IN THE KITCHEN: Janice O'Born, Martina Whittick and Jason Reiner of Rosemont General Store and Café
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Three years ago, Janice O'Born decided to breathe new life into the Rosemont General Store, a local landmark first established in 1846. Beyond giving the rural historic shop some TLC, she successfully transformed it into an upscale country store complete with specialty foods and groceries, take-out and prepared meals, gift items and a full service licensed cafe complete with a chef. “It's still very much an old-time general store because you can buy anything from gum to a wedding present here,” she explains. “But now, you can also enjoy a three-course, sit-down dinner with a glass of wine.”
Eager to learn more about this eclectic shop and cafe, GoodLife recently caught up with the Rosemont General Store owner Janice O'Born, store manager Martina Whittick and chef Jason Reiner.

GoodLife: Janice, you and your husband, Earle O'Born, have been local residents for years. What led you to get into the general store business?
Janice: About 28 years ago, we bought a farm that is about a five-minute drive from here. I guess you would call us hobby farmers because we rent the arable land and have 16 chickens, a llama, two alpacas and a rabbit. Anyway, we fell in love with the area and when the general store came up for sale, I decided to buy it. My husband said: ‘But you don't know anything about running a general store, and I replied ‘No worries, I will just Google it.' And I did! [laughs].

GL: I have fond memories of this general store because my grandmother lived nearby and used to bring me here as a child to buy candy and ice cream. I loved it back then, but I think I like it even better now. Can you explain the renovation process?
Janice: The original store is nearly 170 years old, and when we first took it over it was about 600 square feet with an attached residence for the owners. It required tons of work because nothing was legal. The electrical and plumbing were outdated and the place had little insulation. After bringing everything up to code and refinishing all of the original wooden floors, we decided to add a 1,000-square-foot addition to house a 30-seat cafe complete with a kitchen and chef. The cafe, which opened about a year ago, is quite lovely because it offers diners a lovely view of rolling pastures. The store was built with the creative eye of my husband, using all local labour.

GL: I love how you've paid homage to the history of the store and local community by decorating the place with old black and white photos of Rosemont, school pictures, old auction posters and various antiques including a wooden cash register, two iron stoves and so on. It's almost like a mini museum in here.
Janice: All of the antiques and photos came with the place, and it was important for us to take care of them and put them on display. We reframed all of the old photos, and a few other items we found around the shop including a bill of sale from the 1880s. There are plenty of historic artifacts to look at, that's for sure. Customers love it!

GL: Can you share some of the history of the building?
Janice: The store was originally built as a haberdashery shop and post office in the 1848. Back in those early days, Rosemont was a stagecoach stop for weary travellers heading to either Barrie or Collingwood from Toronto. The street had three hotels and various stores catering to the needs of the travellers, stagecoach drivers and local residents. Over the years, this particular building has had several lives as a grocery store, department store, general store and post office.  

GL: You describe the Rosemont General Store as ‘one of a kind, not a link in a chain.' Please expand.
Janice: We're a friendly and accommodating country general store and cafe with plenty of character. We showcase high quality items on our shelves and give preference to local producers, farmers and artisans. The majority of our artisanal gifts, housewares, toiletries, grocery and specialty food items are made in Ontario.

GL: What's on offer in your take-out food section?
Janice: Along with specialty coffees and teas, we have various takeout food items like desserts, sandwiches, paninis, breakfast sandwiches and scooped ice cream. Almost everything is made in house, from scratch and with love. We also have fridges full of local dairy products, eggs, and various prepared take-home meals that our chef, Jason, has prepared. Some of those items include lasagna, shepherd's pie, soups, pizzas and our famous butter chicken, to name a few. We even make our own bread to serve with these meals.

GL: Jason, I understand you were trained at the Stratford Chef School. What's your food philosophy?
Jason: I like to keep things simple. I believe in using high quality ingredients and letting the ingredients speak for themselves. The menu is all very locally sourced. And if I can't find it locally, I use local suppliers rather than big companies.
Janice: Our wine is from Niagara and our beer is from Barrie. We are conscious of our carbon foot print and love to buy Canadian.  

