Two years ago, Kristen Chemerika-Lew was seven months’ pregnant when she and her partner Kyle Lew signed a lease to take over the space occupied by a longtime pizza place on Winnipeg’s Waterloo Street.
By Lawrence Herzog
She was 29; he was 27. “Our son Charlie was born that June, and we opened in August. It was chaos, but we made it work.”
Chemerika and Lew coalesced their last names into Chew, redecorated and reconfigured, installed 21 seats, and began dazzling palates in the River Heights neighbourhood. Local diners embraced their contemporary, sophisticated approach, and now the couple has opened an adjacent bakery, The Store Next Door, which serves up baked goods and prepared foods for customers to take away.
“We use local ingredients when they are in season because they are the best, and we believe in giving our customers the best we can,” Kristen says. “Not everything we use is local or organic, but we try wherever possible to support Manitoba farmers and suppliers who are starting out just like us. To them, our business makes a difference – just as those who buy from us make a difference – and it is wonderful to form those relationships.”
It’s an approach the pair honed in the Culinary Management Program at George Brown College in Toronto and then working for various top-flight chefs, including Mark McEwan. What’s on their menu on any given day is determined by what comes through the door – be it Cornish hen, wild mushrooms, bison tenderloin, pickerel or parsnips.
“We love that excitement of cooking with the seasons, of keeping it moving, of surprising our customers with something new,” Kyle says. “We’re rather impulsive. If one of our suppliers walks in the door with something fun, we do our best to change our menu that night to showcase it at its freshest, at its peak.”
For the holidays, Chew is all about food “that warms you from the inside out,” he says. “Root vegetables, rich sauces, duck and game, wild boar and other flavourful meats prepared using preserves that we made during the summer months and harvest time. It’s a heartier menu of comfort food for the cold winter nights.”
They’re both working six days a week now, invigorated by the craft of cooking, the enthusiasm of their loyal customers, and the sense of community they’ve built in just two years. “If customers like what they get, they tell their friends, and Winnipeg really works on word of mouth,” Kristen says. “Winnipeg is a big city that has no idea it’s a big city. River Heights has been a really supportive neighbourhood, and we just love it here.”
• Think small. Nurture local relationships and repeat business.
• Keep your menus moving. Showcase the best of fresh and local every day.
• Be happy and make good food. If your atmosphere is enticing and the food is energizing, customers will return.
• Support local to support yourself. Everybody benefits from shared success.