Taking a chance and making it work

Local restaurant owners find their niché in Pictou County

Published on April 10, 2014

The Bistro proprietors are Heather Poulin and Chef Robert Vinton.

New Glasgow - Since a young age, Chef Robert "Rob" Vinton has found himself tied passionately to the food industry, working in kitchens around the globe.  


Doing a stint on a boat in Hudson and James Bay in Northern Ontario, along with cooking for celebrities and sports figures, has rounded out his own menu of skills.


"When I started in this industry, chefs and cooks, waiters, waitresses were the bottom feeders of the economic world, we bar backed, waited on tables...we had to work through the ranks,” he said.   


Chef Rob refers to Anthony Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential during our discussion, as a book that highlights the "wild, but true tales of life in the culinary trade".


It details what's going on behind the scenes at your favorite restaurant.  "It can take away from the soul", he said. "However, we enjoy the excitement of working in the industry, dealing with tangibles every minute of the day".  


Heather Poulin is the other face and proprietor of The Bistro on Archimedes Street, New Glasgow.  The two foodies met a few years back in Calgary. It was a family celebration that took them to New Brunswick where their love of the Maritimes began.


They kept a vow to return to eastern Canada, both securing jobs in the restaurant business in Halifax. Chef Rob at da Maurizio, and Heather at the now Il Mercato.  


Some time later, it was Rob who noticed a small advertisement where "a fine-dining restaurant was looking for a chef somewhere in North-Central Nova Scotia”.


 “We weren't familiar with that part of the province at all, but I had a good feeling about it, ” he said.   


Eventually, they bought The Bistro in 2006, four years after it opened.  


"When we first came here, the community wrapped their arms around us,” said Heather. “ It was and still is amazing how much people have rallied around us.  One of our waitresses, Janet Wilkinson, has been with us for 12 years. We're so lucky to have her, she enjoys food and the industry as much as we do".


I first heard of the term "la fooding" during our conversation.  


Both Heather and Chef Rob explain: "dining out can be expensive, times are financially tough, we don't want to make eating out expensive or intimidating... and at the same time, we want to ensure that our food isn't something that you would usually make at home. The end result is fine, but casual dining".


Heather and Janet attend to the front of the house with a friendly formality, while Chef Rob is comfortable standing over his grill and managing the kitchen. It's a perfect combination of food and atmosphere that ensure customers feel welcome while being served a delicious meal.  


Heather and Rob pay their gratitude forward to their community by hosting several fundraisers throughout the year to support various causes.


"We like to give back to the place that made us feel welcome. For many years now we have done the fundraiser for the Highland Community Residential Services. It’s an auction gala with a theme, pub night, a Nova Scotia night, etc. It's a great event".  

Both Heather and Rob feel a friendly and supportive relationship with other eateries in town is a must.  

“Where the restaurants are the people are. Restaurants bring the people into the downtown core. We all must support each other on that, because it's helpful to all," said Heather. 

- Shawna Coleman is a Westville resident who is never without a camera or a listening ear. She is a regular correspondent with The News and can be reached at shawcole@hotmail.com