For nearly a decade, Dawn has worked at the Salt Shaker Deli, one of the most popular restaurants in town. For all of her life, Dawn has lived in this community.
by donalee Moulton
“I can be at work in less than five minutes. I’ve known many of my customers for years. That’s what it’s like to work and live in a small town.”
The Salt Shaker, where Conrad is kitchen manager and sous chef, reflects the traditions of South Shore Nova Scotia. “The focus is on fresh seafood, and there is an emphasis on local recipes.”
The secret to the Salt Shaker’s success lies in the type of food served and the quality of that food. The restaurant, which seats 308 people inside and an additional 28 when the outdoor deck is open in the summer, isn’t restricted by the word ‘deli’. “We’re called a deli, but we do much more.”
The menu varies by season, and according to customers. Visitors who flock to Nova Scotia’s South Shore each summer appreciate the variety of items on the menu, such as lobster mac’ and cheese. In the winter, the dishes are heartier, and the focus is on local customers. Items like veggie chili, which can be dished up piping hot and quickly, are favourites.
The atmosphere at the Salt Shaker, about a 75-minute drive from Halifax, is casual and cozy. There’s almost a feel of being at home while friends and family bustle around preparing a meal.
“We have an open kitchen. You can watch us make your dinner while you wait. Customers can see where the Bluenose II is usually docked. I even have a great view from the kitchen.”
Conrad graduated from culinary school in 2004 and a few years later started as a line cook with the Salt Shaker, which usually has about five cooks in the kitchen in winter and as many as seven in the summer.
In the off season, when things slow down just a little, Conrad heats up her cake- and cupcake-making business. “I enjoy the baking, and the sideline helps me evolve my skills in this area.”
Dawn Conrad’s top tips
Love what you do. Being a chef and running a restaurant is consuming. You have to give it your all. Half-way measures will not make you or your customers happy.
Have a broad menu. It is important to try your hardest to meet the needs of your customers. Some are vegan, some have food allergies, some don’t eat gluten. The kitchen, the menu, and the management must accommodate these needs. It’s not optional any more.
Work with customers. Successful restaurants have happy customers. Sit down with them, chat about their likes, and dislikes. Ask what appeals to them and what they’d change. Make them feel like part of the restaurant.