(ABOVE: Kathleen McConville and her son James Clarke in front of the Glen’s Tartan Kitchen food truck. Photo by Barry Gray.)
You know you’ve been in business a long time when your original customers are bringing their children to your establishment. According to The Glen president Kathleen McConville and her son James Clarke, this happens frequently. It all began with The Glen, a Scottish-themed restaurant on Hazeldean Road in Kanata. Now, find out why they’re bringing their 27-year success story to the Stittsville food truck scene.
JORDAN MADY: Who are you and what’s your involvement in The Glen Tartan Kitchen?
Kathleen McConville: I’m president of the Glen and Tartan Kitchen.
James Clarke: I’m Kathleen’s son and to-be owner.
JM: Were you born in Scotland, Kathleen?
KM: We are from Hamilton, Scotland, it’s about 20 minutes outside of Glasgow. I came over with my mom and dad in 1969 so I’ve been here a long time. But my dad was 50 when he emigrated with his wife and three children. It was a pretty bold move. We arrived in Montreal then I got married and we moved to Ottawa.
My oldest brother John (70) and his wife Luciana (67) (both part-owners), they were still in Scotland and they wanted to emigrate. Her idea was to open up kind of a little Coronation Street-type pub. It wasn’t that simple but after many, many tries, it happened. Our original plan was going to be myself serving, which I’d never done, I had to learn, John would cook and we’d hire one more server.
Twenty-seven years later, we have 50 employees. We’ve learned everything as we go along and we’re very fortunate to have two children … my son James is the oldest and he’s taken to it like … unbelievably. It’s a very hard thing to do and he loves it. I can see the passion. I know where it comes from. It’s like watching myself 27 years ago.
JM: How did you decide to start a food truck?
JC: It’s actually funny how it all started. Before the whole trend kind of blew up, my mom and I always talked about “wow, there’s no one doing fish ‘n chips”. We kind of thought it would be cool to take our product on the road … we’ve got a lot of customers that drive from Orleans, Perth, we’ve got Brockville, and they’re always saying ‘it would be great if we could get your product in other places’ so that’s kind of how the ball got rolling on it. One of the big things we wanted to do was more events. And so this year, we’re doing six weddings, a lot of private functions … it’s cool, like, it’s not just fish n’ chips.
JM: How did you become situated in the Rona parking lot?
JC: We did shop around quite a few places. Nothing seemed to fit, or we couldn’t agree on numbers. Nothing bad blood. And then I spoke with Bobby (owner of Rona) and he had just taken over the Rona at the time and said “I’d love to have a good business I can partner with and represent each other.”
KM: So Bobby (owner of Rona) and his father and the family, they’ve been coming to the Glen since he was very, very young. They know our ethics, we know their ethics.
JM: How is the Tartan Kitchen different from the other food trucks in Stittsville?
JC: With the food truck here and where we’re located at Rona, because we are so close to the restaurant, we wanted to be a little bit different. So this year we have our fish ‘n chips, but we’ve broadened our menu a little bit. Based on last year having a lot of requests and also we thought “How can we be different? There’s a lot of food trucks in Stittsville”. We sat down and we said “nobody’s doing breakfast so let’s try to tackle that”. We do offer all-day breakfast on the truck.
JM: Are there any plans for expansion?
JC: We would almost like to have Ottawa’s first outdoor food court. So we’d like to have all different kinds of food trucks so people can come here and try a little bit of everything, and try to make it an event.
(They say they’re also looking to acquire more trucks and mobility.)
JM: Are there any plans for Kathleen to completely hand over operations to James?
JC: No way. Yeah, right. These guys will never give it up. No, that’s the plan. But it’s tough, too, because in fairness, when they’re not there for a few days, everyone’s like “where are they?! Where are they?!” So, I don’t think it’s fair to say they’ll ever be hands-off because I think they don’t need to do any more of the heavy lifting. But they’re just so entrenched in what The Glen is. When people come in and it’s their kids’ kids, and it’s third-generation customers, it really says something.
JM: Is there anything you would like to say to the Stittsville community?
JC: I think the first thing would be ‘thank you’. We know how hard it is to make a dollar and the fact that they come in and spend their hard-earned dollars, and want to spend their personal time with us, is the ultimate compliment. We don’t take it for granted.