Eyes on the Fries: How two PEI entrepreneurs made their restaurant dreams come true

April 13, 2017

Mid-November isn’t a likely time of year to open a restaurant on blustery Prince Edward Island. But for Quentin Gillis and Tanya O’Brien, owners of Holy Cow Burgers & Wings, it was a risk that paid off. Quentin and his partner Tanya moved their food truck, Wicked Fries, to Morell, PEI from Charlottetown in the spring of 2015. They hadn’t had much luck in Charlottetown, but recognized that as a small—but lively—community, Morell was short on food options. They hoped that their Wicked Fries truck could help to fill a void by serving up fresh hand cut fries, poutine, and PEI beef burgers to locals and visitors through the summer months.

It turns out, they had chosen the right place, at the right time, and the community welcomed the couple with open arms. “Right off the bat, the food truck took off, and we saw sales we never could have imagined”, said Quentin. “Word of mouth travelled throughout the island and we had people driving two hours just to come and try it.”

With a successful summer under their belts, Quentin and Tanya were surprised when their local credit union reached out with a new idea. Sherri Clark of Morell Credit Union suspected her community would be thrilled to have a more permanent restaurant in town. She reached out to Quentin and Tanya with a plan that would allow them to test the waters, and ensure that it was the right fit for both them, and the region. “The credit union had a building sitting empty that they hadn’t had luck selling. Sherri asked if we’d be interested in doing a short-term lease to open a restaurant”, explained Quentin.

With support from the credit union, Holy Cow Burgers and Wings opened for business that November, starting with a six-month lease. From the start, Quentin and Tanya made it a priority to include local products wherever possible, in appreciation for the community that had shown him so much support. Known for their burgers, Holy Cow uses only local beef and when it’s in season, seafood from local fishers.

Though opening a restaurant in November is unusual, Quentin and Tanya were delighted to find that they were busy right away, and stayed busy through the winter. “We had a ton of support”, emphasized Quentin. “Our food still had a good reputation among the local community and surrounding areas.”  

As the six month mark on their lease drew closer, Quentin and Tanya worked with the credit union to extend the lease to ensure they could make it through the summer operating both the restaurant and their food truck. They expanded their team with employees from the local area, and both businesses had a successful summer. At that point, it was time to make a decision. With the support of Morell Credit Union, Quentin and Tanya went ahead and purchased the restaurant.

Holy Cow Burgers and Wings has now been open for 18 months, and shows no signs of slowing down—but Quentin doesn’t let the success go to his head. “A lot of work goes into it, and just because we’ve been successful so far, doesn’t mean we’ll continue to be successful. We have to keep looking at our labour and food costs, adjusting as we go, and making sure that the targets we’ve set for ourselves are being met.” Above all, Quentin and Tanya prioritize their customers and their connection to the community. “For us, the best part is having local customer support, and being accepted within the community."

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