A pandemic had slammed the planet, with trouble flowing everywhere.
Observing that fallout, Marcel Morgenstern knew help was critical for thousands of Ontario eateries struggling through a tough provincial lockdown. Marcel, part of a team to recently reopen HillFire Kitchen & Bottle Shop, had an action plan:
“In my work travels, I’d visit wine-producing countries and see excellent local bottles on restaurant shelves, which were also for sale,” he explained. “But it still wasn’t allowed in this province. Much later, during that first pandemic week, I launched a petition asking the provincial government to allow for alcohol takeout.
“This idea was a natural progression for me,” added the owner of Niagara’s Burnt Ship Bay Estate Winery, who is also PondView Estate Winery’s sales director: “Selling to restaurants was already a big part of my wine business.”
With the muscle of stakeholders, he spearheaded that petition which implored the province to allow establishments to sell wine and other alcohol products during the pandemic.
“Then they actually did it, and now it’s a permanent thing,” Marcel said.
That provincial alcohol sales move in spring 2020 was a lift for many businesses burdened by troubled times that saw stores closed, or slimmed down to takeout. The new restaurant rules also helped jump-start a bottle-shop/ restaurant concept which had been rattling in Marcel’s brain for two decades.
It led to a reimagining, alongside business partners Jen and Matt Speight, of a refreshed and invigorated restaurant and bottle shop at 1455 Pelham St. In Fonthill.
On a recent afternoon, the HillFire interior presents itself as warm and inviting, with an ambiance of a country-general store, timber-laid winery shop and open bistro.
The establishment also features an in-house smoker, baker, and has a lovely patio. One side of the shop is lined with Marcel’s curated bottles of mostly wines, beers, ciders and spirits, almost all originating from local producers, and which can’t be purchased from the LCBO.
The 90-plus varieties are affordably-priced, listed according to winery-site takeout prices, with corkage offered inside the eatery. HillFire also has a wine-list by the glass, with tasting flights available.
The bistro-side leans to daily specials and features like comfort soups, salads and pizzas, with a prime offering in superior sandwiches, with HillFire-made breads, in classics like a piled-high Banh Mi, smoked turkey with apple batonettes and asiago, or a veggie married with smoked tomato, sprouts and herbed cream cheese.
To complete your wine-region-inspired meal, a dessert menu tempts with mason-jar cheesecake with seasonal fruit topping; beignet fritters and deluxe kitchen cookies (think of intermingled ingredients like dark chocolate and smoked pecans). Takeout bakery items are also on hand, for that impulsive late-night snack.
A take-out and pre-order vacuum-sealed pickup lunch/ picnic bag service is part of the store package, all contained on its hillfire.ca site, where online orders can also be arranged.
“We also want to be a specialty shopping destination here,” Marcel said, noting HillFire’s bottle alcohol has to be sold with purchased food.
“The focus is to showcase what Niagara can do,” he said. “You know, fifteen years ago, you couldn’t imagine this kind of place. It’s amazing to see how much this area produces, and exciting to help put together a Niagara shop and bistro that presents it uniquely.”
Author: Don Fraser