IN THE KITCHEN: Christine Fielding & Phil Carver
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A small town gem is the best way to describe the Olde Bulldog Beanery. Specializing in unique gourmet coffees, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, fresh breads and pastries, the 40-seat Cookstown cafe is worth checking out. “Our goal is to bring a quality urban coffee experience to small town Ontario,” explains Phil Carver, who owns and operates the popular one-year-old cafe with partner Christine Fielding.
Happy to chat about their new family business, the couple recently sat down with this GoodLife reporter to dish about everything – from the secret to making great coffee to the importance of supporting the local community and serving up a fun and energetic atmosphere. Located in a historical building, we even touched upon the address's colourful and haunted past.

What led you to open up the Bulldog Beanery?
Christine Fielding: A few reasons … Phil needed a project because he had just retired from the RCMP, and I was ready for a career change after years of working in corporate recruiting. We have always wanted to run our own business together, so the timing was perfect to take this on. Why a cafe? I have a big-time passion for coffee and cooking and Phil is very much a people-person. He loves to chat with everyone, so we affectionately refer to him as ‘the Phil show' [laughs].

Why Cookstown?
Phil Carver: After researching various small towns in Ontario we settled on Cookstown because we love its history, charm and strong sense of community. We literally know hundreds of our customers on a first-name basis, and that's pretty cool. We try to support this community as much as possible.

Why call it the Olde Bulldog Beanery?   
Christine: We have two English bulldogs — Chester and Winston, and they're the best dogs ever [smiles]. That explains the ‘bulldog' part, the ‘olde' reflects the Victorian charm and history of Cookstown, and the ‘beanery' refers to the coffee. We had a fantastic graphic designer pull it all together, so our logo features a bulldog wearing an old bowler hat and a monocle.

Let's talk java. Christine, I understand you are the coffee expert.  
CF: When we decided to get into the coffee business, it was essential that we did it right. I attended the Canadian Barista Academy and became an expert barista.

What's the secret to making a great cup of coffee?
CF: First and foremost the quality of the bean is key. We grind our beans per use, so they are always fresh for every cup of coffee.

I'm a big fan of Balzac's Coffee and was thrilled to discover that you use it exclusively.
CF: After sampling coffees from all across Canada for months, we settled on Balzac's because we felt it was the best coffee available. Beyond taste, we also loved their philosophy and their story. The fact that Balzac's is a Dragon's Den company is also unique. The beans make Balzac's Coffee great. They are roasted to perfection, so the coffee is smooth with no aftertaste. We also sell it retail and we will gladly grind it for people.

How many specialty coffees are on offer?
CF: Along with standard lattes and cappuccinos, we offer about 17 of our own recipes from spicy to flavoured. Hot sellers include a decadent Nutella hazelnut latte, a death by chocolate cappuccino, a biscotti latte, and a banana-based cheeky monkey latte. We also do tea-based lattes like London fogs, chai lattes and steamers for the kids. Micro foam is the key. It tastes thicker and it can be piled high.
PC: We are constantly experimenting with new recipes. For the warmer months, we also offer iced coffees, iced flavoured lattes and blended real iced teas.

What's your philosophy with respect to food and business?
CF: Our food philosophy is fresh, fresh, fresh. We source local, high quality food and almost everything is made in-house.
PC: A sign hangs on our wall [he points to it] that says: “sit long talk much.” And that pretty much sums up our business philosophy. The Bulldog Beanery is a place where friends become family and family become friends. It's not unheard of at the Bulldog for groups of people who were complete strangers moments earlier to turn their chairs and engage in a full room conversation that can often take us well into the evening, often past our actual closing time.

Your menu showcases homemade soups, sandwiches premium pastries and fresh bread. What are some of your most popular items?

CF: Our ham, pear and brie on whole wheat with a Dijon mayo is very popular, as well as the classic Reuben and loaded BLT. Our latest menu addition, a warm goat cheese, pear and walnut salad with a light balsamic vinaigrette, is fast becoming a favourite, as well. Our sandwiches are stacked three high, so no one leaves hungry!
PC: People always say: ‘Oh Wow!' when they see the size of the sandwiches! Christine loves the Wow factor [smiles].  

What about sought after bakery items?
CF: Our butter tarts just fly off the shelves! Other popular items include our spinach feta pastry, our cannoli, cheesecakes, lemon and chocolate tarts, cupcakes and cookies. We also make fresh bread and bagels every Saturday morning. Everything, except for our gluten-free items, is made in-house.
Speaking of gluten-free …

What's on offer for people with special dietary needs?
CF: All of our sandwiches can be made gluten-free at no extra cost. We also offer gluten-free cookies and desserts, along with gluten-free soups and salads. We also serve vegetarian items.
I see that you also sell scooped Kawartha Dairy ice cream.
PC: We just started carrying it and it's been a real hit so far.

