© Times-Herald photo by Nathan Liewicki
Bridie Lunde and Jon Staszczak have a conversation while drinking non-alcoholic beer at Little Red Market Cafe in Mortlach on Thursday. The duo, with Staszczak in the kitchen, and Lunde as the host and server, did not expect to build up the clientele they have in the 11 months Little Red has been open.
Mortlach home to tasty gem
Bridie Lunde insists there are two things that will change a person’s life: brown butter and hollandaise sauce from scratch.
“No one makes homemade hollandaise. It’s very hard to keep it at temperature and not a lot of people do it, but chef Jon does it,” said Lunde. “It will change your life.”
Eleven months after opening Little Red Market Café in Mortlach, Lunde’s life has undergone a transformation she did not think was possible two years ago.
At that time she was living in Vancouver.
A phone call from her mom, followed by being pre-approved for a mortgage was enough for Lunde to leave behind her acting career on the west coast and return back to her roots.
After two months of operating what was then Hollyhock Market, Lunde said it was good for her to sit in the space the previous owners were operating it because it allowed her to think of what amenities the town needed.
“(People) needed somewhere to get milk, bread and eggs. They needed somewhere to get a bottle of wine or case of beer,” said Lunde. “I definitely knew I needed to put my stamp on it. So, September 2012 was when the gut happened.”
During the renovations, Lunde was thinking of someone who could be the chef at her little eclectic diner. The name Jon Staszczak surfaced in her mind.
The two of them had worked at the same restaurant in Vancouver. Staszczak himself was still out west at the time.
“He was never in my mind when I bought this place, but when the renovations were underway I thought this place deserves someone like Jon,” Lunde told the Times-Herald. “He lived in Saskatchewan and he would get it. It was a no brainer to ask him.”
During the midst of renovations in April 2013, Staszczak, who is originally from Wynyard, Sask., came to Mortlach to check out the offer Lunde had pitched him. He accepted the job on the spot.
“I figured working under the same people for 13 years I'd learned enough that I could spread out on my own, run my own show and be my own boss,” said Staszczak. “And the freedom was really hard to pass up.”
As their first year of running Little Red nears, it has become apparent that the stamps of Lunde and Staszczak have been firmly placed.
Lunde’s family heirlooms, include a 1917 map of Saskatchewan, old license plates and family harvest photos, hang on the walls of Little Red. Cushions made of cowhide, plush checkered pillows and wooden tables held up by concrete bases speak of Lunde’s creativity in shaping the mood found in Little Red.
“I want everyone to have good drinks, good food, good music, a good atmosphere, and good friends,” said Lunde. “I want everyone to have the best time.”
According to the Little Red duo, it appears as though people are indeed having a good time. And it happened sooner than they both expected it would.
Lunde and Staszczak did not anticipate nailing down a solid clientele for about two years. However, soon after she opened, Lunde was reminding people that they needed to book reservations, especially after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
“I can't believe I'm saying that and it hasn't even been a year. I couldn't even believe I was telling people they needed to make a reservation one month in,” she said. “It shows you how talented Jon is.”
Lunde said the cheese board, which includes fig jam, is probably the most popular of Little Red’s menu items.
“Everyone always asks if we sell the fig jam,” said Lunde. “Our homemade fig jam has become extremely famous.”
The fig jam recipe actually belongs to her mom, who Lunde described as “basically Martha Stewart without the criminal record.”
Other favourites include the duck breast and lamb shank, entrees that Staszczak knows like the back of his hand.
There are, however, more flavourful creations in store, most of which are thanks to local producers.
Little Red has formed a partnership with Grandpa’s Garden. Located near Caron, the business will soon be providing Little Red with all their fruits, vegetables and most of their herbs.
Local producers also supply the restaurant with items like honey, cattle, bison and eggs.
“We always want to use local,” said Lunde. “We have so many things right at our fingertips, so let’s use it.”
She said the ultimate compliment is when people bring out of town guests to Little Red, some of which have come from the South Pacific to dine on Chef Staszczak’s original creations.
“I get a lot of people that say it feels like you are invited to our house for a meal,” Lunde noted. “That's just the feeling they get. It's so inviting and so at home.
“We aren't buying things frozen and putting them in the deep fryer. Chef is taking so much time and love and putting everything into his food – the way your grandma would have.”
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks