A trio of restauranteurs, including a pair of Flin Flon-born and raised chefs, are planning to bring new and familiar tastes to Main Street later this year.
Owners of the Aurora + Pine Bistro plan to open this fall with a unique menu and a new look, similar to what they have shown during a series of successful pop-ups this year.
Ainslie McIntosh-Stallard and Kelsie Gardner are the cooks behind the venture - Cali Gerbrandt is the front-of-house manager and has handled the group’s social media presence. The trio plan to open up in the now-former site of Mugsy’s Deli, with the menu meant to provide a fresh twist on northern favourites.
The project began in earnest last November. Gardner, who was born in Flin Flon and spent much of their professional life working in kitchens, moved home with Gerbrandt, their partner. Around that time, McIntosh-Stallard, also a Flin Flon local, was preparing to leave her job working as a cook at Flin Flon General Hospital, with a sideline as an event planner and baking cakes.
Neither cook felt satisfied in their work life and both hungered for a change. It was Gardner who struck first.
Early this year, Gardner began hosting pop-ups, where gourmet food not often available in Flin Flon would be on offer for a small number of eaters. Those went over well, but quickly Gardner realized the project needed another set of hands.
“I did a pop-up for Valentine's Day. It went really well, people were interested and I really wanted to get something going - I didn't really know where to go,” they said (Gardner and Gerbrandt are both non-binary and use they-them pronouns.)
“I contacted Ainslie. I knew that she had also gone to school for it.”
“The day Kelsie messaged me, it was the day I put in my two weeks. They didn’t know that,” said McIntosh-Stallard.
“I’d been working in restaurants here in town since I was 15, for as long as I can remember. I went to school in Saskatoon. I was making cakes pretty often - I still do - and was doing weddings and thought ‘I can carry through with this. I can make enough money from this,’ Then I got the message from Kelsie.”
Since that fateful DM, the pop-ups continued, with a new dimension - Gardner, who had previously served as a sous chef for Bonfire Bistro in Winnipeg and attended culinary school at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, would be the head chef. McIntosh-Stallard, who graduated the culinary arts program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic with honours and worked at several Saskatoon-area restaurants, would be head baker. Together, the three would be able to take on bigger challenges - not just pop-ups, but talk of a permanent restaurant.
“We were so excited. We were feeling the same vibes and stuff. The three of us got together and started talking about locations and what we wanted to do,” said McIntosh-Stallard.
“It started out just as us going, ‘We’re going to do pop-ups.’ Every few weeks, we’d just rent out a space and cook out of there. Then as that went on, we were just like, ‘Let’s just do it. Let’s have a restaurant,’” Gardner said.
Finding a permanent location proved to be harder than anticipated, with a few locations being looked at uptown. When Mugsy’s came onto the market earlier this year, the trio jumped at the chance to buy it.
With that part done, finding suppliers for food and decor, contractors for renovations and grant funding is the next step. The trio received some funds through an entrepreneurship contest with Community Futures Greenstone - that helped take care of the down payment and further costs.
The business will feature a new look and new faces - none of the three have had experience owning a restaurant. On top of that, Gardner and Gerbrandt stand to become the first non-binary business owners in Flin Flon’s nearly century-long history.
Together, the trio plan to remodel Mugsy’s and open it back up as early as this September with a new menu and a new idea in mind - centring the place around what McIntosh-Stallard called “elevated favourites”, familiar dishes with interesting twists.
“We're not going to dive into total French cuisine or that kind of thing. We're definitely sticking with stuff that people know, but it's elevated from what they know,” she said.
“We wanted it to be northern and we wanted to keep it so that we’re staying true to our roots. That’s huge. I think for all of us, we want it to be familiar to Flin Flon - we want it to be a new Flin Flon favourite.”
“Somewhere where you go and don’t want to leave,” Gerbrandt said.
Other plans are still nebulous - weekend brunches are on the table, as are other features - but the owners want their new location to become a well-ingrained part of uptown Flin Flon.
“The stuff we've heard is like, ‘I've been waiting for years for food like this or drinks like this - I don't have to travel five hours for this,’” said McIntosh-Stallard.
“We are excited for other people to be excited for the atmosphere, excited for the food, excited for having something to do, especially since most people are going to be week-on-week-off now - when they come back, they're going to want something to do on their days off.”