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Eating on the fly

Thunder Bay Airport selects local caterer to freshen up food choices

When the Thunder Bay Airport Authority wanted to incorporate local food choices into the multi-million-dollar upgrades inside the passenger terminal, they turned to popular caterers, street vendors and chefs Nikos Mantis and Shawna Deagle.

The co-founders of Pinetree Catering opened the Nomad Café in the secure departure and arrivals lounge in early December.

Designed as a grab-and-go food service, the café is open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., 365 days a year, offering hearty sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, tasty salads, and scrumptious desserts.

“We’re super- stoked to be an ambassador for Thunder Bay’s food scene,” said Mantis.

“It’s one of the first things visitors see when they arrive and one of the last things they see when they leave, and it’s kinda cool to make an impression.”

Mantis and Deagle were contacted by consultants hired by airport officials to find a vendor that was representative of the vibrant and eclectic food scene in Thunder Bay.

“It really fit our food philosophy that we have been working and striving toward,” he said.

“It seemed like a natural progression for us and we were super-excited when we got approached about it.”

Mantis and Deagle are also well known as the owners of two business spinoffs, the Local Motion food truck and Sapling Bakery.

Similar to those ventures, the pair places an emphasis on locally sourced and produced ingredients, right down to the roasted coffee beans.

“We have fresh, from-scratch baking, croissants, and pastries coming in every day,” said Mantis.

“We brine, cure and smoke our own pastrami and ham for our sandwiches – those seem to be selling well – and we make our own charcuterie plate with cured meats from locally raised animals.”

The food is prepared at their commercial catering kitchen and delivered daily to the airport. The menu changes to best reflect the local bounty in any given season.

Construction of the roughly 800-square-foot airport eatery was still underway in late December, with plans afoot to install a seating area.

Prior to opening Pinetree Catering in 2012, the Thunder Bay-raised Mantis trained and worked in a number of southern Ontario restaurants, including ritzy establishments like Langdon Hall in Cambridge, before returning home to manage a couple of kitchens for a retirement home company.

“My dream ever since I started in the industry was to have my own restaurant,” he said.

“But going through years and years of having worked for restauranteurs and cheffed in restaurants, it just wasn’t the lifestyle I was looking for. I wanted to do something different so that’s why I went with catering and food trucks. I could pick my own hours and work when I want.”

With a staff of 15, Mantis and Deagle built a new catering kitchen two years ago, just outside of Thunder Bay on Highway 101.

A small multi-purpose space is attached to host corporate and family gatherings of up to 40 people. And now with a new enterprise launched, Mantis said they are in hiring mode.

“The food service industry is notorious for turnover, so we’ll always be hiring.”