Marlene Kenley and Ryan Hayes recently celebrated their first anniversary as co-owners of Resto Urban Dining.
By donalee Moulton
The new partnership does not anticipate any growing pains. Hayes is Kenley’s son-in-law, and the two worked together at the Bedford, NS, restaurant they’ve purchased and transformed into Resto Urban Dining.
The new co-owners have taken the best from the restaurant there previously and infused it with their own taste, literally and figuratively. “I was the manager at the other restaurant and this gave me insight into what people like and what they expect,” says Kenley. “I know the clientele and they know me.”
Hayes, a graduate of the New Brunswick Community College’s culinary arts program in Moncton, has similar insight into what will tempt customers’ taste buds. He was the chef at the previous eatery. “Some of the staples from that menu, such as the curry chicken, appear on our menu. We knew if we took those off, people would be unhappy,” says Hayes.
Complementing customer favourites are new dishes reflecting the philosophy of the current owners and tempting customers to expand their dining experience. “We want to increase people’s awareness of food,” says Hayes. “People have their favourites, but I want to introduce them to old favourites with a new twist.”
Customers can now dig into a new array of dishes reminiscent of meals they might have had in the past but now with a unique flavour. For starters, this includes a seafood trio: salt cod fritter with Cajun aioli; haddock and salmon fish cake served with house-made tartar sauce; and oven-baked crab cake accompanied by tzatziki.
While there’s plenty for meat lovers, including a “Meatza” pizza, there is also something for vegetarians including a main course that features sautéed peppers, red onion, mushrooms and spinach with a spicy tomato sauce, served on a bed of quinoa with white cheddar and jalapeño skillet corn bread.
“It’s updated comfort food,” says Hayes.
One of the delicious surprises is the popularity of Resto’s Tasting Plate, an “inspirational” melange of treats to end customers’ dining experience on a sweetly different note. “This took off,” says Hayes. “It’s our most popular dessert. That surprised me.”
At Resto, the menu also reflects the dietary needs of customers today. Ninety per cent of the selections, for example, are gluten-friendly. This was relatively easy to accomplish, Hayes says, because of the restaurant’s emphasis on fresh, home-cooked food. “We make everything essentially from scratch except for the pasta noodles.”
It’s not only the food that sets Resto apart from its predecessor and from other local restaurants. “The care that goes into what we do makes us stand out,” says Kenley. “We want customers to experience greatness. We strive for 100 per cent. We want people to come back because they love us.”
It’s not only the food attracting former customers and new diners. The atmosphere says welcome. “We’re part of the neighbourhood. We want people to see Resto as a warm, friendly place where they can go to enjoy a meal,” says Kenley.
The co-owners are counting on having customers come, and come again, for some time. The emphasis is on exceeding customers’ expectations. “We won’t spread ourselves too thin,” says Hayes. “For the next five to eight years, this is our focus.”
Resto Urban Dining’s Top Tips
Listen carefully to your customers. It’s important to understand what resonates with diners, and what doesn’t. The only way to find out is to ask. Seek out feedback – then act on it.
Take your time. A successful restaurant, like a good meal, can’t be rushed. Create the type of eatery that fits your philosophy and your personality, then strive to make your restaurant the best it can be.
Reach out to the community. Restaurants feed off the loyalty of their customers – and feed into the community. Resto, for example, ladled out hot chocolate and cookies to children during the annual holiday Parade of Lights in Halifax. Next year, they plan to put a float in the parade itself.