GL: Let's talk about the licensed café which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Can you serve up more details?
Jason: Along with delicious weekday breakfast items, such as bacon and eggs, breakfast sandwiches and granola, we offer buckwheat pancakes and eggs Benedict on the weekend. For lunch and dinner our soups, salads, quiches, burgers and homemade pizzas are fabulous. We also offer gourmet dinner options including beef tenderloin (with blue cheese, roast garlic mashed potatoes and baby vegetables) braised beef short ribs (with roast garlic mashed potatoes), roast pork loin (with orzo pasta), rainbow trout (with green pea purée and baby vegetables) and more.
Martina: Although we originally started as a café, we are currently rebranding as a restaurant because our expanded food services are much more than café.

GL: What would your order for me if I came in for a three-course dinner?
Jason: I'd start you off with our daily soup. Our soups are huge sellers because we make all of our own stocks and soups from scratch. For the main, you would have to have one of our wood stone fired gourmet pizzas because they are just so darn good. For dessert, I'd suggest one of our apple desserts or our famous bread pudding.  

GL: Does your rural location make it easier to source from local farmers?
Jason: We have great relationships with the local farmers and use as much of their harvest as possible. Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, we source our eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry and more from local farms.

GL: What do you like to cook at home?
Jason: I don't really have one favourite meal. What I enjoy the most about cooking at home is the spontaneity. There are no rules, so you can really let the creative juices flow. Last night, for example, we made this pasta with boar sausage, olives, capers, kale and tomatoes from the garden.

GL: How do you cater to diners with special dietary needs?
Jason: We do have gluten-free pizzas and gluten-free wraps and bread for the sandwiches. We have a selection of soups that are vegetarian, and we always have a vegetarian entrée. But any product can be made to meet the customers' needs from gluten free to vegetarian and vegan. The easiest way for us to accommodate other dietary needs is to call ahead and give us a bit of notice.

GL: You also offer gift baskets?
Janice: We make lots of them, especially leading up to the holiday season.

GL: Your goal is to make the general store the hub of the community. Please expand.  
Janice: Right from the start, we decided to make this place a safe haven for the local community during power outages or storms. We invested in an extra well, a massive septic tank, a generator and propane cooking. In the event of a storm or with the area being without power for a day or more, this can be the community centre where people can come and get tea, coffee, hot food and use the washrooms. Storms and power outages aside, we really love the idea of being the community hub where people stop in for a coffee, newspaper or to catch up on the local gossip with neighbours.

GL: What about special events?  
Martina: To keep things interesting, we offer different events including live music, wine tastings, fundraising dinners, guest chefs and so on. On Nov. 21, we are hosting a fundraising dinner for the Sir Frederick Banting Legacy Foundation (SFBLF). The mission of the SFBLF is to Fight Diabetes and Preserve a Legacy with a primary focus on disease prevention and self-management.

GL: Beyond the Rosemont General Store, what's your favourite culinary destination?
Janice: I am happy with great fish and chips in London, or experiencing a fabulous culinary experience in London or Tuscany, always with local, fresh ingredients, great mushrooms, truffles, grilled fish with an organic salad.

GL: Any interesting future plans?
Janice: Expansion is definitely in the works. We just purchased the property on the west side next to us and are waiting for its status to change from residential to commercial. Our plan is to punch through the store, expand the dining room and double the size of our kitchen. I would love to have a space that people feel comfortable in taking a class how to make pickles, or a pizza, children's birthday parties, and perhaps a special meeting place for military with such needs as post-traumatic stress disorder. To be a community a leader, we need to make access to the kitchen friendly, not intimidating.  

GL: You've got the ear of thousands of local readers, anything you'd like to add?
Janice: One of the best things about our store is that we offer a unique shopping experience. Our mission is not to be the cheapest, but to offer quality products with excellent personal service. Beyond that, I'm very proud of the fact that we have created nine jobs in this community.  

Rosemont General Store & Café
508563 89 Highway, Mulmur


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