Salt Banker will offer unique eats and dining experience




SaltWire Network


It was by chance that Chef Nicole Hopkins learned there were plans in the works to open a new restaurant in Clark's Harbour, Shelburne County. The former Royal Bank building had been purchased by local seafood exporters Atlantic Chican and Clark's Harbour Seafoods and was being renovated into a restaurant. They were looking for a chef/ manager. “I wasn't looking for a job, but I love restaurants, so whenever there's any news of a restaurant I want to know what's going on," says Hopkins. "I sent an email replying to the message stating I wasn't looking for a job. I was just interested in what was happening and I wanted to know if they wanted some help, some guidance. Maybe I could offer them some input." Hopkins met with the owners on site and was dismayed to see the initial layout. “They had scoped everything completely backwards to what a chef would do,” she says by planning to put the kitchen in the space with the ocean view. “This is the first (eat-in) restaurant on Cape Sable Island in almost 20 years and it's on the ocean. You have to have an ocean view. When I said I would take the job, I said we needed to start over. The layout was wrong. We needed to make a patio.” The owners agreed but there were a few non-negotiables – soft serve ice cream, a take-out window and home cut fries. The take-out window was a must in the event COVID restrictions return. If nothing was going on inside with people coming in to eat, there would always be people at the window buying ice cream, providing an attraction and revenue, says John Nickerson, Chief Operating Officer for Atlantic Chican. As for the home cut fries, “I was tired of going to restaurants myself and being served a frozen French fry that tastes like cardboard,” he says. The take-out window will be located in the ice cream shop section of the restaurant. “The style will be more on an Italian ice cream shop,” says Hopkins, complete with an ice cream counter and seating. “All of our desserts will be built around ice cream. We have a retro milkshake maker, a freezer for gelatos and sorbets. I'll make my own fruit popsicles and we will be able to serve takeout through the window.” The overall style of the new restaurant, named The Salt Banker, will be modern industrial. “A very clean modern style, that's what we're going for,” Hopkins says. There are multiple meanings behind the name Salt Banker. The building was a bank, it's located near the salt water and salt banker is a term for a schooner that carried saltfish. The logo has a schooner on it. The old bank vaults will serve as a walk-in freezer and cooler for the kitchen. A live lobster tank being built in Montreal will occupy space in the main dining area. “We will have an outdoor deck this year, it might not be at the completed phase, but we will have something,” Hopkins says. “We'll see how far we get even if we can get a few tables out there.” MENU OFFERINGS When asked about the menu it isn't hard to tell that Hopkins is passionate about food and cooking. The menu will have a heavy pasta component, will be full of seafood choices and also charbroiled steak. “The first menu draft is almost done. It's important to me to make it unique. We have such as short tourist season, three months, and we love them when they are here, but in reality, I need to feed the locals," she says. "I have to have a menu that will suit them and it has to be different. We all know where to go to get fish and chips and clams and chips. You can do it everywhere.” The Salt Banker will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Fish cakes, home-made baked beans, waffles, breakfast poutine, homemade biscuits, fresh preserves – not a huge breakfast menu but unique breakfast items,” said Hopkins. The plan is to have an affordable express lunch menu so that people working in the area can get those menu items in five minutes. The ultimate showpiece on the menu will be the seafood tower, a sharable appetizer filled with lobster, pan fried clams, calamari, scallops and a shrimp feature. “I'm going to have a chicken and waffles appetizer… mini waffle cones filled with my own popcorn chicken and drizzled with a maple crema,” adds Hopkins. Plans are also to offer a lobster picnic experience this summer. People will be able to order The Salt Banker lobster picnic in advance online if they wish. It will include a lobster dinner packed to go, a picnic blanket with the restaurant's logo and a map of all the beaches on Cape Sable Island where they can dine. AT HOME IN THE KITCHEN Hopkins brings years of restaurant and culinary experience to The Salt Banker. “I'm totally 100 percent self taught,” she says, landing her first restaurant job when she was 18 in Hull, Quebec. She was on staff at East Side Mario's when it first opened in Halifax but up until that point was always front of house. “Then I started managing hotels. I moved to the States and went to Nantucket Island and started working at an inn. We had to cook breakfast at this inn," she says. "I've always cooked my whole life. I was fortunate enough to grow up with two grandparents next door and an aunt so I always cooked and always loved it but never thought I would professionally cook. I never wanted to do the cleanup. I never ran a kitchen.” After moving back home to Shelburne County, Hopkins and her partner started the Lobster Shack restaurant. “I quickly had to learn how to run the restaurant as being the manager, the owner, the chef and try and train everyone,” she says. “That's how I learned it's what I loved. "We operated the Lobster Shack for four years. Right up to the end we were just getting it figured out when dad died and everything just went totally wrong," she says. "I just couldn't cope with the grief and all that at the same time, so I knew I had to walk away.” For the past four years, Hopkins has been operating a successful catering business and cooking meals several times a week for the staff at Sea Star Seafoods in Clark's Harbour. “I never advertised one day in my life and the last four years were non-stop. This year my calendar is so full of weddings and events it's unbelievable.” Hopkins says she will fulfill all her commitments for this year under The Salt Banker banner. Once the restaurant is up and running, “maybe by next year, we might be able to do some more catering. There's a huge need for it here,” she says. Hopkins says she's never changed her style of cooking. Everything is fresh and from scratch. “I take what we've got, take what's fresh and local, make it easy and make it look good. Presentation is important. People always ask why my clams taste better than theirs. I always tell them because mine are made with love.” she says. “I'm one of these lucky people who got to learn what my passion is, what makes me tick and it is food and cooking.” She didn't learn it overnight, however. “It's always been in me but it's what makes me move every day. I never stopped creating and doing and that's how I learned.” For Atlantic Chican, having Hopkins at the helm of The Salt Banker is a “win-win” says Nickerson. “I knew she could do it and do it well.” When the company initially bought the bank building the thought was to make into employee housing, which is a real issue in the area. “The owner looked at it differently,” says Nickerson. “The property was zoned commercial. The town is sort of dying a bit, things are closing down so he said let's do something for the town, something to make the town proud. Let's build a restaurant with a theme of seafood. We're sitting in the Lobster Capital of Canada. Let's do it right.” OTHER DEVELOPMENT The new restaurant isn't the only development Atlantic Chican is undertaking in Clark's Harbour. Under construction is a lobster processing facility scheduled to be completed in September. “We've structured it so we could do in a 10-hour shift, 300 crates, 30,000 pounds,” Nickerson says. The facility will provide employment for 80 to 100 people at least 10 months out of the year. It is well structured to be less stressful for workers in an environment where there is less weight to lift and more streamlined. The facility marks the return of lobster processing and canning to the area, something that hasn't been done in recent history. “It's a big win for Cape Sable Island and southwestern Nova Scotia,” Nickerson says. “One that should be here. We're in the lobster Capital of Canada. I think a lot of the reasons it hasn't been done in the past is it's a big project. It's big a chunk of money you have to put up. There's a risk factor and also a scary thing for people here, where do you get your workers to run it?” Atlantic Chican isn't so much concerned with getting workers for the facility, noting the government has made it a little easier lately to bring in temporary foreign workers. “The concern is having places for them to stay,” Nickerson says. “We have a housing issue here. We do not have enough housing.”