The building that houses the Bulldog Beanery has a rich and colourful past. I understand it was originally built in 1867. Can you expand?
PC: It's almost 150 years old and was originally built as an inn. Our main sitting area was the former lobby, and the upstairs housed the bedrooms of innkeepers and their guests. At one point, there were nearly 20 beds in the inn. Today, the building has been divided and many of those bedrooms are now apartments, but the main innkeeper's bedroom (and their child's room) are still upstairs, along with a refurbished Victoria bathroom complete with a clawfoot tub. In recent years, the building housed the Chestnut Inn and the Princely Pear Tea Room. With 14-foot ceilings, original woodwork and a post and beam interior, the building is full of charm.

I understand the building is also haunted?
PC: Our building is featured in Haunted Cookstown, a book by Cate Crow and Amy Woodcock. While researching the book, they brought in a medium who identified nearly 35 spirits — making our building one of the most haunted buildings in Cookstown. Let's see, according to their book, a ghost named Gabby lives in the kitchen, and a ghost (a former resident who was afraid of the dark) lives in the basement and so on. But the most famous story is about Catherine. Legend has it that in the 1800s, the Victorian innkeeper was a man of substance in the community, so his children were expected to keep a certain level of decorum. His daughter, Catherine, began seeing a boy whom her father did not approve of because he lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Well ultimately, she came home and told her father that she was pregnant. The distraught innkeeper allegedly flew into a fit of rage and pushed her down the stairs and she died [he points to the stairs]. Occasionally in the upstairs windows, they say you can see the figure of Catherine (a woman in black) in the window. Former residents have also mentioned the sound of little girls laughing in the upstairs bedrooms.

Have you personally experienced any ghostly events?
PC: Me? No, but it's a great conversation starter [laughs].
CF: I've experienced a few things like the lights turning off and on, or flickering. But Phil always says it's just the old electrical wires. Or he'll jokingly say: ‘maybe it's old Joseph playing tricks on us.' [laughs].

I love the rustic shabby chic decor! Did you have to do major renovations before you opened up shop?

PC: It was quite the process [laughs]. Before we renovated the place was very, very dark. The walls were yellow and the carpets were purple. We stripped everything down to the original wood and milk painted to brighten the place up. The walls are all decorated with eclectic works of art from local artists and the front room showcases an original Franklin stove. The decor is basically a smash up of modern and rustic with plenty of antique charm. We also added a patio when we renovated.

Do you cater?

PC: We do both in-house and off-site buffet catering for 30 to 40 people. We also have a quaint private meeting space on our second floor that can accommodate groups up to 16.

Other than the Olde Bulldog Beanery, what's your favourite foodie destination?
PC: On days off, we hop in our little car and see where the road takes us. We love small towns and mom and pop places, and generally stay away from the chains. Recently, we discovered a great little place called Davidson's Country Dining in Innisfil (  It's located in a historical home, and the food is fresh, delicious and homemade.

What's your favourite meal to cook at home?
CF: I think our favourite meals to cook at home are pasta-based dishes. We love how we can use different textures and flavours to create different dishes every time. This type of meal also allows the entire family to get involved where everyone can offer suggestions to ‘add a little of this' or ‘add a little of that.' This way, preparing dinner becomes a social time where the family spends time together and we catch up on the day.

Any interesting future plans?
CF: We'd love to find another small town and set up another Bulldog Beanery.
You've got the ear of thousands of readers, anything you'd like to add?
PC: We are just having so much fun with this place! The energy of this community is just fantastic so a big thanks to our customers for making our business a success. One more thing, remember to follow us on social media because we do post specials, as well as updates and changes. 


(Recipe courtesy of the Olde Bulldog Beanery)
A classic BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) loaded high on fresh
focaccia with pesto mayo. It's a Bulldog favourite!

1/2 to 1 clove fresh garlic
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Freshly cooked bacon
Sliced tomatoes
Swiss cheese
Mixed greens (a blend of red romaine lettuce, green chard, arugula, radicchio and baby spinach) 

Pound garlic with a pinch of salt. Add basil leaves and pulse in a food processor. Add pine nuts and pulse again. Next, add half of the Parmesan and 3 tablespoons of the oil, pulse and scrape down pesto from sides, pulse again until smooth. Add remaining cheese and lemon juice, pulse. Add extra oil, if necessary to achieve desired consistency. If you like extra garlic, now is the time to add it.
Remove from food processor and place in a small bowl. Stir in 1/8 cup of real mayonnaise.
Cut focaccia in half, and place in a panini press (pressed together). Bread should be toasted on the outside, but warm and soft on the inside.
Spread pesto mayo on each half. Add freshly cooked bacon, sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Add Swiss cheese.
Top with mixed greens. This will give your sandwich the perfect blend of both mild and bold.
Place the top on the focaccia and enjoy! Makes one sandwich.

The Olde Bulldog Beanery

9 Queen Street, Cookstown


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