Terra Rossa returns to its original roots

Chef Dave Mottershall is excited. After eight years, he’s returning to a familiar spot and food service concept in downtown Charlottetown, opening up Terra Rossa as PEI’s first “grocerant”.

In the simplest of definitions, a grocerant is simply a cross between a grocer and a restaurant.

In 2012, Mottershall and fellow chef John Pritchard opened Terre Rouge, a bistro marche concept, complete with hot and cold foods to go. As the business evolved, it changed hands, and it moved from a grab-and-go spot to one of Charlottetown’s must-visit places to enjoy an excellent meal. Mottershall moved to Toronto, owned and operated his restaurant Loka there, and then returned to PEI in 2018.

Late last fall, Bill Pratt, CEO of Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants (Halifax, NS), became the majority shareholder of Terre Rouge. The restaurant closed its doors and began renovations, and soon reopened as Terra Rossa. Along with the renaming (from French to Italian-both mean red earth), the menu changed as well, switching to Italian dishes.

After being open for a few months as Terra Rossa, the COVID-19 lockdown happened, and the restaurant closed its doors. As PEI began each phase of its Renew PEI Together plan, restaurants started to plan for their futures. Pratt tapped Mottershall for the task of reopening Terra Rossa with a return to its roots.

Chef Craig Doucette, Melanie Legault, front of house manager, and Chef Dave Mottershall on opening day //photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

“Dave is a really passionate chef,” Pratt explained. “So why wouldn’t we bring him back? You can see the passion in his food.”*

And so Terra Rossa has come full circle. Back in 2012, the word “grocerant” was not in use, but when Terre Rouge opened as a bistro marche, it was filling a similar gap in the market. As Charlottetown’s first, it will offer patrons the chance to shop for ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat options for meals, as well as selling groceries and market items. Heart Beet Organics began a similar concept when they opened Farmacy + Fermentary last summer but haven’t used the term.

The opportunity for dine-in service at Terra Rossa will remain, but for now, it will be restricted both in seating and to the dishes that are available for takeout only.

“It always worked really well,” Mottershall said of the original concept of Terre Rouge. “So it’s really cool and interesting to see it come back around.”

Terra Rossa will offer a “cycle menu”, with dishes available as take and bake meals, mix-and-match entrees and sides, and also allowing for limited dine-in space. If a customer wants to eat in, their food choice can be heated in the Terra Rossa kitchen, and enjoyed at one of the few tables left (COVID-19 rules means limited seating for all restaurants).

Menu choices for take and bake dishes //photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Mottershall will offer vegan and vegetarian dishes each week, and the market section is stocked with fresh produce, dairy, mustards, oils, cheeses, pastas, baking supplies, and canned goods. He plans on keeping an inventory of as many local products as possible. Last year he opened Salume Rume, creating cured meats ideal for charcuterie boards and tapas out of a space attached to Bogside Brewing in Montague. That production has moved to the Terra Rossa kitchen, and his products will also be available for purchase.

Pratt is enthusiastic about bringing the grocerant concept to PEI. “They’re huge everywhere else, but not in the Maritimes as such. Now, you know, with the change that’s happening, there are two words that are really going to become predominant now, “ he explained. “One is ‘restomart’ and the other is ‘grocerant’. If restaurateurs don’t pivot to do something else to generate money, it’s going to be an issue.”

Local PEI products are prominent at the grocerant //photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Mottershall agrees. “I think Bill’s being pretty smart because, you know, I hate to say it, but there is a realistic fact that there could be a second wave [of COVID-19]. If that does hit us, then this concept would lend itself very well. . . you’re gonna get some food that is easy to reheat and great quality meals and good quality PEI ingredients with it too.”

Terra Rossa is open for business once more, and you can stop by between 11 am and 7 pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays to check it out.

*Correction: A direct quote in the first version of this story incorrectly inferred that Mottershall was the chef at Terre Rouge in 2016 when it made Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants list. Mottershall was not with the restaurant at that time and the quote has been removed for clarity.

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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