Although he grew up in and around the restaurant business in the sprawling metropolis of Toronto, Dalton Cowper never really harboured ambitions of owning his own eatery. And he certainly never aspired to own one in a small rural Eastern Ontario Community.
But life has a funny way of unfolding, and after moving to Stone Mills Township in 2004 to open what truly was his dream business – the Regal Beagle Unleashed, a dog hotel. A few years later he found himself, alongside wife Beverly, becoming the new proprietors of the River Bakery and Café. Located in the heart of Tamworth at 11 Concession Street, the business has been around for about a quarter of a century. When an opportunity to acquire the bakery came up about seven years ago, the Cowper’s decided to take the plunge.
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Restaurant ownership a good fit
“I worked in restaurants as a kid and worked in places that were similar to this one. We do a lot of the same things that I remember those places doing. In fact, the previous owner worked at the same place I did in Toronto, just at a different time. So there was a bit of a connection to the place. Plus I worked here for that previous owner while I was building my dog kennel, so I knew how this business ran,” Cowper said, adding that they make as much of the menu onsite as possible, including corning their own beef and making their own Russian dressing. Most of the food items are also sourced locally.
“We do a lot of the stuff you would see at most bakeries, except with a little bit of a twist. My wife does a lot of the baking, but actually everyone on our staff can do a little bit of everything, including sandwiches and in the summer we do slow cooked ribs on Friday nights. So we have squares, tarts, bars and the traditional baked goods – different items depending on the time of the year. The previous owners didn’t really do savouries like meat pies and things like that. We started doing things like as well as jerk patties and sausage rolls about three or four years ago. And that’s stuff people can’t get at other places around here. At first a lot of the locals asked a lot of questions about these items, but now they’re some of our most popular items.”
Always looking to improve the experience
The River Bakery & Café has seating for 16 inside and is the only licenced patio in Stone Mills Township, accommodating another 32 patrons on the patio when it’s open. Cowper said the key to the business’s success has been that they are always tweaking everything from the menu to the décor to ensure there’s something new and fresh for both locals and visitors to enjoy. He added that they are also creating another revenue stream by putting in an apartment over the bakery, and taking the time to upgrade the outside landscaping this year.
“We do get a lot of transient customers, especially in the warmer months. The place has been here for more than 20 years so it has been a regular stop for visitors or cottagers. The challenge for us and other businesses in town is encouraging people to stop, but I think we’re getting better at that, especially with the big flags that have been put out. They seem to be drawing in a lot of business in the summer.”
Superior quality of life
Growing up in the midst of urban sprawl, Cowper said he enjoys the more placid surroundings of Stone Mills Township and L&A County.
“I like that it only takes five minutes to get from one business to the other. And I love that I can drive out of my driveway and hit 10 different lakes in 10 different direction in about 10 minutes. Being this close to nature is always a bright refreshing feeling. You have a better outlook on life when you can smell the fresh air.”
For more information about The River Bakery & Café visit their Facebook page.