The temporary walls have been taken down and diners are already comfortably ensconced in booths lining the walls of the newly – and extensively – renovated restaurant at the Ptarmigan Inn.
The Keys, a staple of the hotel’s hospitality offering, has undergone a complete facelift since April, both in terms of its décor and menu, and will be hosting a grand reopening on July 13 to welcome back its devotees, as well as hopefully attract a new clientele.
“The grand opening is really an opportunity for people to come and check it out,” said Ptarmigan Inn manager Curtis Rowe, adding the restaurant staff are preparing for quite a crowd and will be taking reservations. “It will be an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing.”
In terms of design, the work has created a sleek and polished new vibe in the dining room.
“We really wanted to modernize the feel of the place and create a trendy atmosphere,” Ptarmigan Inn owner Karen Rowe told The Hub. “It was definitely a bit of a design challenge as it has to serve everyone. There are large crews in for breakfast, lunch and supper who all demand different styles.”
The new configuration divides the dining room’s 80 seats into two sections. Up against the back wall there is bench seating and booths, as well as tables, partitioned off for greater privacy and more formal dining, while the front is open to the hotel’s lobby and lends itself well to travelling business clients and daytime meals. For Karen Rowe, it was important to accommodate as many people as possible as comfortably as possible, all the while trying to attract new clients.
“We did the renovations in sections to mitigate the disruption to service as much as possible,” she said. “We put up temporary walls and had them decorated with art from the Kindergarten classes, which people really enjoyed. Maintaining service for regulars was very important.”
Since taking over the Ptarmigan Inn six years ago, the Rowe’s Group of Companies has renovated and upgraded many aspects of the hotel, including things guests don’t necessarily notice, such as the heating and phone systems.
“Not all the renovations have been glamourous,” Karen Rowe said, laughing. “Even in the restaurant, the first thing we did were the restrooms.”
She acknowledged the work done to improve the ambiance of The Keys was a satisfyingly visible step, but also stated there is always another project to tackle.
While the next may be the kitchen, Curtis Rowe said upgrades in equipment have allowed them to push back for now significant work to the back of the house.
“We have new appliances in there now,” he said. “We decided to focus on the front of the house first to bring in more clientele before turning to the kitchen.”
That approach, however, does not mean the food at The Keys will remain the same. The menu has been overhauled to include meal-sized salads, more selection of steaks and fish – including a particularly brave lime and tequila whitefish – and more vegetarian options.
“We wanted to do modern takes on traditional favourites,” Curtis Rowe said. “We have great local product and I’m not sure we do enough to market it locally.”
For example, he mentioned Polar Egg as a local producer with whom a partnership has proved beneficial, and said the restaurant would certainly consider sourcing from Hay River farmers wherever possible.
“We want to continue to foster those relationships,” he said. “Any time we can encourage a local producer, that’s a no-brainer for us, and when you talk about market trends globally, people are wanting to know they’re eating food that is sustainably produced, regional and fresh, and that’s what we’re offering here.”
As for the old favourites on the menu, Curtis Rowe said loyal customers will always find something familiar and comforting to enjoy.
“The challenge here is that we have a wide target market and we have to balance expectations of regular customers while trying to attract new clients,” he said. “We know what was popular, and we’re confident the new menu will have something to appeal to everyone.”
— Sarah Ladik