Yes, We Are Open!

The Grist

Episode Summary

Episode 5, Season 1: The Grist Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Al visits The Grist Craft Kitchen & Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Owners Rob and Danielle put everything on the line including their home and savings to follow Rob’s dream of opening a restaurant and brewery in their hometown. After 3 long years of construction delays, and with a pandemic still wreaking havoc on the food service industry, The Grist finally opened their doors this past June. How did they do? Listen now to find out.

Episode Notes

You can learn more about The Grist at

Episode Transcription

Al Grego:                            Hello everyone, I'm Al Grego and this is the Yes, We Are Open Podcast. Today, I'm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a small town in Southern Ontario, located at the mouth of the Niagara River, only minutes away from Niagara Falls. But unlike their more famous neighbor, Niagara-on-the-Lake offers up a more quaint attraction made up of the villages of Virgil, Queenston, St. David's, Homer, and McNabb, historic Niagara-on-the-Lake is a popular destination, especially if you're a fan of wine or theater. The Shaw Festival theater is the second-largest repertory theater in North America. In 2019, their annual festival attracted nearly 270,000 theater patrons, bringing in a staggering 34 million dollars in gross revenues, and yes, I did mention wine as well. Of the 50 plus wineries in the Niagara region, half of them are located on quiet and charming Niagara-on-the-lake. I've arrived in St. David's, pulling up to an unusual-looking building that looks like a renovated barn with a long extension built on its side with large garage doors opening onto a covered porch, there's a second detached structure on the property as well that could have been another barn stable or a large garage.

Kelly:                                   Hi Al, how are you?

Al Grego:                            This morning, I'm joined by my colleague, Kelly, who also lives in Niagara-on-the-lake. We're about to get a tour of the coolest new craft kitchen and brewery in town called The Grist.

Rob Begin:                         Welcome to The Grist.

Kelly:                                   Thank you.

Al Grego:                            Very cool.

Kelly:                                   It's so nice in here.

Al Grego:                            That's Rob Begin, the owner, Rob takes Kelly and I on a tour of the facility and it's too bad this is an audio only podcast because my description will not do it any justice.

Kelly:                                   It's beautiful, there's a lot happening in here.

Rob Begin:                         You know what? Everything that you see in here, which is funny, my wife and I legitimately did everything ourselves.

Al Grego:                            The brewery and restaurant are both built into that addition that I had mentioned, one entire wall is taken up with giant brewing tanks. A focal point of the dining room is a large fire engine red pizza oven. Everywhere we look is a feast for the eyes and another opportunity for Rob to tell a story of how he and his wife Danielle came up with the design idea, whether it was cutting barrels in half and hanging them on walls or reusing the original beams from the old barn to build the bathroom stalls or the custom built hanging light fixtures, there's just so much to see.

Rob Begin:                         The thing is you can go and buy lights anywhere, but when you can create something that's completely different for some people, they may say, "Oh my God, this place is just way too much." But for us, it's like everywhere you go, every time you turn your head, you see something a little bit different.

Al Grego:                            Most of the main floor of the barn is taken up by the kitchen, bathrooms and office, but Rob takes us upstairs to show us another impressive space, a lounge with large bar in a small stage for live music, the space looks fit to entertain. Once again, everywhere we look are small perfect details, this is where I set up for our interview.

                                             The story of The Grist is a little different from the other stories we've told so far, normally I'd tell the origin first followed by the biggest challenge faced by the business, but in Rob's case, his biggest struggle is his origin story.

Rob Begin:                         My name is Rob Begin and I am the owner of The Grist Brewery and Craft Kitchen. I spent 28 years in the sales end of the food and beverage business, so I set up breweries, wineries, distilleries from scratch or just existing ones that we were just trying to facilitate building upon what they already have. Previous to that my wife and I were in the restaurant business in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but on a much smaller scale, so we did more of a takeout restaurant that was closer towards the main drag in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Al Grego:                            So, you guys are from here originally.

