The same adventurous spirit that lured silver miners in the late 1800s to a semi-remote spot of northwestern Ontario has attracted a fledgling entrepreneur bent on creating a destination-attraction restaurant.
Shelley Simon, owner of Silver Mountain Station Restaurant, took a flyer in uprooting her life down south to open a country bistro in a former roadside bar at a rural crossroads, an hour west of Thunder Bay.
Her brother-in-law, a hunting and fishing enthusiast, had purchased a dilapidated building with a checkered past in 2010 and asked Simon if she wanted to run a restaurant in a place she’d never been to.
“I said, okay, and away I went,” said Simon. “Change is always good.”
Certainly not lacking in confidence, the Red Seal-certified chef and Leamington, Ont. native has 35 years of experience in the food and beverage business, beginning her apprenticeship at age 17 in her hometown of Leamington.
“It was just a dumpy old watering hole when I got here. Most of the history kind of got pushed under the carpet and nobody cared about it anymore.”
What she had inherited was a century-old train station, the last standing remnant of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway.
Building alterations over the years covered up the unique architectural features and made the historic two-story structure unrecognizable from its past.
The building needed insulation, new windows and a new furnace to replace a wood-fired boiler outside.
She dug up old photos of the station and researched its most famous inhabitant, Dorothea Mitchell, known as the Lady Lumberjack.
Simon is republishing an historic book on Mitchell and is writing her own book on the station’s history, sprinkled with a few of her own recipes.
“My whole goal is to create an
historical destination with a message to go along with it,” said
Simon, who launched a society to preserve the history of Silver
She’s also created a casual, gourmet dining experience for those who venture out for wild game dishes, Berkshire pork rack, duck breast, grass-fed rack of lamb, and her signature burgers of ground chuck, brisket and short ribs. Many come to sample her menu of craft beer.
Simon is now in the process of buying the 25.5-acre property from her brother-in-law with plans to expand the building and create a year-round calendar of events.
She organizes popular dinner theatre-murder mystery nights, ATV mud bogging events, winter sleigh rides, and wants to cater to travelling snowmobile groups.
Since opening, she’s been a hit with Thunder Bay residents, Minnesotans who drive north from Grand Marais and Grand Portage, German cottagers in the area, and travellers on the Lake Superior Circle Tour.
After 15 years of working at Caesars Windsor, Simon knows the importance of marketing her business.
“I eat, sleep, talk and walk Silver Mountain. I never walk out of the place without the shirt on.”
This summer, she hosts her first wedding party with two more groups booked for 2016.
In the near future, Simon envisions a banquet room on the building’s back side to host weddings and gatherings for outdoor recreational sports like snow-cross and dirt bike events.
Located at the corner of Highway 588 and 593, Silver Mountain Station is open year-round, Thursday to Sunday (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and is open Monday to Wednesday by reservation for groups of 10 or more.