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Friday, 07 October 2016 03:37

Evolution of a business: Harvest healthy and growing because of teamwork

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Garrett a.k.a. ‘Rusty’ and Kristy Thienes have done their best to make sure Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon is one of those places which needs to be experienced.

They share numerous photographs on social media of what appear to be unbelievably delicious-looking food. They are extremely popular and it isn’t a fluke. The proof is in the pudding.
Those who live around Shaunavon know and now everyone else in Saskatchewan and the prairies do too.
Rusty was named CBC Saskatchewan’s Future 40 in 2015; Harvest Burger was voted the Best in Saskatchewan by CBC in 2016; they were a Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence Finalist in 2014 and were named Rookie of the Year in 2013. Harvest Eatery was also featured on the premiere episode of CityTV’s foodie television series The Prairie Diners. The Fresh Market portion of the business is set to open in January 2017.
At the end of the month, they have another battle.
“We are about to compete in Gold Medal Plates on October 28th in Regina, and we plan on bringing our best to the table so I hope nobody is sleeping on us,” says Rusty. “Truthfully, the awards are great, because it means that other people are into what we are doing here. I would be lying to say that the recognition hasn’t felt amazing, but it would be dishonest to say that it’s why we do what we do. We wanted to do things on our terms, and that is a scary proposition for any business owner when starting out. 
“The whole reason you should work for yourself is to smash the box and deliver your dreams and goals to a public who hopefully says ‘Ya, this is great... more’, but you never really know the public’s reaction until you have gone all in and taken the plunge. To me, the awards and recognition is just Saskatchewan’s way of telling us we belong here.”
They are truly a team. Kristy, a native of Vancouver, affectionately refers to Rusty as ‘Chef’ and while Rusty may get attention for the food, everything else including the restaurant design and marketing is her department if not a team effort. Rusty is fiercely competitive and determined to put out the best possible product, just like Kristy.
“The most important rule is ‘don’t be complacent.’ There is always room for improvement. Now that summer is over, the patio is closed and everyone’s going back to school or getting into their normal work routines, it slows down a bit for us at the restaurant,” adds Kristy. “Instead of sitting back and enjoying the calm before the Christmas party storm, now’s the time for us to start new big projects in this down time. I’m currently rebranding the logo, website, menus and marketing material to breathe new life into our brand while Chef creates our new winter menu featuring seasonal ingredients. We are also in the process of transforming a former dentist’s office that’s attached to our current space into a private dining room to accommodate larger groups in an intimate setting.”
As they create these new projects, they keep their guests involved. She says they regularly take diners into the back room to view the destruction and construction of the private dining space. She tells them of her design plans and helps them visualize what she sees.
Rusty will create nightly features of potential new menu items for diners to try and give their feedback. Kristy says they like to keep their guests in the loop which makes them understand they are truly a part of their growth as a business.
She says from a local angle, word of mouth is important advertising.
Kristy describes the Cypress Hills Destination Area and Tourism Saskatchewan’s support as “invaluable.” 
“In a small community like Shaunavon, it’s vital for small businesses to form a collective and create a larger and louder voice to entice more people to the area,” explains Kristy. “The CHDA has been the ultimate platform for educating people on everything this area has to offer and increasing the tourism in the area substantially. Tourism has played an integral role in our success, but so has the community, which is why we have limited our marketing spending on purchasing advertising and rather, we donate gift cards to events and fundraisers to help support our roots.”
They have been able to juggle the roles in creating a successful business. Kristy says they work well together because they are creatively inclined, just in different regards and have faith in each other’s judgment.
“Before we even opened, we created very distinguishable roles for ourselves to avoid having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’,” she says cheekily. “By defining our own set roles, we can be confident in our own decision making and be the experts in our own defined area. We have developed a very effective working relationship that allows us to bounce ideas off one another — and the best part is whether or not we take that advice or feedback is our own choice, because we are the expert in our own area.”
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“With that said, Rusty will regularly come up with marketing ideas that I will execute, and I will regularly tell him what I’m craving and he’ll create it as a feature. The most important thing about working with my husband has been to keep our roles defined, trust each other, and to never bring work home — unless it’s in a take out box,” adds Kristy.
“Marketing Harvest Eatery has always been easy. When you’re truly passionate about something, promoting it comes very naturally and luckily I love to eat, and I also love my Chef husband — so I never run out of material to promote.”
In that sense, Kristy may be one of the most fortunate people in Shaunavon. A wide menu with the ability and desire to try something different. He doesn’t hang his chef’s hat on one particular item, but says he addressed what he calls his weakness which are desserts. A pastry chef will start in October.
Rusty loves to teach the young chefs who work there and be a mentor. Two apprentices are off to culinary school in New York in 2017.
“I feel that cooking and music share a parallel relationship in that you eventually get to a point where you are satisfied with the end result, but never really feel you achieve perfection,” explains Rusty. “It is one of the things that keeps me cooking and performing, just a constant drive to achieve something that in the end, ultimately, is unachievable. The fact that in my older age I recognize the difference, says a lot about the point I have reached in acceptance of our limits as humans. We do have a saying, though, in our kitchen, ‘good is the enemy of great’ and we adhere strictly to the belief that accepting less than your absolute best is the same as giving up.”
Pleasing the customer is always the number one goal. Besides being featured on one, Rusty is well aware of cooking shows on The Food Network. He is looking for the “Wow” reaction.
“If you ever watch a cooking show where some travel host/food show host, etc. is visiting a chef, watch the reaction of the chef as the show’s hosts taste their food for the first time. If their eyes don’t light up and they don’t smile when they get the reaction they expect, I wouldn’t go eat there,” says Rusty jokingly. “But seriously, there isn’t a lot of money in this profession, and it requires extreme hours and pressure. Most people will not be able to handle it, you have to be a special cat to want to do this, but when someone eats your food and you take them somewhere they have never been, the feeling you get from that is better than (any artificial high). It’s a high on its own. Of course, criticism comes with praise, and we often wear that on our sleeve because of our passion, but you have to be able to check your ego and realize that it’s either true, good advice for you or the business or learn to identify if it’s just some (person) blowing smoke and let it slide.”
Kristy adds a benefit of being in a small town is that they are able to set their hours and stick by them. As of now, they are closed Sundays and Mondays, for example, which allows the entire staff some time to recuperate and to have a bit of a personal life. Those who have been in the industry will know how difficult it is. The pair enjoy the challenges and love the niché they have carved in the culinary world.
“I love what I do. I’m happy to go to work every morning because I never know who I will get to meet, whose story I will get to hear or what Chef will be preparing,” explains Kristy. “Every day is different which keeps it exciting. It absolutely is a merciless business, but I know tomorrow will be a new day.”

Read 3746 times Last modified on Friday, 07 October 2016 09:02
Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor