnivore seeking grass-fed meats when possible. I left with a chicken dinner which I was happy to pay for. The portions were so large they lasted two days.
“We’re an alternative to McDonald’s,” they add. People succumb to fatigue and time constraints, and make this inferior choice for nutrition often. Homemade meals are ready-to-go in this shop and likely less costly.
I await their drive-thru version!
The shelves are stacked with soups, stews, prepared meals and desserts. Irish stew, cauliflower-asiago soup, loaded potato bacon soup, cabbage rolls, shepherd’s pie, broccoli chicken casserole, lasagna, pot roast dinner, swedish meatballs and mash potatoes, chicken pot pies, chili, beef stroganoff, monkey bread–the list is too long. Are you having a Pavlovian drooling response?
I have to press that I have never seen so many choices from a local quaint shop, fresh and frozen. The Beckwith Kitchen completes me.
My passion is writing, story-telling, discovering, shooting stills and film. The Carpenters fill a huge market demand for people like me, short on time and energy.
The Beckwith Kitchen is five minutes east of downtown (three with a green light), one road east of McNeely, just behind Shoppers Drug Mart in a beautiful strip mall. You will find it.
Sinders Bridal House
The first person I met when I entered Sinders Bridal House was a rather short knight in shining armor standing alongside a mannequin of a bride with no head. It became clear to me that he lopped it off with his sword to bring her down to his size. The humor of the situation is not lost on the owners of this thriving business or its brides-to-be.
On her dress are inscriptions in pen by the brides who have come and gone. Comments like, “I said yes!” and “The Future Mrs.,” cover the entire dress.
Meanwhile, I could hear the giddy chatter of brides on the upper floor. Sinders Bridal House is focused on the bride’s gown. Period.
When you narrow the focus, you master the domain. This is a different direction from the full-service of so many in the bridal business.
“We deliver the dress directly to the bride the day of her wedding,” Stacey Lavergne says. “I’ve even flown to Calgary to with a dress.”
Stacey and Meghan Lavergne are sisters and the third owners of Sinders, founded in 1987. They bought the business in 2014. They also own Rose’s Custom Sewing formerly located across the road (where The Pickle Dish is today).
Stacey Lavergne started at Sinders as a young employee–a seamstress. “It’s a lost art,” she adds. In fact, both sisters are seamstresses undaunted by alterations and the challenges of making a dress fit perfectly.
The sisters humored me and reluctantly slid between the dresses in the front room among popular brands like Essence of Australia’s Stella York, Eva Lendel, and Crystal Design.
“Brides often refer to The Great Gatsby or the royals in their influence,” Stacey Lavergne says. “Fabrics have increasingly shifted from silks and taffeta to synthetic satins. Lace is still popular in place of beads.”
I noted, whites have shifted toward ivory and rose tones. Sleeves are making a comeback–on the red carpet last month, flesh usually on display was covered up. Lavergne agreed and in fact, posed in a sleeved gown. She is resplendent in our photo above.
When choosing a wedding gown today there are few rules. One bride actually requested a black dress. The goal is to send them off in this one glorious moment, the walk down the aisle, all eyes on them, to begin a life-long journey.
Enjoy a few new glimpses below of this special town with a musical name, cosmopolitan Carleton Place (never before published photos by the Wedge.)