The renowned restaurant Chez Saint-Pierre, in Rimouski, will not open next summer. Uncertain of being able to reinstall its containers at Bic, the City of Rimouski delaying revising its zoning by-law, Colombe St-Pierre acquired the former canteen Lilo, in Saint-Fabien, in December 2022. This is where that it will open its popular Coastal Canteen for the summer season.
“It’s a temporary closure,” says the chef. We may do a few events at the Bic restaurant this summer, but I can’t do more. It’s really impossible for me to open reservations. I have to manage a move, I’m short on staff and last summer my boyfriend and I got sick from working 80 hours a week. »
The Coastal Canteen first came into existence in the summer of 2020, in response to pandemic restrictions. In July 2022, Colombe St-Pierre learned that it might not be able to reopen in 2023, a zoning article prohibiting the use of containers, trucks or trailers as buildings. The derogation had ended with the lifting of health measures. If there is still talk of a relaxation of the City, the chef did not want to put her season at risk.
Like many other restaurateurs, the mentor on Les chefs! thinks a lot about the future of his profession. “Restaurants are going through a crisis and gastronomy, with its minimal margins of 2-3%, even more so. I’m not comfortable [charging] $400-500 per person. I don’t judge those who do it, but I can’t. What I want to do is feed as many people as possible and do it well, with healthy foods. La Cantine is not about sauce powder and burgers. These are poutines with octopus, halibut, oysters. You can even order a bottle of champagne! »
Colombe St-Pierre says that the “why” of her approach has remained the same since the beginning of her restaurant at Bic in 2004, when she watched “18 wheels” filled with fish and seafood go by without being able to put hand on a single sea urchin.
“What I question the most today is the format. In the midst of a pandemic, I still had a lot of fun cooking simpler, without reservations, for everyone. If you’re a little patient, you’ll eat! »
“First there was a resilience, in the summer of 2020, which led to creativity, to end in exhaustion because it took a lot of energy to conceptualize all these changes”, continues the chef. When, in addition, administrative concerns get involved, the heaviness becomes unbearable.
“I have brought a whole craftsmanship to Quebec. I have been an asset to tourism in my region. I was given Culinary Ambassador medals and then wondered why would I get any help? During all this municipal by-laws thing, I kind of felt like I could disappear and nobody would mind. Fortunately, the population supported me. »
It is not new that Colombe St-Pierre deplores the misery in which many chef-owners practice their profession. But more than ever, the charges are piling up, between the tens of thousands of dollars sent to credit card companies in a year – “me, when I go to a small independent business, I always pay with my Interac card”, she says – increased wages, rising food prices, etc. “Hearing great Quebec chefs at the end of their career tell me that they have never been so badly taken in their lives, it breaks my heart. »
Fortunately, even if it doesn’t pay the bills, there is the love of customers, the pleasure of encounters and the love of products.
To find out the exact opening date and other details of the Coastal Canteen 2023, which will install its containers in Saint-Fabien in June, it is best to follow the company’s social networks.