SAULT STE MARIE: After 6 years of getting the ultimate culinary experience in Toronto to learn everything he could, John Armstrong returned home to the Sault when an opportunity caught his eye – to purchase Ernie’s Cafe. With his intention to create a culture that still resonates with the cafe’s years of delivering mouth-watering dishes, Armstrong had to close the doors after just 6 weeks of operations.
With help from the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Armstrong will be having his second opening on Friday, July 10 at 11:30 a.m. and the cafe will be operating Wednesday to Sunday. The city was able to assist with a permit to grant access for Armstrong to create a patio along Queen Street leading up to Ernie’s Cafe. Five picnic tables and two small tables have been added to create a new patio. Set up with candles, umbrellas, hanging lights and flower bushes along the sides to provide guests with a calming and relaxing patio experience.
“The city was very kind and worked with me as much as they could and as fast as they could. To get things up.”
“They were great, I still had to get everything built and source all the lumber, use specific material. All built by local people; lumbers from local, Mennonite’s, it’s all about supporting one another in the Algoma District.”
As the second reopening is underway, Armstrong feels the heat from not having one grand-opening, but two.
“Anticipation for the second reopen, well, it truly is like opening a restaurant for the second time in a row. As you can imagine reopening the first time was stressful enough and exciting. The second time, round two here we go. This time since it’s the summer I want to take full advantage of what’s grown locally, what’s produced locally, whether it be honey or vegetables, protein; eggs, beef, pork, poultry.”
During these times of uncertainty when Ernie’s Cafe would be in full swing, Armstrong acknowledges how the community has been so supportive for the cafe’s return.
“Right now, I’m just in the scramble of tracking down and finding who has what produce. Trying to push that support towards one another, which is reciprocated all around. I’ve had so many other business owners on Queen Street, and in the area reach out and ask ‘Can we help in any way?’”
Sault Ste. Marie is known for its community support in paving the way for local businesses to be the best they can be.
“It’s a real scene of community, which is hard to come by and that’s why I think what brought me back to Sault Ste. Marie for the most part, you aren’t just a number, it’s not a big city everyone knows everyone. It’s a beautiful thing.”
As Armstrong prepares for his second open he will be adhering to strict health and safety guidelines. There will be more staff on, including one person dedicated to greeting guests, and logging guest’s names, arrival time, and phone numbers in case there are any outbreaks. Washrooms will be sanitized after every use. There won’t be any physical menu copies, it will just be on a blackboard set up out front. This is to prevent any cross-contamination between menu use.
Guests can expect main stags with new dishes on a seasonal basis. Overall a smaller and more intimate menu focused on quality over quantity.
“The new menu because it will be small every day, I’ll have five items that are stables, real classics such as fried chicken, steak, and ribs smoked in the back. Everything will be made by hand. I’m going down to the source of everything, honey will be local, and dairy is local.”
With Friday fast approaching, Armstrong takes a moment to thank his family and friends for all the support during this difficult time and thanks them for the support in the new ownership of Ernie’s.
“I owe a lot of this to my family and friends, having this business. My mom, and aunts were a huge help, including my dad and brothers. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”
If you’re a Ernie’s fan go check out the newest patio on Queen Street, the food and atmosphere will not fail. To find out what’s cooking in the kitchen make sure to have a look at Ernie’s Cafe Facebook and Instagram Page.