Rob Begin:                         We are, I grew up and lived in Line 3, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Al Grego:                            So, why then did you decide to do this? This is an ambitious venture, what happened? How Did you...

Rob Begin:                         Well, you know what? It got to the point where I left my sales career at the height of my sales best year I ever had, and I was just tired of doing the same thing, tired of traveling and watched all of these people that I worked with, build their dreams, risk everything for it and were successful. And I said to my wife, "If I don't do it now, I'm never going to do it. Let's take the opportunity, let's take the chance, let's see what we can do with it."

Al Grego:                            When your husband came to you with this idea, what do you think?

Danielle Begin:                 No, if you want my complete honesty, but you know what? It's been in him for years, and when someone has a dream that big, you have to get on board and support them, because I don't know if you'll ever be the same person if you didn't get to do what your dream was to follow, and if I stopped him maybe there would've been resentment. And you know what? One thing he is done his whole life is he's provide for me, because I've had a really, really good life, so to do this with him, there was no other answer, we had to do it together.

Rob Begin:                         This particular barn has got a lot of history in St. David's and it's the last part of this entire area that's actually existing and remaining, but it was in very bad disrepair, so we ended up finding out who owned the property through public records, sent him an email or sent him a letter actually, explaining what our family wanted to do with this, and within three days we had the offer accepted and we were beginning our new stage of our life with this development over here.

Al Grego:                            So that's when the dream-

Rob Begin:                         kind of evolved.

Al Grego:                            ... Evolved, all right, so take us through those first few years, because I mean, you're not making any money in two years, that's a-

Rob Begin:                         It was an incredible struggle, I got to tell you, because again, I had a successful career when we were buying this property, everything was all set, we were ready to do it, we were ready to have the money, the funding. And, it took two years for the site plan approval process, which was much more than I ever anticipated, much struggle, much confusion with the town on wanting this and wanting that. So believe it or not, when we finally got everything approved, I went to go and get money from the bank, and the bank said to me, "Rob, you haven't worked in two years, you haven't made an income, we can't loan you anything anymore."

                                             Even though I had equity in my house, they refused to give me a loan, so that was a big struggle for us, and we've always been one of those people that I don't want to go and ask for outside investment, if we live and die by our own swords, we're going to do it, I don't even want my parents support, so what we ended up doing was literally selling the only thing we had of value, which was our house and using all of that money to finance this place, because we were not able to get it from anybody else.

Al Grego:                            So you sold your house, where did you live?

Rob Begin:                         We started to rent, so we took whatever equity we had in the house and we're renting, we continue to rent right now until we can get ourselves back up and running and we felt that it was much more important to develop this than it was to have a pretty home. So in the end, when you talk about sacrifice, to give all of that creature comforts up, to be able to do something like this, that may or may not turn out, you never know in life, especially with a restaurant and a brewery, was a big sacrifice, but we felt at this point, you know what? We have to do it, it's something that we're already into it, and if we want to make it realize, you're always going to be successful if you have the passion for it, if you really believe in it and you work hard enough at it. So I never thought that we weren't going to do well, I just am surprised at how well we've actually done, and as long as we continue to be that way, I think we'll always do well with our clients, so that was a tremendous struggle, just trying to get financing for the place.

Al Grego:                            How close did you ever get, if you ever did, to saying, "You know what? this was probably a bad idea."

Rob Begin:                         Every single day for the first three years, now I will tell you this was my dream, but it became her nightmare to a certain extent, because all of a sudden you go from not working to working 14, 15 hours a day, which is a big shock. For me, I was always used to doing it, but for her to have to get pulled into it was a real shock.

Al Grego:                            And you mentioned she is?

Rob Begin:                         My wife, Danielle, sorry. My biggest partner in this entire thing, and to be honest with you, had she not been there to support, we would never have been to this stage at all.

Al Grego:                            You said it took three years, at some point though, I mean the pandemic hits, in the middle of this, the original plan was it always to open this June or was that in jeopardy too? Did you think, maybe we should wait until...

