KAGAWONG – Jamie and Jean Ward have reopened Kagawong’s Main St. Café to hungry patrons for their breakfast and lunch menus, though they now welcome diners through a window instead of a door as they launch what they call Manitoulin Island’s only drive-through restaurant.
“We made a decision in March to restructure our whole business model,” Mr. Ward tells The Expositor on a visit to the café. “With the way things went, I’m very glad we made that decision.”
That decision paid off. The first day of the café’s reopening, July 3, was “a smash” among the couple’s busiest days ever, far exceeding their expectations.
Main St. Café closed to the public when provincial restrictions increased on March 13. The business is reopening after three-and-a-half months with a name to match—Main St. Express.
“Manitoulin is perfect for picnic culture; just look at all the great places you can pull over to enjoy your meal,” Mr. Ward says.
Although safety has always been a key element of running a food business, it has taken on a new significance alongside proving to customers that management is taking all reasonable steps to keep them safe.
That trust, he says, will be a permanent factor when patrons decide where to eat in the future.
The Wards were wary of the stories of restaurants that closed forever because they could not continue operating at half-capacity or less. The food industry is known for relatively thin profit margins.
“We needed a way to serve as many people as possible as quick as possible, and we needed a solution that would allow us to keep operating no matter what restrictions may come up in the future,” he says.
Main St. Express specializes in ‘handhelds’—food that is easy to eat without utensils. These items are already popular at the business which is known for its lunchtime paninis and sandwiches as well as a breakfast menu.
Some of customers’ past favourite lunch menu items are still available, including the pizza panini, eggplant parmigiana panini and sweet chili chicken wrap.
The top four items on the menu sign, however, are brand new—40 Creek Pulled Pork sandwich, Philly cheesesteak hoagie, buffalo crispy chicken and Italian meatball hoagie.
“We wanted to focus on hearty and homemade offerings for our new menu items,” says Ms. Ward, adding that the café offers Burt Farm meats and all of its eggs are Island-laid.
A new streetside sign directs Main St. Express customers into the left-hand driveway to a loop at the small parking area (which has been turned into a thoroughfare). The path then leads past two giant menus with text and photos of the options.
Customers then drive up an elevated crushed rock surface to the payment and pickup window where they order, pay and receive their meal.
Boulders separate the ingress and drive-through lanes and H&R Noble Construction performed all of the driveway modifications.
Main St. Café regulars will recall the music theme of the restaurant; the new ordering experience carries that spirit. To keep a safe distance, the Wards have attached their card reader to a severed guitar neck to reach inside customers’ vehicles.
The Wards continue to make Main St. Café a community hub. Mr. Ward says he hopes to turn the performance area into a ‘studio’ to allow invited musical guests to perform before a camera for a live online audience.
The permanent menu is posted outside the building and Ms. Ward says there will be seasonal specials going forward, such as a homemade ice cream sandwich for sweltering summer afternoons.
Ms. Ward says they will not be using online ordering, instead focusing on providing the fastest service possible to their drive-through customers.
“We’re old school—literally,” adds Mr. Ward with a laugh, gesturing to the plaque that reveals the building’s heritage as a former schoolhouse.
The Wards join other car-oriented dining operations such as Campbell’s Drive-In near Gore Bay, though their drive-through aspect is unique.
Main St. Express is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 8 am to 5 pm and Saturdays from 8 am to 3 pm, closed Sunday and Monday. Information about the business is posted at facebook.com/MainStreetCafeKagawong.