THUNDER BAY -- Nikos Mantis had always wanted to open his own restaurant, but he chose a slightly different career path, one that led to feeding people not only in Thunder Bay, but beyond.
In 2013, Mantis partnered with Shawna Deagle to open Pinetree Catering. Soon after, they launched a food truck, Local Motion. Both the catering business and food truck aimed to bring more local food to local consumers, and they gained a reputation for quality food and innovative menus. It soon became apparent that Mantis’ basement kitchen wasn’t adequate for the growing business, and in 2016 they built a facility off the Dawson highway, just out of town.
“When I built it I deliberately built it bigger than I thought I’d need,” Mantis says, “but it already seems too small.” The bustling kitchen hums with activity as chefs work side by side, and there is barely enough room for all the prepping and cooking going on. The building has an open space for hosting dinners and events, and there are discussions about turning that into a kitchen as well.
The Sapling, a stall at the Thunder Bay Country Market selling artisanal bread and baked goods, started in 2017, and now, all of the bread used for catering is made in-house. “At the time we had a baker who really wanted to do artisanal bread,” Mantis explains. “And now we have two bakers on staff for the Sapling.”
Pinetree Catering’s latest big step was Nomad, the cafe and store at the Thunder Bay International Airport. “Initially I honestly thought it was outside the scope of what we could do and offer,” admits Mantis. However, through discussions with the airport management, he started understanding the potential for not just his own business, but for other local producers as well.
Nomad opened in December 2018, and sells food, drinks and gifts from Pinetree Catering and 25 other local businesses. From Sleeping Giant beer to Prime Gelato and Wolfhead Coffee, there’s plenty of choice for travellers.
Pinetree Catering now employs 18 people, including the staff at Nomad. Although the catering scene in Thunder Bay is somewhat oversaturated, Mantis believes they have carved out a really good niche for themselves. They partner with dozens of local food producers, and the connection to the local food scene sets them apart he believes. “Using the best of the local products available to us, that has really been our flagship genre of food,” he says.