Rob Begin:                         Well, we were really wanting to open up much earlier than that, but I will tell you in construction, particularly because we were doing all of our general contracting, we're small potatoes, even though we spent millions of dollars, we're small potatoes for all these people, so when you sign a contract with somebody, they start the process and then what they do is they typically go to some other place, somebody that they deal with on a regular basis, or it's a multiple customer, so we were always getting roadblocks because the minute you start something, this person can't show up and that person can't come, and then the town tells you, you needed to have a consultant to be able to do this, to be able to proceed and they only accept this as part of the process. So everywhere along the way, I felt like we were getting roadblocked, but at the same token, as I'd mentioned, I think that to some extent it's actually helped us, because it gave us the time to properly do this in the right way.

                                             You know, everybody wanted to push us to open and with COVID, it almost allowed us to push that back a little bit and relax, because what happens is, if you rush too fast to open something, you don't do the proper job. And so in the end we sacrificed time, but we got a better result with what we wanted to accomplish. So there's a good and a bad to it, the good was that we were able to do something in the proper way, as opposed to just scramble to get it open and then be disappointed with the result that we came up with.

Kyle Elliott:                        My name's Kyle Elliott, I am the head brewer for The Grist. I was brought on last year around, I think it was September. And then just kind of helping consult with organizing the brewery, get everything set up and ready to go once we were ready to open, the initial idea for us was knowing that it's a brew pub, right? And we want people having drinks while they have their pizza and wings, so we wanted to create four kinds of flagship beers that were easy drinking, lower alcohol, so you could maybe enjoy one or two instead of just having that half pint. What we had is our first beer is our Pilsner, just a very light, crisp, easy drinking style beer, and we have the Red Cream Ale, which is slightly more malty, it's got a little more malt character to it. And we have our IPA for all the hop heads out there looking for that little extra bitter kick. And then we have our Stout as well.

Rob Begin:                         The interior of this work, that's where the fun for my wife and I are. I mean, the general contracting was not fun, and my wife tried to stay out of it as much as she could, because it's a lot of difficulty, but the interior work, when everybody's gone for the day, my wife and I would come in and we would spend, six, seven hours at nighttime having fun, putting up barrels, creating designs for tables, the light fixtures, all of the assemblies of things, so for us, that's where our strengths were and we knew we were going to come out with something that was going to be crazy, maybe crazy good, maybe crazy odd. But at least it's something that you're going to talk about, so that's where we really enjoyed this entire process. And even though it was a tremendous amount of labor for us to do, you immediately see the benefit from all the hard work that we put into it, so that was the ultimate, the fun part. Plus, we got to spend a lot of time with each other.

Al Grego:                            I was going to say, it's definitely crazy good. I think Kelly and I will agree.

Kelly:                                   Oh yeah, it's incredible.

Al Grego:                            What about your other family members that helped?

Rob Begin:                         So, I have two daughters. One is actually in LA and I'm a grandpa now, so she just had her baby, so we're actually going to try and get out to see her at some point, but so she's always been over there. My other daughter, who is a professional photographer, because of this entire scenario, she's lost a tremendous amount of her business, which freed up her to be able to sort of help us out over here.

Devin Begin:                      I'm Devin, I am Rob's daughter.

Al Grego:                            So what do you think of this place?

Devin Begin:                      I love it. I'm so proud of my family and my parents for living their dream, mostly my dad, because definitely this is what he wanted to do.

Al Grego:                            What is your role here?

Devin Begin:                      I bartend, serve, supervise, I kind of do everything. It wasn't the original plan, but we weren't expecting to be as busy as we were, so I guess I had to put on a lot more hats than I ever expected.

Rob Begin:                         She's been incredibly supportive and I think that's more than anything else is that, Danielle and I like to do a lot of the grunt work. Devin is always been one of those people that supports us emotionally, and you need that, especially when you're going through all of this to have somebody, especially your daughter that kind of picks you up when you're not feeling quite right and makes sure that you're always reminded of how well you're doing and whatever that is. So she's been just a crazy supportive, the other thing she's been doing now is she's involving herself much more in the restaurant and she realizes that she actually really loves the industry, she loves the people, she loves doing this kind of stuff, so hopefully that she's going to try and spend a little bit more time here because it's a family business and reap the benefits from that for herself.

