Small town favourite Piccadilly Bistro hits the jackpot
Tracy Brandsma never enters contests. But one of her customers tagged her in an online promotion for the spring Kraft Heinz Foodservice Contest. On a whim, she clicked on it. “When I got the call that I won the prize—that I won $10,000—I went numb. It was like pennies from heaven,” says Brandsma, who is chef/owner of Piccadilly Bistro, a restaurant that serves casual, classic fare in a picturesque spot in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
Like many independent restaurant operators, Brandsma was hit hard by the pandemic. “We opted to close before the mandate because we have employees with health issues. I myself have a serious lung condition, COPD,” she says. Piccadilly Bistro was closed for three months. Not the type of place that turned out takeout, Brandsma found other ways to hold on until things normalized. “I cleaned out my bank account so I could pay my employees and expenses. And then I started to sell sugar cookies to see if I could make rent,” she says.
Nanaimo rallied around Brandsma, the restaurant staff and their favourite local bistro. She sold more than 4,000 cookies over the course of three months. “My customers really stepped up. They wanted to support us by buying gift certificates when we were closed, but I wouldn’t sell them—I didn’t want them to lose their money if we didn’t make it,” she says.
The month leading up to Brandsma finding out that she won the Kraft Heinz Foodservice Contest, all three of the restaurant’s coolers went down. “We were already dealing with so many challenges. The equipment problem was another big blow. And then Kraft Heinz called! That’s why I say that this money is pennies from heaven.”
Apart from immediate needs, Brandsma is planning on placing most of the $10,000 into a nest egg. “In case things get tough again, it’ll be there to make sure my staff is okay,” she says.
It’s easy to see why Brandsma is a well-loved figure in her local community. She demonstrates a generosity of spirit and care for both staff and guests. But in foodservice, that only goes so far. The locals flock to Piccadilly Bistro because the food is delicious, comforting and familiar. The portions are generous, too.
“We are a casual little place. The only thing fancy about Piccadilly is our china,” she says. The signature dish is the Mushroom Caps, served with garlic cheese bread. “We fill the button mushrooms with a seafood mixture made creamy with Philly Cream Cheese, then add Canadian cold-water shrimp and Atlantic scallops, then more of that creamy seafood mixture. We finish it with mozzarella and bake the mushrooms until golden brown.”
Brandsma also uses Philadelphia Cream Cheese in her cucumber sandwiches, served at High Tea, and her no-bake cheesecakes, which range from fresh blueberry and blackberry to Mandarin orange and triple sec. “I always use Philly because it yields the right texture—whether I’m using it in cooked applications or raw. It’s much thicker and better, and I like the flavour,” she says.