There are few endeavours more daunting than opening up a restaurant.

The hours are punishing, the costs can seem overwhelming, and stressful situations can flare-up and burn relationships faster than a gas range.

But you wouldn’t get that feeling talking to Laneil Smith and Melissa Hryb, the 28 year old friends-turned-business partners who just opened the hottest new brunch/lunch spot in St. Boniface.

“One promise we made to each other was that after our first big fight we’d have to sit on it, and drink a bottle of wine together, and then talk about it after,” said Smith.

“But we haven’t had to do that yet, so that’s been great,” Smith continues, with Hryb adding in “very positive.” (The two have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences).

Since they opened the doors just over three weeks ago The Marion Street Eatery has been very busy, which the ladies admit has come as a surprise.

“We started thinking we’d only need two 

[servers]… with two cooks…. and we didn’t think we'd need a dishwasher,” Smith concedes. “It was mayhem.”
Mac & Cheese w Bothwell aged cheddar sauce with broccoli and bacon, baked with a crunchy pretzel top

Mac & Cheese w Bothwell aged cheddar sauce with broccoli and bacon, baked with a crunchy pretzel topping. (Mike Green)

“We didn’t even eat” said Hryb, picking up the sentence.

“On the sixth day we sat down and ate a grilled cheese together and said, ‘this is the first thing we’ve eaten in six days.”

When that grilled cheese was finished they decided they should hire some new staff, which is now up to 15 – including a couple dishwashers – although Smith and Hryb are still putting in 16 hour days.   

The menu is comfort-centric, with chef Hryb’s menu going against her fine-dining and culinary competition roots (which include being one of six chefs chosen to represent Canada at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010).

“I’ve taken things down to be more relatable, more down to earth” said Hryb. “You know, get rid of the twirls and curls and all the little garnishes, and just have good quality, basic food.”

This includes a pretty killer mac and cheese with bacon, broccoli and a pretzel crust, that will make people following a gluten free diet want to have wheat cheat.

The Manitoba Wall

The Manitoba Wall features work by local artists. (Mike Green)

This comfort food all comes together in a beautiful, completely remodelled room where no detail has been overlooked (at what I’m sure has come at quite the price tag – especially considering the space, which previously housed a Polish restaurant, hadn’t been renovated for 32 years).

The walls are decorated with Manitoba scenes by local artist Kristina Dimitrova, while designer Linda Young was brought on to help Smith and Hryb create an atmosphere where industrial features marry seamlessly with the hip and whimsical accents in the bar, tables, and antique mishmash chairs.

The Marion Hotel which houses the restaurant is owned by Smith’s family, who’ve been running it for nearly the past 30 years.

I was shocked to see just how much the revamped restaurant brightens up the place, but surely the biggest surprise will be for Laneil’s father.

“My dad hasn’t even seen it,” said Smith. “We send him down south over the winter time… so we are going to be very proud when he gets back at the beginning of April to show him the space…”

“And to feed him,” interjects Hryb right on cue.