Darren and Sylvia Cheverie had defied the odds before they even opened the doors at their new Beaumont restaurant Chartier.
The couple raised $107,975 for their fledgling business by crowdfunding, a notoriously fickle form of fundraising better suited to offbeat arts projects than small business, especially one as tough as an independent restaurant.
More than 550 people donated to their compelling Kickstarter campaign, making it the most successful ever launched on the platform by a restaurant in Canada. The campaign’s success convinced a bank to provide the rest of the money they needed to open their rustic, French Canadian eatery.
And so they did at the end of March, in a lovely spot on the main street of Beaumont, about 30 minutes south of downtown Edmonton. Chartier pays tributes to the town’s, and the couple’s, French roots, offering elevated comfort food in a room lined with reclaimed barnboard, big wooden beams and a wall devoted to honouring their families and the supporters who donated to their dream.
The décor is flea-market chic, with a charming collection of mismatched plates, tea cups taken straight out of granny’s china cabinet, and tiny spoons borrowed from her souvenir collectibles (we got one from the Royal Wedding!) The day’s specials and inspirational sayings are written on chalkboards in ornate antique frames along one wall.
Darren and Sylvia, who live in Beaumont, are front and centre alongside their staff in the 80-seat restaurant, moving from table to table, clearing plates, pouring wine, talking to customers and, just as promised in their campaign, treating visitors as guests in their home.
Their food, too, is just as promised — unpretentious and delicious, a modern take on French Canadian classics like tourtière, beef Bourguignon and poutine.
The menu is compact, with enough variety to satisfy most tastes. There’s a vegetarian Shepherd’s pie and a seafood special, but the remainder of the entrees are understandably meat-and-potato-centric, in keeping with the traditional foods of La Belle Province.
The wine list is old world, mostly French, with a changing feature of reasonably priced wine (red or white) by the glass. Beers are primarily from Alberta and BC; cool cocktails have been named for some of Chartier’s supporters, who donated $1,000 each in exchange for the reward on Kickstarter.
We started with a couple of fabulous appetizers, a Montreal smoked meat carpaccio ($17) with house-made pickles and thyme mustard, served on thin slices of Chartier’s own sourdough bread. The Cheveries sought advice in authentic bread-making from Edmonton master baker Yvan Chartrand, and it shows. The bread is also available to go, from a street-front window looking directly into the kitchen, through which racks of crusty, flour-dusted loaves can be seen. After dinner, as we passed the window on our way back to the car, Chef Steven Brochu offered us one of the last remaining loaves, tossing it cheerfully through the window, gratis.
Our other appetizer, the crispy duck ($15), included bite-sized morsels of tender duck, seasoned, breaded and fried to perfection. The blue cheese-rosemary dip alongside was a great accompaniment, but we could have done without the fried broccoli on the plate, which was a bit overdone and burnt-tasting.
The entrees we tried were just as impressive. The individual tourtière ($24) arrived golden and flaky, with shaved Brussels sprouts and some rhubarb relish alongside, made from Sylvia’s mother’s recipe. Inside was a mix of ground pork, bison and duck; flavourful and rich. The cinnamon-tinged, sweet-tart relish was such a fitting complement, I wish there had been more of it.
The beef Bourguignon ($27) was a deconstructed version of the classic, hearty stew. The single hunk of beef chuck, slow-cooked for hours, was fall-apart tender, no knife required. It came on a layer of creamy mashed potatoes, surrounded by mushrooms sautéed with meaty chunks of bacon and topped with a bit of sweetly spiced pear.
For our second visit — because we will be back — I’m keen to try the poutine de la mer Rosenau (again, named for a generous donor), which comes topped with bacon and lobster chowder, as well as the usual cheese curds and gravy, all in a sourdough bread bowl. A more basic version is listed among the appetizers (sans lobster, bacon and bread).
For dessert, we went with another classic — the tarte au sucre ($8), a pie made with brown sugar, egg and milk. “It’s not as sweet as you’d think,” Darren assured us, but I think he was just trying to make us feel better about our blood sugar. Topped with a dollop of salted whiskey ice cream, it was delicious, no doubt, but was most certainly as sweet as I had thought (and hoped) it would be.
On the mid-week night we visited, Chartier was hopping. Their dinner service has proven so popular, they’ve cut back on lunch service plans to devote time to their busy evenings. For now, they offer lunch only on Fridays, plus brunch on weekends and dinner seven days a week.
Cynics might question the wisdom of raising money by crowdfunding, or of donating to an unproven small business, but the Cheveries are proving their supporters’ trust in Chartier was well-placed.