With Traci MacVittie in the kitchen, and new owners Alie and Chris Mills’ enthusiasm for the local community, The Red Rooster’s future is looking bright

Sometimes you have to wait a while to fulfill a dream. Alie and Chris Mills’ desire to own their own restaurant has been over two decades in the making, but last summer it finally came to fruition when they purchased The Red Rooster Restaurant in Crapaud, PEI.

“Chris and I have been trying to buy a restaurant since we moved to the Island, 20 years ago, and it just hasn’t happened. And we came in here five or six years ago and it just seemed right. It’s the right size, it’s the right location, it just felt right,” Alie explained.

If you’ve driven through Crapaud, then you have passed by this local village fixture. Quite possibly, you may have stopped in and enjoyed a home-cooked standard, or taken home their famous butter tarts (made raisin-free!). The restaurant has been faithfully serving diners since 1953. The current building was erected in 1973, when then-owners Marion and Edgar Miller decided it was more cost-effective to build new than to repair the old building after a small fire. The Millers ran the Red Rooster for 45 years until 2018, when Alie and Chris purchased it.

Stopping in on a cloudy April afternoon, the Mills greeted us with open arms and an apology that they couldn’t offer us a bite to eat or a coffee to drink. That’s because they’ve been in the thick of renovations all winter long, refreshing the decor, and making updates to the kitchen.

They put in long hours of sweat equity, explaining that with the exception of some trades (like electricians and plumbers), all the renovation work has been done by themselves. New floors, new counters, upholstery on the booths, freshly refinished tables, paint on every other surface, the newly-refreshed Red Rooster is bright and cheerful. A new piece of featured artwork by friend and local artist Jenni Payne graces the longest wall in the restaurant. It is a classic farm scene—red barn, farmhouse, meadows, farm animals, with its intricate details all painted on a seven foot long slab of Island birch.

New ownership can often mean drastic changes, but beyond the facelift to the building, the menu will remain much the same. “It’s comfort food and we wanted to stay with that,” Alie said. “We added some healthier options,…but one of my strongest things is, ‘I’m not putting anything on this menu that’s trending’….as far as the menu goes, it wasn’t broken, so it doesn’t need fixing, it hasn’t been changed, it’s been slightly updated, introducing healthier options.”

A chef herself, Alie worked with her head cook, Traci MacVittie, to ensure that the favourites, like the Rooster Burger, fresh cut fries, turkey dinner, and fish and chips remain on the menu, but they have added new salads, wraps, options that are vegetarian/vegan, and will have gluten-free and nut-free choices for diners, “Except for the staff we’re completely nut-free,” Alie joked.

MacVittie had been a server alongside Alie in the restaurant, and helped the previous owner out in the kitchen on occasion. When the Mills took over last year, Alie quickly tapped her to take over in the kitchen.

Alie laughs when she recalls how that happened. “I knew Marion was going, and it was going to be a tough balance, so I remember saying to [her] one day, ‘you know, the cooks make such and such an hour’, and she went ‘hmm, maybe I should be a cook’, and I went ‘maybe you should’ and just like that, boom, now it’s her kitchen.”

Some of the major changes to the restaurant happened in the back, with additional stoves, a new fire suppression system, a custom-built ventilation hood, and new bamboo counters built by Chris. The stoves are nicknamed Judy One and Judy Two as they are Garland stoves—a hint at the sense of humour that the trio bring to the business.

Other than the Mills and MacVittie, all the staff are new, but Alie is excited about giving young people opportunities to learn and work at The Red Rooster. “The staff is very young, I just picked them right from the tree, it was great, turned them into Roosters. They’re a great bunch.”

Location, location, location is the old adage of what makes a business successful and The Red Rooster has that in spades. From the bygone days of “ferry traffic” to today’s car traffic across the Confederation Bridge, the Mills acknowledge that their location and the fact that the restaurant is licensed plays a factor in their success.

“We’re the first glass of wine off the bridge,” Alie said. They offer wine and beer, with local craft brewery Upstreet ales exclusively available, the Mills’ son works at Upstreet so it’s a natural fit. As well, they have a “to-go” liquor licence, which means that diners can purchase Upstreet cans of beer to take with them after their meal.

Along with the home-cooked meals that they offer, The Red Rooster has become known far and wide for their baked goods. Biscuits, cinnamon rolls, date squares, and the previously mentioned butter tarts are baked daily—MacVittie has the “recipe repository”, which has not changed in decades. The baked goods hit the shelves around 11 each morning, and are cleared out within minutes, as locals and tourists alike snatch them up.

MacVittie related how some customers call days ahead of their trip to PEI just to ensure that butter tarts are set aside so that they don’t miss out. Alie shared a recent story of a woman from New Brunswick who stopped by, “I had a paint brush in my hand, and she looked and said, ‘You’re not open are you? You know those butter tarts that you sell here, where do you get them?’” She was deeply disappointed to learn that they were baked on-site and unavailable anywhere else.
The enthusiasm and affection the Mills have for their loyal customers, and the community of Crapaud shone through our conversation.

On April 28, they held an open house, inviting all to join them for a coffee and cake, and to celebrate the reopening of “your new Rooster”. Over 250 people attended, and that certainly bodes well for the future of this iconic restaurant.

The Red Rooster reopens on May 4 and will operate year-round, opening daily from 8 to 8 during the height of tourist season (June-October). Once late fall comes, the restaurant will open on the weekends.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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