behind the scenes
in downtown perth
The wonderful people, who have brought their passions and talents, to downtown perth!
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Mary Catherine and Dan Allat weren’t always on the same career path.
Following university May Catherine decided to go teacher’s college, while Dan enrolled in a hospitality & hotel management program at George Brown College.
It wasn’t long, however, before Dan realized it probably wasn’t the right time for the couple to venture into the restaurant industry, so he got his teaching certificate and both he and Mary Catherine ended up working at schools in the Ottawa area.
Eventually, the couple had two boys and began to look for a more rural setting in which to raise their family. While Dan was from Hamilton, Mary Catherine’s family was from the Ottawa area and had a cottage on the Rideau. As a result, the couple often visited the Perth area.
In 2009 when they spotted a home they liked, they moved their family to Perth where Mary Catherine left work to look after the boys, while Dan continued to commute to his teaching job in Kanata.
During his time in the classroom, Dan never gave up his desire to open a restaurant.
“You can put the dream to bed, but it keeps waking up,” reflects Dan.
It was while playing for the Lanark Highlanders Rugby Club that Dan learned that O’Reilly’s Pub, a popular Perth eatery, might be for sale.
“I thought we’d approach the owners about a purchase,” says Dan and with Mary Catherine on board that’s what they did.
“When we approached them about selling, I think the fact that we were a local family committed to the community was an important selling point to them,” says Mary Catherine.
Their offer was successful and in April 2012 the couple took over ownership of O’Reilly’s Ale House.
At the time the pub enjoyed a reputation that Dan and Mary Catherine wanted to build upon.
“We wanted it to have the feel of a neighborhood pub where people gathered as much for the company and camaraderie as they did for the food and drink,” says Dan. “It was to be a place where one could meet and make new friends.”
Even the seating arrangement set up by Dan was done with the expressed purpose of facilitating conversation as well as the enjoyment of food.
“From the beginning we wanted the pub to be a place where not only did we want to hang out, but so did our staff and our customers. We figured if it was a place where we wanted to be, then others would feel the same. It was to be a place where people could enjoy themselves.”
While Dan and Mary Catherine remained true to their vision, they knew that their staff would be critical in helping them to achieve it.
“We selected our staff carefully,” recalls Dan. “We wanted people who wanted to be here, who appreciated the environment and felt invested in the operation the same as we did.”
It’s a philosophy that has served Dan and Mary Catherine well. While the restaurant industry, as a whole, has a substantial turn-over rate and at times struggles to find workers, the Allatts have maintained a loyal staff.
Dan admits the hospitality industry is a tough place to make a living, but says he and Mary Catherine have never looked back.
“I love it too much to complain,” laughs Dan who says they’ve never questioned the decision.
The fact that Dan and Mary Catherine are great supporters of their community is reflected in the way they run their business. Much of their product is sourced locally, including their beef from River Run Farms.
“We want to support the local farmers and to showcase their skills by integrating their food into our menu,” says Dan.
The fact that they are parents has also played a critical role in shaping the couple’s business outlook.
“Parents still want to go out, but they want it to be a kid friendly atmosphere,” says Dan. “From the beginning, we wanted O’Reilly’s to be a place for families too.”
These days it’s a philosophy exemplified by the fact the couple’s two boys, Jackson and Oliver, both work at the restaurant.
O’Reilly’s is a family affair and Dan and Mary Catherine wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tish Giroux is proud of her heritage and has surrounded herself with visible signs of that pride.
“I’m of Irish and Scottish descent and I’ve always loved my roots and where I come from,” says Tish Giroux who grew up on a dairy farm in Donegal near Eganville, Ontario.
For the past 37 years Tish has lived in Lanark County where she and her husband, Gerald, have raised their three sons.
“I had always entertained the notion of opening my own business, but whenever I talked about it, people thought I was crazy,” recalls Tish. “Over time, however, I talked about it so much that my husband finally said: ‘OK put your money with your mouth is.’”
So in April 2009 Tish did just that when she took the plunge and opened the Irish-Scot-Tish Shop in downtown Perth.
“With the recession, I heard a lot of negatives, but my husband was right, it was time for me to jump in and get my feet wet,” she explains. “I decided to start small and see what happens.”
