There are few restaurateurs that appreciate the intricacies of the
weather like Paul Elliott.
Whether he’s battling a storm that is ripping through Georgian Bay,
unable to leave one of his world famous restaurants, Henry’s Fish
House on Frying Pan Island, or staring out at the moonlight glistening
over the calm inlet at Henry’s South in Por t McNicoll, the weather
is a constant source of interest.
At least five times a day, the 61 year old can be found analyzing
weather reports laid out before him.
Not only does the flux in weather affect the supply of fresh pickerel,
white fish, trout and perch he serves, it also affects demand, especially
on Frying Pan Island near Sans Souci, where a slight change in wind
direction could make it next to impossible to land boats and planes
– the only way to reach the restaurant.
“Sans Souci is totally controlled by weather. If the wind’s coming
from the west and it’s blowing 30 knots, I tell them, ‘don’t get too
many fish ready; only get so many pounds of this product and so many
pounds of that product.’ These guys are trained that way too so they
also think like that.”
Although the World Famous Henry’s South at Doral Marine Resort is
on the mainland and not challenged by rainstorms in the same way,
this restaurant is open all-year long and major snow storms have been
known to keep the less hear ty at bay. When you pride yourself on
serving the best, freshest fish, having too much on hand can lead
to expensive losses.
“Fishing’s fishing,” you’ll hear Elliott say more than once when
he talks about both his restaurants. Profitable fishing and having
an adequate catch to meet the high volume that goes through both Henry’s
restaurants depend on good weather. “Right now, we’re having a hard
time getting white fish because it’s been so rough for the last week,”
he says, looking through the restaurant, and out onto the water. “It’s
not like I can go to Zehrs to pick up ground beef to make hamburger
Sometimes the fish are here, sometimes they’re not.
Sometimes they’re at that end of the lake and the boats are at this
end of the lake.”
This is why he is constantly on the phone to the Omstead plant –
the world’s largest freshwater fleet – to see where they are at with
his ‘just caught’ supply.
“The last thing at night and the first thing in the morning, we’re
very aware of what’s going on with the flow of the product,” he says.
“Every night, I look at the fish and assess it with the chefs ...
because you cannot be out of fish.”
It’s the pan fried pickerel, with its flaky texture and mild taste
that has a lot to do with making them famous, but Elliott admits it’s
the lightly-battered pickerel that is the most popular item on the
menu. Served family-style on a platter with side dishes of fries,
coleslaw and baked beans, he swears it’s the best tasting fish you’ll
ever have – and, he has articles and honours from Saveur Magazine
and The New York Times to prove it.
But it’s not just the fish people clamour here to eat.
Years ago, Elliott realized he needed to bring on other unique menu
items to provide more choice for those who ate at the restaurant regularly.
So, he started to perfect recipes for smoked foods.“It took a lot
to get it to what I thought people would like, right down to how much
sauce is used,” notes Elliot, adding the meat is cooked in a traditional
smoker at the restaurant.
The meals are so popular, the recipes are safely kept in the ‘sacred
book’, he says with a laugh.
The original Henry’s was built on Frying Pan Island about 35 years
ago by Henry Lepage and his wife, Edith. Over the first 20 years,
they built a popular destination that was known equally for the famous
people it attracted as it was for its delicious food.
When Lepage wanted to retire, Elliott came into the picture. Fresh
from retirement, himself – a pace too slow for him after years as
a contractor and manufacturer – he knew the draw that the unique restaurant
had with its unique ambience and reputation, and purchased the restaurant.
Not long after, he opened the second location at the marina on Ogden’s
Beach Road, bringing the same appeal to the mainland.
They pride themselves on living up to the world-renowned hype that
surrounds both restaurants and Elliott’s winning philosophy is all
spelled out on the servers’ shirts – World Famous Food. World Famous
Service. World Famous Customers.
“That’s the way we look at it,” smiles Elliott, admitting that they
do see their share of the ‘rich and famous’ but to him, all of his
customers are special.
“World famous customers – that means you.”