Dawson General Store is an outstanding oasis for weary travellers, locals, and campers alike. People stopping by for a few essentials will be pleasantly surprised by the wide array of products and homemade eats available.
The building, located at the intersection of Highway 102 and Mapleward Road about 10 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, has been a familiar sight for a least 40 years, with various names and ownership over the decades.
The new owners, who started Dawson General Store in 2021, are a family looking to recreate the warmth and personality of a reliable local general store. I spoke with Nancy and Mike, who are two of the four current owners, along with their sister Jessica and their dad, Mike Sr.
It was their dad’s idea to start the store, inspired by outpost-style general stores like Ryden’s: family-owned, and largely staffed by relatives, showcasing unique and high quality local goods as well as all the essentials.
Over 60 local vendors are represented in the retail store, and they utilize a local meat supplier, local vegetable growers and even local flour producers in their kitchen.
“That’s what inspired the name too, Dawson General for the store,” Nancy explained. “It was familiar and familial. Comfortable. We wanted the people in the area to think of it as a place that’s always been there.”
“When you see ‘General Store’ you know you can pop in for a roll of tape, or if you need Pepto Bismol, we’ve got that. We have a hardware section with motor oil and those sorts of things, so whatever you need, you don’t need to drive into town – we’ve probably got it here.”
You may go in for a roll of tape, but you’ll likely come out with a large bag goodies. There’s a wide selection of in-house made delectables that are hard to resist.
“It’s not uncommon to have to run up to a customer and offer them a basket,” laughed Nancy.
The food selection at Dawson General Store is also likely to impress.
“All of our food is made in-house from scratch,” said Mike. “Nancy’s dill pickle pasta salad is becoming world famous. We make our own pizza and sauce with our own pizza dough, which is a 72-hour process. On occasions we do Sunday dinners out here. We have some smokers on site, so we do smoked ribs, brisket, we have that as well.”
“A lot of our customers are repeats. Once they’ve had our food they typically come back,” he added.
Nancy believes the reason for the repeat customers is in the one-of-a-kind family recipes.
“Most of our baking is from our mother’s recipes, you can’t just go somewhere else and get it,” she said. “Our fried chicken is made in a pressure fryer, a unique process compared to other places. It’s brined and it’s got a special dredge that makes it crispy.”
“A lot of folks will take the drive out. They’ll get the big cookies that they like, some of our chicken and a side of pasta salad because they’re not available anywhere else in town.”
The Dawson General has also found a ready market among both campers and locals for its delivery service, available within a 19-minute radius of the store.
The service is appreciated by residents who are generally outside delivery limits for stores and restaurants in Thunder Bay, said Mike.
Demand has been high enough to plan for a kitchen expansion, which he predicts will begin in the spring of 2023.
The expansion will help the business serve more events and offer more frozen meals, including pizzas, he said.
Customers will also notice a facelift to the store’s gas pumps and canopy in the next 6 to 8 months.
The owners of Dawson General Store are living their dream of creating a welcoming, unique and widely loved family store. If you’re lucky enough to live nearby, you probably already know it’s special. If you haven’t experienced their offerings for yourself, it’s definitely worth the drive.