Posted on November 5, 2012 by Marina
“The Church Key is your destination pub whether you’re looking for an impressive selection of craft beers or a pub meal with flair….”
It’s also a term for a bottle opener:
If you’re a fan of craft beer and quality pub food in London (Ontario), you most likely have visited the local favourite Church Key. Meet Vanessa, the owner of this London gem.
Vanessa chats what it takes to open up a restaurant and get started in the industry, favourite menu items, rewards of being a restaurant owner and what a Church Key really is:
What is your experience in the industry and how did you get started in the business?
My husband and I own and operate The Church Key together. We have both spent the better part of our lives working in the bar and restaurant industry. We both began like a lot of people do – working part time to earn money while in school and figuring out what we really wanted to do with our lives. My first job was as a server at a Golden Griddle in Oakville! Peter began at the infamous (and now gone) ‘Ox Box’ in London over 30 years ago. Luckily I think, we figured out pretty early on that we enjoyed the environment very much and chose to try to make a career in the industry. Peter has been a professional bartender at various establishments in London and I have also worked as a server and manager for almost 20 years.
How did The Church Key get started?
When my husband and I met 10 years ago, we began to develop a dream of starting our own restaurant one day. We hoped we could combine our experiences to create something that London would appreciate. In February of 2009, we had the good fortune of being able to occupy the space that now houses The Church Key.
Can you explain the concept behind the name?
A ‘Church Key’ is an old fashioned term for a bottle opener. In the days before twist off became the norm, you opened your beer bottle with a ‘church key’. We think they term comes from the fact that bottle openers kind of look like the non-business end of old iron antique keys. We even had one old timer in the bar once who told us that soldiers used to use found keys from blown out churches in the war to open all sorts of things. I’ve never bothered to verify this but it sounds cool.
The Church Key has a special place on the menu for local ingredients – where do they come from and why is this of importance?
I wouldn’t say that we focus exclusively on using local ingredients. I don’t want to mis-represent this out of respect to other restaurants that spend more energy and money on this than we do. That is not to say that we don’t source locally, we do – just again, not exclusively. We are committed to using local ingredients at every reasonable opportunity that presents itself. We visit farmers markets at least once a week and also have several local farms that deliver products to us fresh from the field/barn. Specifically whole lambs and pigs that we butcher ourselves, duck eggs, cheeses and seasonal organic vegetables. We do this for the freshness factor mostly, but also because it is important to support the local economy. I think that I would say we focus on providing very high quality comfort food and extreme value.
Smoked salmon wrapped scallops with rice wine syrup and togarashi aioli.
What is your favourite item on the menu?
I don’t know how it is for other restaurateurs but I am finding this question nearly impossible to answer! It’s like asking someone who their favourite child is. I know that sounds ridiculously corny but I’m not sure how to describe it. I guess if I had to pick one dish it would be The Ploughman’s Plate. It represents everything we are trying to be on a plate and is the one meal that I still eat at least once a week – I love it.
How would you describe Church Key to someone who has never been there?
A comfortable upscale pub that features traditional pub fare and comfort dishes that are prepared in a unique and highly professional manner. It is cozy, the food is tasty and inexpensive, and the service is friendly.
What is the most rewarding thing about running The Church Key?
There are so many things. We put everything that we have into our pub and the most rewarding thing is also the thing that surprised me the most – gratitude. I am overwhelmed on a daily basis by the immense feeling of gratitude that I feel for the support given by all people involved with The Church Key – staff, customers (especially the regulars), others in the restaurant community, suppliers, other local businesses, everyone. When people I don’t know choose to celebrate huge milestones in their life like an 80th birthday or an engagement or a shower or retirement or graduation or whatever at our little pub, we are truly honored. I never expected that.
For more on Church Key, visit http://www.thechurchkey.ca/.