WALTON, N.S. — Terry Wutzke sold his pub in Coleville, Saskatchewan, an oil patch town, to take over the Walton Pub in 1999.
He had only been to Nova Scotia once before, but noticed the Walton Pub was up for sale, and jumped at the opportunity.
“As much as I swore to myself I wouldn’t own a restaurant again, here I am now for almost 20 years,” Terry said between making orders, wearing an apron.
Inside the pub feels like you’re sitting in a friend or family-member’s kitchen or dining room, with old portraits on the walls, and warm, inviting colours.
He said what keeps the place going is the friendly atmosphere and the simple-but-good grub.
“The ability to listen to people and get along with them,” Terry said. “It’s all fresh, nothing is cooked and re-frozen. It’s a lot of hard work.”
He laughs at that last statement, but he estimates that he and his wife, Marilyn, put in approximately 70 hours a week during peak season.
Almost 80 per cent of their business is done between May and November, which is the peak tourism season.
Located on Highway 215 along the picturesque Hants Shore, with a lighthouse nearby, people are naturally drawn in. And when people visit, they often want to find a place to eat. The Walton Pub & Eatery becomes an irresistible stop for hungry visitors.
Challenges of a rural restaurant
Terry said one of the reasons why they put in so many hours themselves is because it can be extremely difficult to find staff.
“We’re always here, because if we wanted to go away in the winter, we’d basically have to close,” he said. “But people like knowing us, they like that we know what they like.”
The pub has increasingly become a popular stopping point for ATV groups, who use the nearby trail network.
The pub serves as a tasty reward after a day in the woods.
Some of those groups can consist of up to 40 people — a pretty sizable number for a relatively small restaurant.
The key though, Terry says, is for those people to call ahead, because a sudden surge of mouths to feed, at that size, can mean a long wait.
“We hand cut everything ourselves, so if you’ve got a group of 50 coming in, you’re looking at two hours just for fries,” he said.
“Most of the time, it goes well and most of them know to call first,” he added.
“Most of them realize it’s just the two of us and will even help to bus tables and bring dishes back for us.”
Marilyn Wutzke, Terry’s wife and co-runner of the operation, has worked at the Walton Pub since the day it opened on Sept. 1, 1995 and stayed on after Terry bought it in 1999.
Bun, beef, cheese, ham, bacon, pickles, tomato, bun. It’s a beast, and it’s become one of the pub’s most popular choices.
“The Walton Whopper is something that I originally had out west and brought here; it’s a fully-loaded burger without having to pay for extras,” he said. “The fresh hamburger, I think, is one of the biggest reasons for its success.”
Terry admits he’s having a little fun with the burger’s name, with the claim that the ‘whopper’ has fewer than one billion served, taking a jab at two fast food joints in one slogan.
“There’s a lot of people here who work away, or out west or have moved away, but when they come here, they have a sense of loyalty,” he said. “They always stop in and I think there’s a sense of home here. To be able to come out here and have a meal and drink in a small community like this, I think people like that.”
For Terry, that’s a good feeling.
“As a business owner, it kind of makes you feel like you’re doing things right,” he said. “You might not be the fanciest place in the world, putting out $40 plates, with a little swirl of gravy and stuff, but people just like to be treated well when they walk through the door.”
The sound of a deep fryer sizzles and pops in the kitchen while Marilyn reminisces about days gone by.
Marilyn says they’re hopeful that with some new hires coming on soon that they’ll be able to sit back and relax, at least a little bit, this year.
Terry, who’s turning 68, said it’s time for he and his wife to take it easy, at least a little bit.
“You never retire though,” he said. “Maybe 70 hours to 30 hours a week.”
Romance behind the grill
Terry and Marilyn have been a couple since 2008.
“We worked together for many years. We had a motorcycle accident on one of our first dates and she broke her back, and was hospitalized,” Terry said. “We went out for Chinese food, had the bike accident and the rest is history.”
Despite the somewhat rocky start, a romance blossomed, and they were married shortly after.
The two live near the pub, and Terry laments that they ‘can’t even avoid work during a snowstorm’ because they’re so close.
Over the decades the couple have met a wide array of interesting people who’ve come to the pub from around the world. Some customers still keep in touch.
Roger and Linda Stewart, from the United Kingdom, still send Christmas cards every year. But there are many more like this.
“And what’s great is that these people come back to the pub, or they send somebody else who’s traveling in Nova Scotia,” Marilyn said. “It’s nice.”