THUNDER BAY -- If you’ve ever needed to get some food catered, chances are, you’ve come across Salt and Pepper Private Catering.
Dave Thomas started the business in 2006, after graduating Stratford Chefs School in 1998 and working in various kitchens in Canada and Australia.
When he considered opening his own business in Thunder Bay, he chose to be a caterer, having enjoyed working at a catering company before, and also the startup costs for a catering business seemed lower than those for a restaurant. Although he had initially considered doing it out of his home kitchen, he came across a building for lease on McKellar street and decided to take the plunge.
The first years, Thomas struggled to get his name out there, as Facebook and social media visibility was still many years away. He took out ads in the Yellow Pages and started “lunch in the kitchen” on Wednesday - he would open up the kitchen to the public and serve a buffet-style lunch that cost only $10, tax included.
The lunches became hugely popular, with 150 to 175 people coming through the doors every Wednesday, and people who couldn’t find a seat ate in their cars, outside, or on overturned milk crates in the storage room. It was a lot of work (“I get tired just thinking about those lunches,”) but Salt and Pepper gained a loyal following.
Currently, Salt and Pepper has three people working full time and five working part-time, and is capable of cooking for 400 or 500 guests. About 70 to 75 per cent of their work is catering for business lunches, and they also do a lot of weddings in the summer.
Thunder Bay’s food scene has changed greatly since the mid-2000s, Thomas says. “Back then, you couldn’t get cilantro here. It was so frustrating. And not just that - you couldn’t get coconut cream, or sweet soy.”
Considering how ubiquitous various herbs and condiments have become in Thunder Bay, that seems hard to believe, but he says it was a very different food landscape here 12 years ago.
“There was nobody doing sushi, except for sushi takeout at the Airlane hotel”,” he remembers. As a chef passionate about Thai food, he found it “kind of dismal” but things quickly started changing, with “more food and better food” available in the city.
Salt and Pepper’s large menu is essentially a list of its best-selling items over the past 12 years.
Thomas tweaks the menu from time to time, but does not do a complete overhaul, knowing that customers like knowing they can always get their favourites.
Their most popular item, requested at almost every lunch, is the candied pecan and goat cheese salad with strawberries and maple-balsamic dressing.
Although Wednesday lunches are a thing of the past, they do spaghetti take-outs every first Friday of the month (from 3 to 6 p.m.) - you can choose from half a dozen kinds of pasta dishes, a couple of desserts along with garlic bread and Caesar salad.