Reflections to open in former Village Chalet
By Sue Tiffin
Published March 7, 2019
Donna Young has been finding herself quite busy lately, and has to pull over to the side of the road to talk about what she has been up to that is keeping her running.
Almost 20 years after she began working at Village Chalet, Young and husband John Cowling, are now preparing to reopen the popular restaurant on Bobcaygeon Road, which closed abruptly in 2017.
Young unknowingly worked her last shift at “the Village,” on Christmas Eve two years ago. When the restaurant didn’t open again after the unexpected closure, it left a gap on Minden’s main street that Young and Cowling are looking to fill.
The couple are renting the space from Shannon Green and Andrew Roper.
“They told me that they came in to town to go to the Village to eat and found it closed, and they thought, well, this is an investment opportunity,” said Young. “It seemed to be a bit of an opportunity for them. We weren’t able to purchase after the former owners [closed]. Then when we saw the For Rent sign, we called them and just sort of started putting everything together.”
Young said in her time at the restaurant, she worked in the kitchen, in the office, and in the front, and sees potential in what it could be.
“I did everything there,” she said. “So it made it quite simple for me to be able to walk in and be able to take over.”
Although Young and Cowling – who was an original owner of Village Donuts – know what to expect, there is much to be done before a planned April opening. The kitchen is being renovated, and filled with new equipment. Haliburton County Development Corporation is supporting the new business with a loan.
“They’re helping us to get it all up and running again,” said Young. “Without them I wouldn’t be able to do it. There are so many nights that I’m so tired by the time I go to bed, my husband’s tired by the time he goes to bed. A lot of rereading things, and phoning people and getting prices – it’s a lot of work.”
Though the work in reopening has been tiring, Young perks up when asked to speak about her vision for the restaurant, which will be called Reflections.
Reflections will promote a theme of “reflecting on the past,” with decorations in the main room showcasing historical photos of Minden, which Young is working with the Minden Hills Cultural Centre to acquire. The middle room of the restaurant will be filled with pictures of old celebrities – like what Young said used to hang above the cash register of the old restaurant.
“I just liked them,” she said. “[And] I like the town. I kind of move around – every seven years I pack up and move somewhere else, Barrie, North Bay, Toronto. Minden, I’ve been here for 19 years, so I might as well put up something that I like, and give people something to look at. Everyone loves those pictures. I love history, so why not put it all up on the walls for people to look at and give them something to talk about?”
Collecting the photos that will interest diners has been a fun project for Young.
“I’m actually learning a lot,” she said. “I was looking for a picture of the Hollywood sign and found out it was [first] called Hollywoodland ... it was based on a housing complex, but the Hollywood sign stayed up. I love history. I didn’t love it so much in school, but I love it now. I’m learning a lot of things as we do this.”
Since posting on social media that she and Cowling will be opening the restaurant again, Young said she has been bombarded with support.
“I’m finding out more and more as I talk to people how glad they are to see it reopening,” she said. “An insane amount of comments, everywhere I go. Haliburton, Minden, everywhere. They can’t wait for it to open, they know it’s going to be successful, they’re going to support it, they’re missing the environment, missing not being rushed out – because most places, they need the tables, but we have plenty of tables so we don’t have to rush people out. They can take their time and socialize.”
Young welcomes the comments, and also input on the menu, which she hopes will combine old favourites and comfort food, and include vegetarian and gluten-free options.
“I know what’s going to go on a basic menu, and I know what people like to order, but I wanted to hear what they actually wanted,” she said. “I want to have what people want, not just what I want ... We’re going to keep it the small basic dinner menu. Your homemade sandwiches, your homemade soups, your homemade food.”
Numerous former and future diners have offered menu suggestions, which Young is carefully considering.
“It’s my place, it’s the owner’s [building]. but it’s also the place for people in town to come,” she said. “What do you want to eat? This is what you like, this is your favourite, this is your go-to. You have to be accommodating or else your business is going somewhere else. Everybody has been very positive about it, even people from the other end of Canada were giving me suggestions.”
Young is excited to welcome people back to the restaurant, and help bring people to the downtown area.
“Everybody’s welcome,” she said. “We’re still going to feel it out and see what happens and make changes as needed, and their feedback is welcome.”
With that, she’s back on the road, checking off items on her to-do list to prepare for a grand opening.