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Ure’s Country Kitchen: Rural charm with important ‘links’ to its community

U2Harrow is a typical, small Ontario town, with just 3,000 residents. It’s less than a 10-minute drive to the north shore of Lake Erie in the southwest part of the province. In summer, birdwatchers, cottagers and fishermen flock to the area. In the midst of it all is Ure’s Country Kitchen—a convenience store/restaurant/ice cream parlour/gas station with a newly opened mini-golf course. Its owners, husband and wife Laurie and Randy Ure, have operated the business for more than 32 years. Despite “being in the middle of nowhere,” as they say, they have had consistent sales of over one million dollars annually. 

It hasn’t been easy, but the couple has done well because of their ability to pivot frequently. “We are always reinventing ourselves,” says Laurie, who mainly takes care of the restaurant and bookkeeping duties. “We’re independents so we can make changes without having to ask permission.” 

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That has become essential in remaining a viable business in an increasingly competitive environment. “We are always looking for new ways to diversify our revenue stream,” explains Randy, “because the margins on things like tobacco, gas and lottery tickets have gotten smaller and smaller.”

Ure’s Mini Golf debuted in June 2020. Designed and built by Harris Miniature Golf, the course features trick shots, a waterfall, two streams, four ponds with breaking greens, five fountains and more. It’s open seven days a week from dawn to dusk (weather permitting).

Designed and built by Harris Miniature Golf, the course features trick shots, a waterfall, two streams, four ponds with breaking greens, five fountains and more.

Adding a mini-putt golf course to the mix made sense. They did plenty of research first on design, building, maintenance and labour costs before they moved ahead, opening in June 2020. They expect it to pay for itself in just a few years. In the meantime, it is already paying off in unexpected ways. Ice cream sales have almost tripled; gas, snack and restaurant sales have leapt, too. 

The novelty of the new mini-golf offering deserves some credit, but so does COVID in a strange way. Sales (as of November 2020) are up from what they were a year ago. Despite big-box competitors nearby, customers have been shunning those in favour of Ure’s Kitchen. “They don’t wait to be stuck in long line-ups, especially now,” says Laurie. “Our clientele know they can come here and get their gas, chips and pop, or withdraw money from our ATM, without the hassle. We even pump their gas and bring the debit machine to them. They don’t have to get out of their cars.” 

U5The restaurant, newly remodelled and expanded with more seating space and a patio, has done well, too. Though it represents just 8% of total sales, its profit margins are impressive—about 350%. For comparison, gas sales offer a 7% profit margin. The eatery has built a reputation for its breakfast menu, featuring high-quality ingredients and homemade staples like homemade eggs Benedict, home fries, omelettes and blueberry pancakes—all made from scratch. 

In the c-store space, groceries haven’t been great sellers. They stock a few pantry basics, but they’ve trimmed down their selection in recent years. Instead, Randy and Laurie offer an impressive selection of soda pop (more than 200), including retro favourites like Faygo and Tahiti Treat. Its 16-ft. candy aisle, placed strategically next to the ice cream freezer, delights kids and grownups with U.S. imports, including Baby Ruth chocolate bars, that customers won’t find easily anywhere else.

“This place is hopping on the weekends,” says Randy. “It’s a destination where neighbours can meet and hang out. We like being a destination for them and visitors to our community.” 

 

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  • Ure’s Country Kitchen opened in 1988.
  • The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Items are available for eat-in or take-out.
  • The three-page menu features breakfast classics, specialty sandwiches and an array of items hot off the grill.
  • The newly remodelled restaurant was expanded to accommodate more seating and a patio. Though it represents just 8% of total sales, the restaurant’s profit margins are about 350%.

 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 


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Kawartha Dairy ice cream products recalled due to possible presence of metal

The recall covers four flavours sold in Ontario

Kawartha Dairy Limited is recalling certain ice cream products in Ontario due to “possible presence of pieces of metal,” Health Canada says.

