The culinary enterprises of Emily Wells
by Ann Thurlow
You would be forgiven if you believe there is more than one Emily Wells. How else to explain the fact that she seems to be attached to so many projects involving good food? Restaurants, catering, home food delivery—they’ve all got her name on them. Ambitious? Sure. But to simply call it that would miss the point.
Though she’s been cooking professionally for thirty years, Wells really endeared herself to loyal eaters during her stint as chef at The Dunes. She left a couple of years ago to open her own place—what she now calls The Mill in New Glasgow. She wanted to appeal to the lucrative summer trade. But what really caught her eye was the large basement where she saw the beginnings of an outstanding prep kitchen.
She understands the seasonal nature of the Island restaurant business—she has a seasonal business herself. But she also believes absolutely—passionately—that the business has to evolve to offer more than just seasonal employment to the province’s
any talented chefs.
“I’ve worked with a lot of really great people. I want them to be able to have a life here, to have families, to earn a decent living doing what they love,” she says.
Last summer she began cooking meals in the Mill’s kitchen to be sold at the pre-theatre restaurant at Harmony House in Hunter River. And, together with some partners, she opened Local 343, a sweet little spot on Water Street in Charlottetown. It offers both take-out food and a restaurant. Because there’s no room for a kitchen, the food is substantially prepared at The Mill.
And now, again with partners, she is offering a new home or office food delivery service called YouMeal. Her meals are also part of a community supported agriculture box. And, yes, she caters.
Because everything is prepared at The Mill, all of this takes a tremendous amount of planning. She wants to offer food that is as locally sourced as possible, is healthy, travels well and is at a price that allows her to pay both her staff and her suppliers a fair wage and yet still be affordable. To do this, she relies on her favourites—North American takes on foods like tangine and curries, Asian delights like pho. It’s worked; The Mill was this year’s recipient of this year’s Taste Our Island award.
But that was the summer. Now, in the dark days of winter, comes the test: is it possible to buck the seasonal trend, to pay chefs a living wage and to make food that people will flock to eat. To meet the challenge, she has created a little empire. And there she is, balancing it all on a passionate conviction that everything she truly believes in will help her to succeed.