Running a restaurant of note at an outfitters’ paradise is a dream come true for Janis Lavoie and Sylvain Audet. Le Champêtre (The Countryside) is quickly gaining favour with both tourists and locals at the idyllic Pourvoirie des Îles du Lac Duparquet in Abitibi-Ouest.
By Julie Gedeon
Fifty kilometres north of Rouyn-Noranda and 160 km east of Timmons, la Pourvoirie borders a 12-km2 lake bearing 135 islands, including three ecological reserves with some of Quebec’s oldest trees.
Lavoie and Audet knew they had discovered the next chapter of their lives when they saw the main building housing a restaurant and 10 motel units, along with four chalets on the sandy white beach. “After nearly a two-year search, we knew this was the place,” Lavoie says. “Most people slow down when they approach retirement, but we wanted a new challenge after Sylvain leaves his job at Hydro-Québec this year.”
The property had become neglected following a bankruptcy. As soon as the couple bought it on Nov. 7, 2012, they invested nearly $500,000 to virtually rebuild it before the grand reopening on May 25, 2013. “We bought a lot of new wood to keep it rustic,” Lavoie says, “but we also introduced modern features, such as a safer gas fireplace in the foyer and, of course, new kitchen appliances.”
Having worked in the restaurant/bar industry most of her life, Lavoie brings abundant experience. “I also learn new things quickly,” she says. “And, fortunately, Sylvain is very good in the kitchen.”
Le Champêtre offers all of the standard fare typically found at summer and winter resorts: hamburgers, poutine, calamari, brochettes, soups, pastas and so forth. “In winter, we have a lot of snowmobilers who stop here for a quick, warm bite,” Lavoie says. “In summer, we have a lot of family vacationers with 160 campsites nearby, so we have to offer food that children will like.”
Come Thursday at 5 p.m., however, Lavoie concocts a weekend table d’hôte that’s always more than a bit special. One recent menu included penne with duck, pesto and vegetables, chicken breast stuffed with local cheesefrom La Vache à Maillotte, or regional filet mignon with a cranberry and onion compote. Seasonal favourites include an Oktoberfest sauerkraut platter.
“All of our food is very accessible, but we also want people to have a chance to enjoy something that’s different from home with our food and atmosphere,” Lavoie says. “So they feel like they’re away on vacation, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.”
It’s working. People from as far away as Montréal are making la Pourvoirie a weekend or weeklong destination. Locals are calling well ahead to book their favourite table. “Abitibi-Ouest didn’t have a waterfront restaurant before we came here,” Lavoie says. “With our renovations and new terrace, we’ve making the most of this view and the local food.”
7 top tips for remote success:
Offering good, fresh meals in a remote location definitely presents its challenges. While still learning, Lavoie already has some advice for others:
- Build relationships. Local suppliers can help with planning the freshest, most cost-effective menus year-round.
- Stay organized. It helps to quickly assess fridge and pantry stores.
- Keep daily checklists. They help to avoid running out of items after an unexpectedly busy night.
- Encourage reservations by indicating how much they’re appreciated.
- Have backup plans. Arrange for relatives/friends to pick up an item if you run short.
- Maintain on-call staff for busy holiday celebrations and other special functions.
- Waste not, want not! By carefully planning the restaurant’s food requirements and turning what’s left into delicious potages or ragouts for specials, Lavoie rarely throws any food away.