The Kawartha Dairy flavours affected by the recall are: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream in both 1.5 litre and 11.4 litre packages, and Mint Chip ice cream in 1.5 litre and 11.4 litre packages.

Health Canada says consumers should not eat the four recalled products, and retailers, restaurants, and institutions should not sell or use them.

Recalled ice cream should be thrown out or returned to the location where it was purchased.

Health Canada says the recall was triggered by the company on Sunday, adding the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other items.

There have been no reported injuries associated with eating the recalled flavours as of Sunday.


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Chill zone: What’s new in frozen treats?

New products and a taste for nostalgia make frozen treats cooler than ever

Canadians are no longer waiting until summer to indulge in frozen treats. They have evolved into an all-season buy for consumers and Canadian c-stores are reaping the benefits. 

According to C-store IQ: National Shopper Study, frozen drinks/beverages are in the top 10 c-store purchases with 19% of consumers buying one within the last month, while 16% of shoppers bought ice cream. 

Innovative products, with fresh marketing spins attached, have helped reposition frozen treats an any-time snacks—some touting health attributes like high protein, low carb, dairy-free and reduced calories to add to their appeal. While diet trends—paleo, keto and plant-based—are influencing product development, the classic tried-and-true versions still reign supreme, according to Larry Watmough, business development manager, Core-Mark Canada. The company works with Chapman’s Ice Cream and helped introduce the brand into convenience stores in 2015. 

“I think there will always be trendy diets—so many have come and gone,” he says. While the market is continuing to see new entries, like fruit-based variations, they make up a small portion of the market. Consumers will try new products, but often come back to what they know, Watmough notes. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 2.00.45 PMThe top seller for Chapman’s remains its traditional vanilla ice cream sandwich (120 mL). The company will build on that success with a new Yukon chocolate fudge sandwich and a new chocolate ball-topped cone. “I expect they’ll do well,” he says. “Ice cream is one of the highest impulse items in the store and has one of the highest profit margins.” To capitalize on that, Chapman’s ensures their treats get noticed, securing coveted spaces near cash registers and in-store branded freezers.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 2.00.56 PMCalgary-based Mini Melts has won fans with its tiny spheres of flash-frozen ice cream and sorbet to customers available from its robotic vending machines or grab ’n go pre-packaged cups. “It’s completely different from the regular frozen treat products sold at convenience stores,” says Dave Mah, sales manager. “Mini Melts are sold across Canada and are extremely popular with all age demographics. They’re such a good fit for c-stores because of the profit and revenue they generate.”

Mini Melts offers retailers point-of-sale materials and the use of a dedicated freezer that keeps the product at the –30C storage temperature it requires. Enticing flavours are also part of the picture, like cotton candy, fruit punch and cookie dough ice cream. With Big, its newest variation (bite-sized sorbet made with real fruit juices and natural ingredients), there’s grape and soda, cola and energy drink, pineapple and orange options.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 2.01.06 PMMeanwhile, Nestlé is poised to shake up the frozen treat sector with new entries with familiar names. From Haagen-Dazs Exträaz range expect new Strawberry Cheesecake Stick Bars and Salted Caramel Brownie Stick Bars. Canada’s favourite chocolate bar, Kit Kat, will turn into a premium single-serve treat—a combination of chocolate, wafers and ice cream. The popular Drumstick brand will add a new first-to-market innovation—non-dairy vegan Vanilla Chocolate Swirl cones with caramel, dark chocolate and nuts.

“Consumers continue to look for a variety of options to address their lifestyle and dietary choices,” says Lisa Beausoleil, marketing lead ice cream, Nestlé. “As with many food products, we are seeing consumers wanting more nutritious and plant-based options. They are looking for vegan, non-dairy and gluten-free options that taste great.”

It’s clear Canadians love affair with frozen treats is going strong, thanks to classic confections, new novelties and an emotional connection to them. As Beausoleil explains, “These treats connect customers to fond memories of their childhood and time spent with friends and family.” 


Photos by Aaron McKenzie Fraser

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