“It’s been continuous, non-stop, innovating and problem-solving,” she told The Hub on Sept. 5, one year to the day since she opened the doors of the casual restaurant on Courtoreille Street. “From the marketing to the products and the menu, it’s always changing.”
In fact, Gallivan said she spent the previous evening rearranging the tables, chairs and display cases to make the space more welcoming and functional.
The Grape, as it’s known to those who frequent it regularly, serves up a variety of sandwiches, pastries and both hot and cold drinks to order. But the main attraction, at least for Gallivan, is the poutines.
“I think I opened this place so I could serve poutines,” she said laughing, after telling the story of how she had the best incarnation of the French-Canadian classic on a train in Montreal. “I wanted to recreate that one and it’s now on the menu.”
But the restaurant business isn’t all fries, cheese and gravy. Gallivan said every month of the first year has been a discovery, with some periods she thought would be quiet instead booming, as well as the other way around.
“The weather plays a big role in what people feel like eating,” she said. “This year, we’ve just been figuring out what to expect from each month and each season.”
Gallivan hopes that a return to routine this fall for customers will help boost sales from the restaurant’s new espresso maker. She said she plans on opening earlier to catch the morning rush of coffee drinkers – particularly those interested in lattes and cappuccinos.
“I’ve wanted a machine basically since we opened,” she said. “But resisting the urge to spend has been one of the hardest things so far. I knew I wanted it, but I had to wait until it was the right time for the business.”
As for the biggest challenge – apart from being pregnant for the majority of the year and having to raise a two-year-old besides – Gallivan said defining The Grape as separate from the bakery that used to be in that location was the hardest thing. Her restaurant is part of a growing trend towards “fast-casual” dining that falls somewhere between fast food, cafe and formal restaurant.
“As people get more used to it, they’ll keep coming back,” she said of the sometimes unfamiliar style of eating out, though so far she has had no trouble attracting hungry customers.
In the next year, Gallivan said she plans to expand the catering side of the business, citing making lunch for Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his visit to Hay River last month as one of the highlights of her year. She also plans to open earlier to capture the breakfast crowd, and to explore classic French brunch options, including crepes and French toast.
The latter proved a worthwhile venture at the Hay River Chamber of Commerce’s recent Business, Home and Leisure Show, where Gallivan made crepes filled with things like banana, chocolate and apple cinnamon for an appreciative public.
“It’s amazing,” said Kiera Mapes through a mouthful of crepe. “I eat (at The Grape) all the time and I love it.”
— Sarah Ladik