51 York Street, Stratford | 519-508-884 | linleys.ca
Restaurateur’s Pivot: Prior success creates new options
“We resisted calling it Linleys,” says Aaron Linley. And Bronwyn Linley concurs. “We hoped to call it something else,” she says of the couple’s new business, Linleys, A Food Shop. “But our store designer, Ron Nuhn, talked us into it.”
It’s a good illustration of the importance of having a personal brand to leverage for a new business in smaller markets where personal history and local connections are equity. In the Linleys’ case, it helped them pivot from being upscale restaurateurs to purveyors of “chef-driven takeout food for busy people” from their new premises on Stratford’s York Street.
Aaron is third-generation Stratford-born and met Bronwyn at the Stratford Chefs School in the mid-’90s. They worked their way through other local restaurants Rundles, Pazzo and Down the Street, before opening their own spot, Bijou, in 2001 serving what Bronwyn describes as “nice food but not high-end.” (A bit self-effacing if you ever ate there.) They sold that business in 2014, spent a year on contract at the new Bruce Hotel setting up the kitchen, restaurant and food services, and then paused to consider what to do next.
So why a food shop and not another restaurant? “There was already a lot going on last year, with restaurants turning over or opening,” says Aaron. “We saw a different need. But more importantly, we wanted a change of pace”. “Restaurants are a lifestyle,” says Bronwyn. “We wanted a better life/work balance and more time for our kids. Now, we’re in for 7AM but home by 5. That’s hard to do with a restaurant.”
Linleys offers an array of Bijou-worthy takeout food – from salads like red lentil, toasted almond and sweet miso; to dips, spreads, paté and mousse; appetizers such as goat cheese ‘truffles’ with toasted breadcrumbs, herbs de Provence & lavender; to main courses that include four styles of roast chicken and duck confit; sides like red cabbage braised in Riesling with bacon; and desserts that invite trouble.
“We also offer a Dinner of the Month Club, picnics for the theatre season, catering for private parties and weddings, plus all the culinary events and charitable fundraisers that happen around town,” says Bronwyn, who handles Linleys’ administration and pastries, while Aaron focuses on the savouries.
The Linleys also hired one full-time and two part-time employees year-round, another two for the summer high season, plus as-needed help for catered events.
While the proceeds from the sale of Bijou sufficed for most of their construction costs (“We didn’t even bother with the banks,” says Bronwyn) they needed some over-the-top capital to finish and open the store. “We had a clear concept and a detailed business plan based on real-world experience, so there were no issues with Perth Community Futures,” she says. “The process was straightforward and the money arrived when we needed it.”
Like other businesses last summer, delays pushed their opening back to halfway through the tourist season, “but our location helped us pick up tourist business in August and we’re concentrating on our marketing for this year, plus some interesting collaborations with The Boathouse and the Local Community Food Centre,” says Aaron.