Expansion on the menu for Ottawa’s Thyme & Again

Thyme & Again
Contractor Jim Gunn and architect Tania Kratt along with Thyme & Again owner Sheila Whyte and chef Michael Moffatt. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

Thyme & Again is cooking up something new and exciting – a major expansion of its catering services and meals-to-go business.

Owner Sheila Whyte has partnered up with one of Ottawa’s top chefs, Michael Moffatt, to open a second location in early May.

Renovators are currently transforming the building at 1845 Carling Ave. into a beautiful, bright and fresh 5,000-square-foot new space. Once general contractor Jim Gunn and interior architect and design expert Tania Kratt are done with it, the public won’t recognize the place as The Beer Store that it once was.

Since Whyte launched Thyme & Again 26 years ago, it has become a popular neighbourhood hub in Wellington West Village. It packs an awful lot of action into its limited store space.

“We’ve been bursting at the seams,” said Whyte, explaining her ambitious plans to branch out.

The full-service catering company does a bustling business with weddings, special occasions, charity galas and corporate lunches. It takes orders for holiday meals, cooking close to 200 Thanksgiving turkey dinners last year.

As well, Thyme & Again is a popular lunch spot, with a take-home food section and artisan food shop.

Now with annual sales in seven figures, the thriving company had reached the point where its kitchen was at peak capacity. At times, it had to turn business away.

Whyte said she knew her business had to either expand or contract. She chose to keep growing.

“The stars have aligned with a great new location, a creative new partner and a strong and supportive team and community."

“I am so rejuvenated by this new project and all the possibilities,” she said. “The stars have aligned with a great new location, a creative new partner and a strong and supportive team and community.

“There is something extremely exciting about growing beyond your roots.”

Opportunity began knocking late last year when Whyte learned there was a vacant building up for lease in same the general vicinity as Thyme & Again. She had a successful meeting with the proprietors, who also own the Produce Depot grocery store right next door on Carling.

Like orchestrating the perfect meal, it all came down to timing. Just as Whyte was looking to grow her business, Moffatt – longtime executive chef and partner in the acclaimed Beckta, Play food & wine and Gezellig restaurants – was in the midst of seeking a change.

“It was time,” said Moffatt. “I love the group, but I was ready for another challenge.”

So, the chef with 20-plus years’ experience and two wins at Gold Medal Plates Ottawa accepted Whyte’s offer to head up operations at Thyme & Again. He officially joined the company at the beginning of March.

“I would not have (expanded) if Michael hadn’t come on board,” said Whyte, a former Women’s Business Network Ottawa Businesswoman of the Year. “I really felt like I did need a partner because it’s a big project.”

As part of the process, Thyme & Again surveyed its customers and neighbours to gather feedback on potential products and services that interested them.

“The engagement we saw was amazing,” said Whyte. “Having that kind of support within our community is what makes this next project so special.”

The plan is to move the catering and food production to Carling Avenue, where it will be easier for customers to park and quickly pop into the store.

More hiring

The company will be hiring between eight and 10 more people. Currently, it has a full-time workforce of more than 50, with part-timers bringing the number closer to 100. (When the business was founded in 1991, it was just Whyte, her now-general manager Rose Goyette and a cook.)

Thyme & Again has caught on to the fact that many consumers really don’t want to cook anymore or, even if they do, they just don’t have the time. It sells gourmet dips and salsas, sauces, fresh soups, desserts, frozen entrées and casseroles. Customers can, for example, buy a fresh roasted chicken for dinner rather than the store-bought rotisserie kind – which, let’s face it, can be on the dry and tasteless side.

Thyme & Again also prepares platters of charcuterie, cheeses and smoked fish with salmon and Fogo Island cod, for customers to serve at home to guests.

Whyte and Moffatt have a long history of working together in the community at events ranging from Canada’s Table open-air dining to the Great Canadian Theatre Company pop-up dinners to the Celebrity Chefs Night at Algonquin College, where Moffatt graduated from the culinary management program. They plan to continue their tradition of hosting culinary community projects.

Moffatt, who’s used to working long hours and preparing dishes à la minute, says his lifestyle has become more balanced since he left the restaurant industry.

“It is nice,” Moffatt acknowledged. “I didn’t make the change just for that – it wasn’t the driving force – but it’s been a big benefit.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t have until I had it, and, now that I have it, it’s huge.”

Mind you, the pace is about to pick up.

“He hasn’t gone through the really busy season yet,” Whyte added, knowingly.