Growing up with your mom running a busy restaurant might make you put aside any thoughts of opening up your own restaurant one day. Not so for Jenna Mooers, who launched her restaurant, Edna, in Halifax’s North End last May.
Mooers’ mother is Jane Wright, owner of Jane’s Catering and Events and the former restaurateur of Jane’s on the Common, the iconic North End diner that closed its doors last December after almost a decade in business.
“My mom opened Jane’s when I was in Grade 9,” Mooers recalls. “I remember scrubbing the grout and painting the chairs at midnight the night before we opened, hoping they wouldn’t still be tacky the next day. I was there the moment she opened the doors, and I worked there all through high school.”
Mooers says that early exposure to Halifax’s thriving food and dining scene made her fall in love with the industry.
“I saw what it took. Opening Edna, I knew what I was getting into. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle—not just running a restaurant but being a business owner.”
Edna currently shares its building space with Wright’s catering and take-out business, which has its own kitchen in the basement.
Although she’s 26, Mooers already has an extensive background in restaurant management, including a graduate degree in business administration and four years experience managing a restaurant in Montreal. It was in that city where she picked up many of the ideas she’s applying at Edna.
“I lived in Montreal for eight years,” she says. “Every neighbourhood had its own grocery store and its own bar. You could walk to all of your local amenities—you didn’t have to drive. I’m excited to be part of that here in this neighbourhood.” Edna joins a range of local businesses flourishing along this strip of Gottingen Street, including Ratinaud French Cuisine and Propeller Brewing Company. “This is an amazing part of the city to be undergoing a dramatic transformation…it creates community,” Mooers says.
A swatch of bright colours greets diners at her restaurant’s Gottingen Street entrance. Inside, the décor is bright and airy, with lots of repurposed and vintage materials punctuating the space. Mooers found the tables near the entryway at a vintage A&W and repurposed the bar chairs from restaurants in Montreal. “We wanted something comforting and relaxed, like being at the cottage having a gin and tonic on the deck,” she says.
She had fun working with Breakhouse, a Halifax design firm, to conceptualize the space, with Five by Five Renovations tackling the construction. “Jenna had talked about the idea of a summer romance and how to express that in a design,” says Glen McMinn, creative director and partner with Breakhouse. The wood lining the ceiling, the walls, the bar top and the shelving is actually old barn boards sourced from TimberhArt Woodworks in Hantsport, N.S. McMinn says the wood mirrors the laid-back, sand-blown look of wooden chairs you’d find at a cottage.
A large group dining table, also made of barn boards, is a dramatic focal point in the space and features a sparkling chandelier made of glass tubes. “The chandelier is like a cloud of lights above the table,” McMinn says. McMinn’s team sourced the tubes from Renovators Resource, a North End store that specializes in reclaimed building materials.
The table seats 18 people. Mooers was eager to offer diners a communal dining experience, picking up where her mom left off. “At Jane’s, she was the first to have a bench where you would sit next to someone you didn’t know. It was different for Halifax at the time. There was some resistance at first, but people came to love that table. I remember someone once offering their neighbour a sample of their cake,” she says with a laugh.
In her travels visiting cities in the U.S. and Canada, Mooers says she’s been seeing more communal eating at restaurants. “People are foodies today—they want to talk about the food and take pictures of it,” she says. “At the communal table, it creates an experience that goes beyond just sitting at your own table. People start chatting and might end up sharing a taxi home together. It’s been a really fun aspect. People seem to gravitate towards that table when they come in.”
Edna offers dinner service from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and a late-night tapas menu from 10 p.m. to midnight. “I find it hard to get a decent meal in Halifax after 9:30,” Mooers says. The restaurant also serves Sunday brunch, offering a special cocktail menu and comfort food staples like eggs benedict and blueberry-ricotta pancakes.
Other menu highlights include fresh local oysters and customizable charcuterie boards. “They add to that concept of experiential dining,” Mooers says. “All that food is fun and interactive. Our kitchen is semi-open, too, so you can see the chefs cooking and see it all coming together.”
The food is fresh and seasonal, with about 90 per cent of the produce, meat and seafood coming from local producers. Chef Robert Reynolds and sous chef Eric Schultz craft the menu daily, according to what’s available. “We have the freedom to develop our own recipes here…this is a playful, fun job,” Reynolds says. “Our butcher’s cut is different every night, based on whatever is fresh and available.”
Schultz, originally from Calgary, joined the restaurant this summer after working at the Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto. “It’s been a real pleasure to harness these new ingredients from Nova Scotia, be it the seafood, the berries or the plums,” he says.
The emphasis on communal dining is also influencing the menu. “Every once in a while, we put on a menu item that is a shock value,” Schultz says. “A 34-ounce [1-kilogram] bone-in steak, for example, or a standing rib roast, with a variety of sides. We’ve also featured a whole striped bass before. If you have a large group at the communal table, everyone is just grabbing off of the same plate.”
That desire to enjoy every moment of the dining experience—be it with good friends or virtual strangers—speaks to Mooers’ restaurant muse, Edna St. Vincent Millay. The American Pulitzer Prize poet of the 1920s jazz era described living life to the fullest “because it doesn’t last forever,” Mooers says.
“She was ahead of her time. I fell in love with her idea of indulging. It’s that joie de vivre I found in Montreal, where people go out just because…At the restaurant, it’s the connection I get to have with different people at their best—on their birthdays and their anniversaries. It’s special and fun.”