Located in on University Avenue in Charlottetown, My Plum, My Duck offers eat-in service, take-out, delivery, and grab-and-go lunches. Dishes are prepared from scratch, with local, organic ingredients.
The café, owned and operated by Chef Sarah Forrester Wendt, caters to vegans, vegetarians, and diners with allergies and other special dietary needs. There is a special prep area in the kitchen for chefs to safely prepare dishes for celiacs and other allergy sufferers. Whole grains, locally-grown seasonal vegetables, and legumes are key ingredients, and there is also a locally-sourced fish-based option.
The unusual name of the restaurant comes from a pet name Sara’s father calls her mother. Sarah’s interest in nutrition and cooking started when her family adopted a macrobiotic diet as a way for her father to fight a cancer diagnosis.
“I come from a big family, and of all the chores we had to do, cooking was my favourite,” says Sarah. “I’ve been cooking since I was 11 years old.”
When she was home with her three young children, she held after-school cooking programs, and also ran a catering company called Macro Mom. Before opening her own restaurant, she was a full-time chef at Inn at St. Peters and then at Kettle Black.
When Sarah decided to start her own restaurant, she was able to take advantage of the Self Employ PEI program through SkillsPEI, which supplies business guidance and EI funding for a negotiated period of time.
“The program was extremely helpful,” says Sarah. “I learned all about paperwork, finances, fund raising, paying bills and writing pay cheques. There is so much involved in running a restaurant. I was already a chef, but now I’m also the boss and owner, waitress, dishwasher, and errand boy. If I am not here, I’m thinking about being here. I take it home with me every day, but I love this restaurant.”
Vegan/vegetarian options take off
When it opened two years ago, My Plum My Duck was the first vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Charlottetown. Since then, two more vegan cafés have appeared in Charlottetown. Sarah has noticed that other competing restaurants have also taken note. “Since I opened, almost all the restaurants in town have begun to offer at least one vegetarian menu item.”
Sarah’s culinary education did not follow the typical route. She attended the Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts, where she studied macrobiotic theory, cooking, and shiatsu massage. She also studied cooking in Italy and Mexico. She has judged black box culinary competitions, taught classes at the Farm Centre, hosted interns in her restaurant, and mentored students.
Sarah sells her home-made pickled vegetables at the Farmers Market and through the store. Her veggie burgers, seitan “steak” and wingless wings are sold at the Riverview Market in Charlottetown and at Farmed Market in Summerside. Egg-free dairy-free mayonnaise is available, and she also offers catering and special orders.
“We are very sensitive to allergies. If someone on a soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free diet and wants a birthday cake, we can do that.” She also offers a program where customers can get ten 16-ounce portions of gluten-free vegan soups a month.
A room off the restaurant has been re-purposed to offer Island-made yarn, specialty coffees, and local art.
There is a staff of five, including a server, catering service, and two to three in the kitchen. “We would like to hire one full-time person for the kitchen and one for front of house for the summer.
“When hiring, previous experience is less important than a good attitude and a willingness to learn. I can teach the skills and knowledge you need to work here.”
For more about SkllsPEI programs, visit www.skillspei.ca.
The Self Employ PEI program is funded in whole or in part by the Canada-PEI labour market agreements.