There are a few universal experiences in this life, and one of them has got to be what is often called the “work-life balance” — puzzling out the answer to earning a good living while maintaining strong relationships. An age old solution to that questions is the “Mom-and-Pop” business.

Husband and wife team Chef Michael Portigal and Ashley O’Neill are putting their own spin on finding the balance by working together, putting a fresh face on Mom-and-Pop. The chef, formerly of the Drake Devonshire, and marketing manager have paired up to throw their collective energies into Seedlings, a new restaurant at Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield.

“Calling it ‘Seedlings’ definitely rings true to our family. Our daughter is one and so we’re thinking about the growth of our family and the growth of our business,” Ashley says. “Starting as a Seedling and growing from there.”

Looking ahead, as parents of a growing toddler and owners of an emerging restaurant, Ashley and Michael know they’ve got their work cut out for them. It’s a challenge that many parents face, but here in the County, the seasonality of things offers some respite.

“We know that because we have our skin in the game for the first time, it’s going to be a pretty busy summer with Ashley coming on board as well,” Michael said. “We expect to be here [at the restaurant] quite often, but that’s the trade off as to having the slow time of the year as well, where we can huddle up in the house together. The slow time of the year is the time that we’ll all really spend together and look forward to.”

The couple moved to Prince Edward County two years ago, and since then, Michael has put in two busy seasons as the chef de cuisine at Drake Devonshire. Those seasons have informed the couple by both introducing them to a community that relies heavily on a busy tourist season, and allowing them to build community connections as a family.

“We’re happy to put our roots down in Prince Edward County, and we also like the seasonality of the business here — it gives us some downtime as well,” Ashley says.

A fifteen-year veteran of the industry, Michael had a longtime desire to open his own restaurant, but the right opportunity hadn’t come along until he heard that the Inn’s previous tenants were on their way out. The space, the season-driven economy and the well-established reputation of Angeline’s and the Fida family, who run it, all appealed to the couple.

The connection with the Inn inspired Seedlings to fill a niche by serving up breakfast, from 8 AM to 1 PM, an addition that Michael said is meant to meet a need they saw as residents in the community. “There’s only one other place to get breakfast in Bloomfield, so it’s nice to bring that coffee service and breakfast to the area,” he said. “We’d like to treat everyday like it’s a Saturday around here.”

The decor at the restaurant is appropriately Instagram-worthy, featuring a dried floral wall by Ottawa’s Homebody Floral, and an impressive collection of vintage furniture. The food, too is something diners will want to remember — and share.

“We are doing elevated farm food, using a lot of local suppliers, and building on those relationships,” Michael says. “The great thing is doing some research and finding some lesser known farms and producers.”

He mentions a shrimp farm in Campbellford and Kendall Dewey, one of the last remaining traditional fisherman on the Great Lakes. The menu is small and Michael changes it up every night, to make best use of the local produce.

The drinks list too, features County favourites like Kinsip, and the wine list represents both local wineries and those further afield.

“We’re really excited to bring in new wines. We’re going to be using County wines but also have a wine list where local people can enjoy wines from all over the world,” Ashley said. “ We have lots of biodynamic, natural wines, something we haven’t been able to get while we’ve been down here.”

Finding a balance is something of a theme at Seedlings, from the wine list to the childcare plans. As they bring Mom-and-Pop to the new millennium, Ashley O’Neill and Chef Michael Portigal gracefully walk that line that so many of us aspire to: honouring their own values and meeting the needs of their community.

Story by Meghan Sheffield

Photography by Jeannette Breward

Giveaway! Our friends at Seedlings want you to join them for dinner this summer. You could win a $100 gift card by entering our instagram contest. To enter: (1) Follow @thegoodlocal and @seedlings.pec (2) Like this post (3) Tag a friend in SEPARATE COMMENTS, but as many as you wish. The winner will be chosen at random and notified by DM July 25th. Good Luck!!

July 17, 2018