By Glenda McCarthy
The Bonavista Social Club employees are a close knit group… so close in fact, that they consider themselves to be one big happy family. The majority of that chosen family is made up of graduates from College of the North Atlantic.
Katie Hayes is the owner of Bonavista Social Club, which opened its doors five years ago to much fanfare, quickly becoming a must-experience culinary destination in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Located in Upper Amherst Cove on the Bonavista Peninsula, and home to the only commercial wood-fired bread oven in the province, Katie and her husband Shane have their own gardens and animals which they use in the creation of their delectable dishes.
After her busy summer season, Katie can be found pulling double duty as the instructor for the Baker program at Bonavista campus. She says over half of the 16 people employed at the Bonavista Social Club are graduates from the CNA campus.
“Over the last few years, since the program came in, we’ve hired eight or nine that have stayed on. A couple of others did their internship with me, but had plans to go somewhere else for work because they were moving away,” she says, adding the program starting in Bonavista has been a godsend for hiring at her establishment.
“It’s been great because I have been able to work at the college and get to know them. I was able to form a relationship before we got into the kitchen and that really helped. Without that, it would be harder to know what you’re getting into (when trying to hire someone), but they have been a great group. If not for that experience, they’re just a resume on my kitchen table so it is really helpful. I can see them really striving in one area, or really interested in another area so that allows me to see where they would fit into my kitchen.”
Katie has certainly created a unique experience at Bonavista Social Club and she has the awards to prove it. In 2012, they received the Restaurateur of the Year Award from the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and last year were awarded the Visionary Award at the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE) Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
In 2013 and 2014, Bonavista Social Club was named to the top 50 Best Restaurants Guide in Canada by vacay.ca, coming in at 26th in 2013 and 37th in 2014, and in October was named among the Top 10 Best Restaurants in Newfoundland and Labrador by Culture Trip. And to keep the accolades rolling, just last week the restaurant received an award for Best Integration and Promotion of Newfoundland and Labrador Agriculture from the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods.
They’re obviously doing it right at Bonavista Social Club, and Katie continues to pass her knowledge on to the next generation of chefs, both inside and outside the classroom.
“They come out with a very good work ethic. They’re still quite green if they haven’t been in the industry before, so for me to teach them all the little things that we do, I still have to do that, but they come in with basic knowledge and passion and an eagerness to learn. That’s all we really need. Once they’ve got that, the rest is easy.”
The Bonavista Social Club is open seasonally from May until October and Katie says she’s had some of the same graduates working there for the past three years.
“The staff are a part of our extended family. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without our staff. It’s a pretty close knit group. Because it’s so busy in the summer we don’t get out much, but whenever anyone does get out it’s with the people they work with everyday so it’s nice, and we have several staff gatherings throughout the year. Even when we don’t organize them, they all go out together on their own.”
Kaitlyn Oldford of Bonavista is a two-time graduate of CNA. The 21-year-old graduated from the Cook program in 2014 and had a job waiting for her at Bonavista Social Club before she even completed the program. She is one of the employees who has been working at the restaurant for the past three seasons.
“I did my work-term with Katie and at first I was a little nervous, as you would be, but I knew Katie and I knew she was a great person. Everyone there was so welcoming that they made you feel like you belonged, so it didn’t take long to catch on and learn the ropes. Once it starts you never stop until the season is over,” Kaitlyn says.
She returned to CNA in 2015 to complete the Baker program under Katie’s tutelage. It was something was she was encouraged to do by her co-workers.
“It wasn’t an option when I was at CNA as a student. Some of the people I work with actually told me I should go back and do it. I knew some of the students in the class, and I knew Katie was teaching it. I was getting laid off because the season was coming to an end, and I figured ‘why not learn about desserts?’ At work we do breads and stuff so I wanted to know more about breads, desserts and the proper way to do them.”
Being part of this close knit family, she can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I think it’s a very special place. I mean, you aren’t going to find nicer people to work for than Katie and her family. They’re just great. They make you feel so welcome and they care about everything you do. In the few years I’ve been there it has grown on me so much that it feels like my second home. I just love being there and when I’m not there I miss it,” Kaitlyn says.
“The food is always so simple and a lot of it comes from the land. They raise their animals the right way and they appreciate every single ingredient. That’s great, and we need more people like that who just put so much love into everything they do. That comes through for all the people who work there and everyone who comes to eat at the restaurant. Between the view, the vegetables in the garden, the animals and the people, it’s just a great place.”
Katie feels that the remote location and the way they’re using local ingredients is certainly a part of the charm of Bonavista Social Club.
“We definitely try to keep the atmosphere relaxed,” Katie says. “The location is so much of what we are. It’s so tranquil. Just to be able to look at the ocean, and be able to be a little bit in the middle of nowhere, it’s kind of what people sometimes need.”
For more information about Bonavista Social Club, visit http://bonavistasocialclub.com/