Like many before him, Bathurst native Joel Aubie left his home province to study and work. But in 2012, the chef returned home to establish the acclaimed restaurant Fresco Kitchen.
How did you get into this business?
I started cooking when I was 17. During my last year of high school in Bathurst, I was considering careers to pursue. A friend and chef suggested I try working in a kitchen. I took his advice and went to the fanciest restaurant and told them I was contemplating going to culinary school but wanted to see what life in a kitchen might be like first. They gave me a job on the spot. I stayed there for one year and then went to culinary school in P.E.I. and I’ve been at it ever since.
I did an internship in Ottawa and then went on to spend that summer working at Vineland Estates, a winery in Niagara. After that, I headed west to work in Tofino, British Columbia, where I stayed for approximately eight years. I returned home to Bathurst in 2012.
What brought you back to New Brunswick?
In Tofino, I was head chef at a restaurant that had 75 staff and brought in more than $3 million a year in sales. But ultimately, I was putting in a lot of work for somebody else, and I knew the time would come where I’d want to be doing it for myself. But I also knew that if was going to start my own business, it was going to be a long-term commitment. Ultimately, I chose Bathurst because it’s home. And, I ‘m glad I did. I received so much support from the community. People were happy to see a young person come back to start a business.
Tell us a bit about the years leading up to the opening of Fresco Kitchen.
I started Jobie’s Food Truck in 2013 and ran that for five seasons. In the off season, I was doing a lot of catering and realized there was enough of a customer base that opening a small fine dining restaurant wasn’t a far-flung dream.
What do you like about this business? What don’t you like?
I’ve always thrived in leadership roles so being in charge of my own kitchen and my own establishment is a big part of what I love about the business. Knowing my efforts are for myself as opposed to working for someone else is extremely gratifying. I think it’s a lot about self-reliance; I wouldn’t be happy working for someone else in Bathurst.
Being the owner, I have a responsibility to take care of my employees, making sure they’re paid on time and satisfied with what they are doing. I have two kitchen staff and three servers, which is very different from the 25 cooks I had working under me in Tofino. We’re a small staff but our success and livelihoods all depend on everyone performing at their best. Fortunately, everyone working with me understands the role each of them plays in the restaurant’s success.
As for what I don’t like, I’d say it tends to just be very general, as in the stresses that go along with owning a small business. The restaurant business is tough with small margins.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered thus far?
We were two weeks away from opening Fresco in January 2017 when there was a fire in the building that caused severe water damage throughout our space. We lost all of our kitchen equipment and had to completely gut the restaurant. I had never faced a challenge like that before; it was personally devastating. That was a tough period, but we finally opened for business at the start of November 2017. Finding people to work is also a challenge. Many young people are still leaving NB either for work or education.
What is it about your work that inspires you?
I see this as my craft, my trade. I’m passionate about what I do and it’s how I support myself. But at the end of the day, I’m still inspired by food. I still get super excited about local, fresh ingredients, and am lucky to be doing something that fulfills both the creative and service sides of who I am. Now more than ever, it’s about making sure my guests are happy with what I’m providing them and adding personal touches where I can. It’s about so much more than cooking.
Can you think of an example of how you support local?
I try to buy everything locally. When I started the food truck, I was buying local products like buns and meat, and still am doing that today. I sell Four Rivers beer, shop at McLean’s Fish Shop and buy the restaurant’s coffee from a local roaster as well. And, why wouldn’t you want to buy something produced right here in New Brunswick and help the economy while you’re at it!
Do you have any advice for others looking to start a business?
The biggest thing I can recommend is to be prepared. Do your market and product research and then commit to the business. It’s really the only way to move forward as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur, what would you say to others asking why you choose to live and operate a business in NB?
The quality of life in New Brunswick can be extraordinary if your sights and interests are aligned with what the province has to offer. And that’s the great thing about New Brunswick, it has a lot to offer, whether your interests are aligned with the outdoors or you enjoy more of an urban setting.