Spotlight_Vol 23_Issue_3

now a co-owner right before his birthday. Sunshine On Main Café was very busy and successful. Chef Mark made connections with regular customers. It was there that he met his wife, Karen. In 1998, Mark and Karen got married and parted ways with the business. Along with their own savings, they turned to Karen’s parents and a small group of oth - er couples who would financially help them invest in a one-storey building. The commercial building was a bakery that had been closed for many years. It was an older building, with lots of potential. Karen had grad - uated with a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University, and together they came up with a business plan and bought it. Chef Mark had a vision of what he wanted, so he did most of the drawings for the ren - ovation. This included turning the one-storey building into three stories. “I had a really good contractor who was just getting started with his contracting business. He was very talented and a great person to deal with.” He goes on to say his contractor was well respected by the other tradesmen and that made the project go smoothly. “From the time we bought it and started the demolition to the time it was finished, was six weeks.” The first week the new restaurant was open, it was only available to a small selection of people including close friends, some previous customers from Sunshine On Main Café, tradesmen and investors. The first week was a success, so they opened the doors to the pub - lic. Unsure of what to name the restaurant, Mark and Karen went to Karen’s old professor for advice. Karen’s professor, Ian Spencer, who now has the Ian Spen - cer Award for Excellence in Business named after him, was a business and marketing expert whose opinion was well respected. After meeting with Spencer, they decided on Gabrieau’s Bistro.

Due to the strong customer relationships Mark and Karen built at the previous café, they wanted the locals and tourists to know where they had moved on to. They had the community’s support from day one. Tourism in Antigonish was very predictable in the be - ginning. “There was an old joke that if you want to get to Antigonish, get on the Trans Canada and turn off at the first set of lights. There were three sets of lights on the Trans Canada, and all of them were entrances into Antigonish” Chef Mark said. Tourists would stop at a red light, see desired amenities, and turn off to get something to eat. But when the highway was moved, the restaurant sales suffered greatly. The tourists no longer had to stop in Antigonish on their way to anoth - er destination. Chef Mark had to think of new ways to draw tourists into the restaurant. He was on the board of the Antigonish Tourism Association and a part of the Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores Tourism Association (DEANS). Both associations were helpful avenues for promoting the restaurant with on - line marketing. Over the next 5 years, the customer base kept growing, but it never returned to the original numbers.

Mark and Karen participate in fundraisers and festivals as much as possible. One of the largest attractions to the town is Festival Antigonish, a theatre festival. Mark and Karen have sponsored and donated to this event from the first year they owned Gabrieau’s Bistro. Around 2012, they also got involved in Bluefin Tuna Catch and Release yearly between August and Octo - ber. The east coast has some of the biggest bluefin tuna in the world, and fishermen come from all over to participate in sportfishing. The Gabrieau’s built great relationships during this event. This not only helped with restaurant sales, but it helped bring money into the community. Another attraction to Antigonish is St. Francis Xavier University, the university Karen attend - ed. Gabrieau’s Bistro has gained student customers over the years but was named as the fancy restau - rant in town, and not in a positive way. Chef Mark ex - plains that while there are some specialty items on the menu that may be more expensive dishes, not all their options are high in price. He always welcomes students to come to enjoy an affordable meal at Gabrieau’s Bistro.

“There was an old joke that if you want to get to Antigonish, get on the Trans Canada and turn off at the first set of lights. There were three sets of lights on the Trans Canada, and all of them were entrances into Antigonish.”





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