                                             I say in my website that, we blew the kids' inheritance on this, we really did blow everything on this, and so in the end, if this does well, they do well. If it didn't do well, I got nothing left, so in the end she realizes that this is not something that my wife and I want to buy a Ferrari tomorrow because we're doing really well. I want to return this back to them if they're able to do it, and if they want to do it, to continue this and to build this business even better than what it is now.

Al Grego:                            You blew their inheritance, but you gave them a legacy.

Rob Begin:                         You know what? Exactly, I'm going to rewrite that on my website, I love that.

Al Grego:                            Up next, after numerous construction delays Robert and Danielle are finally ready to open for business in the middle of a pandemic, not the greatest timing, stay tuned to find out how it went.

                                             You're listening to Yes, We Are Open. Robert and Danielle Begin risk it all for Robert's dream to open a brewery and restaurant in their hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake. They sold their home to finance their new venture and spent three years toiling and red tape and construction delays. Now they're scheduled to open during a pandemic, if you were superstitious, you might think the universe is conspiring against their success. But Robert seems undaunted.

                                             So, let's talk about the time leading up to open, because again, you're in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, we're people saying you're crazy to be opening in the middle of a pandemic.

Rob Begin:                         I think to be honest with you, that was the reason why we have had so much support since we've opened is because everybody said, incredible that you have the guts and the fortitude to stick through all of this stuff and continue to do this in the pace that you're doing it at. So, there wasn't one of my neighbors that didn't say to me that we were crazy to do it, and it's funny because if you see in the back, we have seven houses that face our property, if I owned a one and a half million dollar house, and there was a brewery with a parking lot going in, I would not be particularly pleased about the situation.

                                             I knocked on every single door that was there, and I said to them, "I'm not the guy who's owner commercial, but I am the guy that will do it in the right way for you." So I said, "How can we work together to be able to do it?" In three and a half years, we never had one complaint for the entire thing, and these seven neighbors that face my property are my best support system that I have, which says something about both my neighbors, how fantastic they are and how well we tried to make sure that it was going to be in keeping with what they wanted to and not disrupting their entire lifestyle.

Al Grego:                            It's amazing.

Danielle Begin:                 When we were getting ready for the build, it was again, exhausting, we thought that was going to be the hardest part. My husband was definitely here doing all the general contractor, he took that on himself, and that was a major undertaking, but I have to say opening the restaurant and working it, I think has been a bigger beast than even just getting it built.

Al Grego:                            Really?

Danielle Begin:                 Oh yes, it's been far harder on all of us, just the day to day running the restaurant.

Al Grego:                            Your open was super successful. The pandemic's helped you a bit in terms of slowing it down to manageable speed, because you're having staffing issues like everyone else in the restaurant industry...

Rob Begin:                         Gave us an excuse to be able to hold back our doors.

Al Grego:                            But the open was successful so much, so that your takeout's not even necessary right now, because it would actually get in the way.

Rob Begin:                         Yeah, it's always necessary, but it can't be fulfilled without disappointing people, and the last thing you we want to do is to disappoint people, so we want to be very measured with when we open that up and allow that, so that everybody's experience is going to be the same, what my vision is, is to make sure that everybody walks away satisfied and if they're not, how can I immediately correct it, when you're doing that kind of volume, you just can't, so I want to make sure that against, my accountant's advice, let's measure our profits and make sure that we're doing it in the proper way.

Al Grego:                            Coming up after the break, we find out what the future holds for The Grist.

