Bringing the East Coast to Ronci

[attach]5548[/attach]While spending summers bartending in Muskoka, Geoff Hopgood would break into the resort’s kitchen late at night to make onion rings from scratch.

“I was more interested in what was going on in the kitchen,” he says, adding he used to test out Food Network recipes. “I think that was really what got me into cooking and then I decided I’m going to go to chef school.”

Despite having over a decade of experience as a chef and making a name for himself at places like the Hoof Cafe, he says he still felt nervous before opening his own restaurant in February.

“The day that we opened we had plumbers and electricians here and stuff like that so it was very crazy and to actually think that we pulled it off was outstanding and real gratifying,” he says. “I’m very nervous, still. There’s a lot happening and it’s an energy that fuels you.”

Hopgoods Foodliner, which serves East Coast-style comfort food on Roncesvalles Avenue in what used to be Brad’s Takeout and Eatery, takes its name from the grocery stores his family owned and operated in the Maritimes from the 1800s until the mid 1970s.

“They actually used to deliver groceries on horse and buggy,” Hopgood says. “The philosophy of the store was to have your staples … and they actually got to be known as the best grocery store east of Montreal.”

He says the name was also fitting because he wanted something meaningful and his immediate family helped get the restaurant up and running.

“My sister designed the logo,” he says. “My wife uses the car quite a bit so my mom would drive me around and help me pick stuff up. My older sister works in PR so she did a website for us and my father has been there for some advice and that really encompasses the whole Hopgood family.”

Although the menu will change depending on what’s in season and the ingredients at hand, he says staples like their Halifax-style donair, a hot crab dip based on an old family recipe and a crispy toffee dessert bar will remain standards.

“We try to play with textures and flavours that liven up your taste buds and sort of please you to eat them as well,” he says. “But it’s important in a restaurant to create some items that become like a cult favourite.”

Having been inspired by chefs he used to work with, Hopgood says he also wants to mentor his staff and support those who want to become chefs or sous-chefs.

“I think it’s important if you want to take your career to the next level to do something on your own,” he says. “From a creative point of view, I get to make all the decisions that I want and if you’re in a creative career path, that’s the ultimate satisfaction — the freedom to do what you aspire to do.”

While growing up in Nova Scotia, he says he enjoyed going out for dinner and was always excited to read the menu and would have trouble narrowing down what to order, which is something he hopes his clients also experience.

“I guess in a nutshell what we want to do is create food that makes people happy,” he says. “We like to create a menu that’s exciting and that you’re not going to see everywhere, and that when you sit down it is kind of hard to make a decision.

“Those are the experiences that I remember having when I was a kid.”