The faces are familiar and the concept is comfortable.
"It’s a passing of the torch," says Rachael King, co-owner of Bonnie Day, a new restaurant set to open Wednesday in the former home of Ruby West. "We are so thankful that the original owners had the forethought to turn the building into a fully licensed restaurant for the community."
King and her partner, Brian Johnson, have taken over the small eatery in the heart of Wolseley from previous owners (and neighbours) Jamie and Laura Hilland and Pete and Erin Keating with plans to ramp up the cosiness and elevate the menu.
"Laura and I are very pleased to see the restaurant remain in the hands of another Wolseley family with similar values in wanting to create a community gathering space," Jamie says via email.
Ruby West opened in the fall of 2019 and Johnson has been the restaurant’s kitchen manager since Day 1.
Food is a passion, but aside from running a not-quite-legal pizza joint out of his backyard for several years, Johnson doesn’t have much in the way of culinary experience. He’s excited to have chef Pamela Kirkpatrick on board for the next iteration.
"We’ve reached out to these people that have way more experience than us and it’s been great," he says. "Pam has whipped the kitchen into shape, but yet will still collaborate on the menu with me, because she knows the food is important."
Kirkpatrick, of Cake-ology and Forth Projects fame, has helped create a new menu that revolves around comfort food — charcuterie, pizza, burgers, risotto, macaroni and cheese, pavlova — and caters to vegan and gluten-intolerant diners. Bartender Josey Krahn of Tiny Bar has also lent his mixology expertise to a new cocktail list.
"It wasn’t like I wanted to come in and fix anything," Kirkpatrick says. "There’s opportunities here and (King and Johnson) can take this place to the next 15 levels. I think my background in systems and organizations and people connections, too, just all fit together so nicely."
King, who is a photographer by trade and one-half of Luckygirl Creative, is focused on the atmosphere.
She joined the business in May and has been busy re-imagining the dining room while learning the ropes of front-of-house food service.
Overhead lights have been replaced with tabletop candles, carpeting has been removed and walls have been repainted.
"I think this space really needed to become more cosy," King says. "I imagine looking in from the outside in the dead of winter and (the restaurant) glowing like an ember."
Her cousins Hilary and Jimmy have also joined the ownership group. It was only fitting, then, that the family venture would be named after a well-known family witticism. The late David King, uncle and father to the owners, was a playwright with a penchant for one-liners.
"Whenever we would all get together… we would commiserate as to where to go and break bread," King says. "We would name all these different restaurants and as soon as we struck upon the one he loved, he’d yell ‘bonnie day,’ which is beautiful day in Scottish… and then also good idea (bonne idée) in French."
King and Johnson have been living and raising their family in Wolseley for roughly 18 years. They’re looking forward to building on the restaurant’s legacy as a community gathering place — prior to Ruby West, the space at 898 Westminster Ave. was home to the Neighbourhood Cafe and Bookstore for more than a decade.
"To have a vessel to host something that creates community in a very authentic way is really important to us," King says. "And to not be totally Wolseley-centric, but to also bring other people into this neighbourhood."
Bonnie Day will open for dinner Mondays through Saturdays beginning Dec. 1. Unsurprisingly, King, who has organized dozens of Luckygirl pop-up markets, is hoping to host chef and artist pop-ups in the restaurant. The owners are also mulling adding extended daytime hours in the future for the coffee-drinking crowd.
Follow Bonnie Day (@bonniedayresto) on Instagram for more information.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.