Matt Belanger:                 This podcast is sponsored by Moneris, as a business owner, change comes at you fast. That's why Moneris is right by your side as you innovate and adapt. So you can get paid with solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We're proud to help Canadians like you achieve their goals from online, in-store, curbside and pickup solutions. Moneris is there to help your business succeed every step of the way to talk to one of our business advisors, call 1866-Moneris, or visit

Al Grego:                            Welcome back to Yes, We Are Open. The Grist Craft Kitchen and Brewery has been open for a few months now, and business is booming. Kelly and I witnessed it firsthand, we made sure to visit midweek in the morning for our interview, thinking it would be a quiet period for them. Now, 15 minutes before there's set to open their doors, folks have already begun lining up for lunch, the parking lot's already three quarters full, it seems there are no quiet periods for The Grist, at least not right now, so what about the future?

                                             You've Mentioned it before. You've got another structure that you're working on. You have some plans for that, so once we're out of this, what does the future look like for The Grist?

Rob Begin:                         I'm just hoping that this becomes something that maintains as a local establishment for people that they actually are proud of for the community that we built something that they can talk about and come to on a regular basis, bring their families, their children.

                                             I also want this to be, because we have other opportunities, to be able to do the ice creamery and the coffee shop, and then something else to compliment it in the back to make it more of a destination, so if you wanted to come and you wanted to spend some time in the restaurant, in the brewery and then wanted to go in the coffee shop and maybe have a bakery in the back part of it, just something that the community realizes that we care about what it is and to build up not just a restaurant or a brewery, but to build up something that they can appreciate and enjoy and come not just for the restaurant, but for something else.

Danielle Begin:                 We've hired people that have now maybe, will take that role and lighten the load on us, which is very exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out. I'm hoping that we continue to keep the community support and it keeps growing and still being a favorite spot for people to come by and visit.

Al Grego:                            You see yourself feel working here?

Danielle Begin:                 Oh, definitely, i think now it's kind of stolen a big piece of my heart, so probably can't get me out of here anytime soon.

Kyle Elliott:                        Right now, happy to be local, happy to be part of the St. David's, Niagara-on-the-Lake community, that's the whole idea, right? Is getting people in here having that kind of community atmosphere, and ideally as we get further away from COVID and the regulations loosen, we have more seats in here, other than that just having that good quality of beer and making sure have people come in, they have one, they go, "Okay, that was really good, you know, I want a second."

Al Grego:                            Is it too early to say you'll be able to buy that house again?

Rob Begin:                         Little too early yet, you know it's funny, we are making money, are we making money? I'm not sure yet.

Danielle Begin:                 I mean, again, I credit to my husband because he just never ever quit, fail or succeed, he did it and I'm proud of him.

Rob Begin:                         Money was never my motivating factor for this, or I would've stayed doing what I was doing, it was always something different, so if the money comes, that's a blessing and my wife certainly deserves to have her life back, but for us, it was really more meant to make a statement, to make a mark on this area, so that's really first and foremost, what we really want to do.

Al Grego:                            It's called Yes, We Are Open

Rob Begin:                         Yes, we are way open.

Al Grego:                            That's the story of The Grist, it seems as though Rob and Danielle's dream of building something that the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake can frequent and be proud of, has come to fruition. The folks lined up for lunch today don't strike me as tourists, I don't know how many times I've seen an old dilapidated building and imagined it is something new and exciting for a potential business, I'd say it happens quite regularly actually. Of course, few people know how challenging the journey is from having that vision to making it a reality, few know of the sacrifices, the expense, the battles with bylaws and contractors, the early mornings and sleepless nights. And in the end, if you're successful, all that hard work simply leads to more work, so why do it? For Rob and Danielle the answers should be simple, they did it for their hometown, they did it to leave their children a legacy, but most of all, they did it for and with each other, as far as I can tell, they've already succeeded.

                                             Yes, We Are Open is a Moneris podcast production. I'd like to thank Rob, Danielle, Devin, and Kyle for taking time to share their story. You can learn more about The Grist Craft Kitchen and Brewery at You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Formore information about this podcast, visit our site If you'd like to support us, rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, if you're a Canadian small business owner or know one with an interesting story of perseverance to tell, I'd love to help tell it, you can contact me at, tune in next week for another story of small business struggle and survival on the Yes, We Are Open podcast. I'm Al Grego, thank you for listening.