Drawn by the things she loved, Tish stocked a selection of Celtic-themed music and jewelry, Aran jumpers (sweaters), wool blankets, tartan ties, dishes, rugby shirts, Irish caps, some clothing for the wee ones and more, much of which she sourced in Ireland and Scotland.
Tish and Gerald obtained the right to carry and sell the Lanark Highlands tartan and currently stock long ties, table toppers, table runners and sashes.
If Tish doesn’t have a particular item in stock, she can direct her customers to a likely source. Despite receiving requests, Tish has never ventured into the making of kilts.
“It takes many years to learn how to make a kilt,” points out Tish who does keep a list of kilt-makers so she can make recommendations to her customers.
From the outset Tish maintained a guest book in the store which indicated that her customers came from around the world.
These days she says they are really missing the Perth Kilt run which is usually the third Saturday in June. Both Tish and Gerald would like to thank Mary and Terry Stewart and all the volunteers involved in the run for all the joy it brought.
Missing the sound of the Highland pipes, last summer Tish hired two pipers to walk the streets of Perth in order to give them a Celtic feel.
“They were a big hit,” recalls Tish.
One of the things that TIsh is most proud of is the furniture in her shop. It belonged to a gentleman from County Wexford in Ireland who is a good friend of Tish’s family.
It’s obvious that for Tish Giroux her heritage plays an important part in both her life and her business.
Peter’s Restaurant & Bakery comes by its family atmosphere naturally.
Following their take-over of Peter’s in 2014 the restaurant quickly became home to both Chelsea and Mitch Fowler, as well as their children Liv and Liam.
“Both the kids spent their high school years working here” says Chelsea. “In fact, they still do. Liv is currently on maternity leave, but expects to return a day or so a week and Liam, who now lives in Ottawa, still helps us with our social media.”
When they bought the restaurant Chelsea and Mitch knew they were taking over a long-standing local tradition. There had been a restaurant at that location in downtown Perth since the time John Reid opened a fish & chip stand there back in 1941.
Most people growing up in Perth in the fifties and sixties knew it as the Bright Spot until Tony Noonan bought it in 1969 and opened Noonan’s Restaurant. Eventually, it was taken over by Tony’s son, Peter, who renamed it Peter’s Family Fare Restaurant.
“I certainly knew the place as a young girl growing up in Perth,” recalls Chelsea who was born and raised here and whose family has well-established roots in the area.
“My grandfather’s (Dr. Kidd) picture hangs in the hall at the Great War Memorial Hospital,” Chelsea points out proudly.
Following graduation from PDCI, Chelsea became a certified Dental Assistant and worked for fifteen years in the office of Perth’s Dr. Bob Chaplin.
“I loved every minute of it,” says Chelsea. “To this day, Bob and I are still good friends.”
Despite her love for what she was doing, Chelsea harbored a passion for food and the restaurant business. So much so that she’d occasionally tend bar at Maximilian’s while working at the dental office during the day.
When Peter’s Restaurant became available, Chelsea and Mitch, whom she met when they were both working at Home Hardware, decided it was time to follow their hearts and dreams.
From the outset, their goal was to ensure that their restaurant was a place where people felt “at home.”
“We wanted everyone to consider a seat at the restaurant to be like it was a chair in their living room,” says Chelsea.
Over the years many have done just that. Some customers are so regular that “we have their table set before they get here,“ laughs Chelsea.
For such people the pandemic has been especially difficult, particularly the seniors whose daily trip to Peter’s are often the highlight of their day. Many come to chat and visit, as much as they do to eat.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how large a part you play in their life,” reflects Chelsea. “Recently one of our regulars passed away and the restaurant and staff were mentioned in his obituary.”
These days Chelsea and her staff phone some of the regulars just to check in on them to make sure they’re doing OK and occasionally to bring them food.
“It's a difficult time,” says Chelsea. “We are all feeling the effects of isolation and maybe a little unmotivated and uninspired.”
The challenge of the pandemic struck home to Chelsea most recently when her husband Mitch suffered a heart attack. He was rushed to the Heart Institute where he underwent a triple bypass. It was a bit of a wakeup call.
“This has been a trying time for all of us and a bit of a reminder that we need to put ourselves and our health first” says Chelsea.
“Stress is high and business owners often put themselves last....we need to take care of ourselves,” she advises her fellow business owners.
It’s times like these that remind Chelsea just how important the extended Peter’s family is her life.
From the outset, Chelsea and Mitch chose their staff carefully.
“We wanted those who shared our vision,” says Chelsea. “We wanted those who had a welcoming personality.”
It was a philosophy that has worked well and over the years, the couple have been rewarded with a loyal and dedicated staff.
“I love going to work,” says Chelsea. “The Peter's family is a community I'm very grateful for.”
It’s also a sentiment shared by many of her customers as well.
Like many teenagers Cheryl Straby liked to follow the latest fashions, but lacked the means to get the clothes she wanted and her mother was often reluctant to bail her out.
“She didn’t like to give me money for new clothes, especially jeans, but she didn’t mind taking me to the fabric store to buy material,” recalls Cheryl. “So I soon learned that the quickest and easiest way to expand my wardrobe was to make my own clothes.”
Taking things into her own hands began a journey for Cheryl Straby that would see her clothing in some of North America’s best-known boutiques.
Following high school Cheryl enrolled in the fashion design program at Ryerson University in Toronto. It was here she developed the technical skills needed for sewing, pattern drafting and design.
“Design is very technical” says Cheryl. “You need to work hard at learning and developing those skills, because if you don’t have them you’ll never be able to get out what’s in your head.”
When she graduated from Ryerson in the early 80’s, Cheryl immersed herself in Toronto’s vibrant fashion industry.
Her career would take on a life of its own when Cheryl discovered she needed a winter coat.
“At the time I was working as an assistant designer for a company in Toronto and decided I needed a full-length winter coat,” recalls Cheryl. “So I started to experiment with scraps of leather off the cutting room floor and slowly pieced together a design.”
When Cheryl was finished her coat, she began to wear it around Toronto. To her surprise, women stopped her on the street and asked her where she got it.
“When I made the coat, I really had no idea if it was something good or it was junk,” recalls Cheryl.
The story of the coat continued in 1987 when Cheryl left it on the rack by the studio door. That particular day, by chance or fate, a buyer from Vancouver was visiting and noticed the leather coat.
“She asked my boss if it was part of a new collection.”
When the buyer, who owned boutiques in Banff, Vancouver and Whistler, proceeded to place an order for the coat, Strévé Design was born.
Under the original Germanic spelling of her surname, Cheryl began to create her own line of leather coats and handbags.
“My first couple of years were great,” recalls Cheryl.
Then the recession hit in 1990 and she realized people weren’t buying big ticket items. It was then that Cheryl introduced a line of accessories and scarves to her line, as well as jewellery.
“I didn’t do t-shirts or sweatshirts. That’s really not my thing,” she concedes.
Along the way, Cheryl continued to take night courses, including one on entrepreneurship.
“You create to sell, but you also have to sell in order to create,” says Cheryl about the relationship of art to business.
The fashion industry is a tough business with most of the money needed upfront before anything is actually produced or sold.
As a means of saving money, after eight years in Toronto, Cheryl returned to Lanark County where she continued her design business from her parent’s home near Hopetown.
Looking for a larger space, in July 2009 Cheryl opened a small boutique in downtown Perth.
Ten years later she relocated to a former feed mill where she added a second level art gallery representing established and emerging artists. In addition, Cheryl featured locally-made jewelry and hand weaving that compliments her designs.
During the pandemic she used her time to create new designs and to hone her business skills through webinars on a wide range of topics.
“You do what you have to do to get by,” Cheryl reflected. “When you own your own business, failure isn’t an option.”
Throughout it all Cheryl has remained true to her vision.
“When you create something you feel the reward of accomplishment,” she says. “The journey is the enjoyable part. It’s not all work.”
Recently that feeling was confirmed when Strévé Design was presented a runner-up award by the MERA Award of Excellence in Fine Arts and Fine Crafts for 2021.
It’s been a journey full of surprises and accomplishments for Cheryl. The truth is no one knows what will happen when they go looking for a winter coat.