A Sunday drive

A quick stop during a weekend outing became a life altering event for the Lalonde family, who became the proud new owners of Crossroads Restaurant in Rosseau.

by Gale Beeby | photography by Erin Nicholson

A Sunday drive in the country usually means enjoying the beauty of the lakes and forests, shopping at some of the quaint boutiques in the small towns and villages that dot Cottage Country and a picnic or lunch at a roadside inn.

That’s how Julie and Richard Lalonde had planned their Sunday outing with their three young children 13 years ago. Julie wanted to show her husband – who grew up near Montreal – the cottage in Parry Sound where she had spent summers with her family and the house they had moved to full-time when Julie was in high school.

The trip was going as planned, but as they headed for home, nature called. They stopped at Crossroads Restaurant in Rosseau to use the bathroom, and that’s when their lives changed forever.

From left, Gabrielle, Richard, Tristan, Emma and Julie Lalonde prepare a home-cooked meal together.

“The place was almost empty and we couldn’t figure out why,” Julie recalls. “The building was beautiful, the view was spectacular and it was the only restaurant in town at the time.

“On our way home in the car, we just kept talking about it and imagining what we could do with it.”

But the couple, who were both working as chefs at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto at the time, thought they were too young to take on their own restaurant, especially with three young children.

They simply talked themselves into it and that decision changed everything.

On ramp to Muskoka

When Richard and Julie made the move away from the hotel industry and from their home in the Beach area of Toronto, they first leased the Rosseau property for a year before purchasing both the business and the on-site home.

What they found was that their new working conditions provided more flexibility for their growing family – especially since they were living on the property – as well as providing their three children ample outdoor play space.

“It was the best move we ever made,” says July, 46. “The kids got a huge backyard and access to the lake, where they could swim in summer and skate on during winter. We really enjoyed watching the kids run around in their own yard.”

Richard, 52, who had not lived in a rural environment before, loved the privacy and the peace and quiet. “It’s not like the city, where we couldn’t sit in our yard and not been seen or heard by the neighbours.”

Gabrielle, left, and Emma helped at Crossroads when the pandemic forced a quick change in service from eat-in to takeout.

Of course, there were adjustments to be made by a family used to living in a bustling urban neighbourhood.

“We have to be much more organized here than we were in the city,” Julie says. “We drive much more, and if we forget something, it’s not a five-minute errand, it’s a 30-minute drive to the store.”

Emma, now 19, Gabrielle 16, and Tristan, 14, didn’t need much in the way of adjustment, quickly adopting to their new environment and to commuting to school in Bracebridge. And despite the rumours that rural educations don’t compare with those in the city, think again, says Julie. “I am very impressed with the schools here and I can’t praise Bracebridge High School enough. It is a great environment and my kids did well there.”

Pedal to the metal

When Richard and Julie bought the business, it included gas pumps as well as the restaurant, which the former owner ran as a coffee stop before turning it into a family-style restaurant, which he struggled with.

“When the gas pumps needed repairing, we just decided to take them out,” Julie recalls. “We had already started renovating the restaurant and had upgraded the menu, so the removal of the pumps just made sense as we were transitioning to a fine-dining establishment.”

Tristan, who has dream of playing in the NHL, and his mother, Julie.

As for the name of the eatery, it was Crossroads before Julie and Richard took it over, and although they weren’t crazy about the name, they knew it made sense as it was on a corner where the four roads led to Parry Sound, Port Carling, Bracebridge and Huntsville. Plus, the locals knew the name and it had an identity.

The Lalondes wanted the restaurant to reflect their philosophy of “honest cooking,” which includes preparing food with respect to products and ingredients and the inspiration of the season. They believe in shopping and hiring locally and using as many local ingredients as possible.

“We create all of our dishes using local ingredients — beef and pork from Winding Fences farm, honey from Papa Jim’s and produce from Brookland and Grenville farms. It’s a combination of great products and a passion for food,” Richard says.

It’s also about an inviting atmosphere and great value.

“Menu items change three times a year, according to the season – spring/summer, fall and winter,” Julie says. “It’s also about what Richard can source. In fact, we are at a stage now that people get mad at us when we take their favourite dish off the menu.”

Daily specials are inspired by what Richard finds at the local markets and from the fish mongers, with an eye to fresh and local ingredients.

In the fall, dining on the patio provides spectacular views of the colours and the lake.

Changing gears

When COVID-19 changed the world in 2020, Richard and Julie had to quickly transition in order to provide the same quality food for takeout. Until the pandemic, most fine dining restaurants would have balked at putting their cuisine in plastic containers. But as life changed, so did the Lalondes – all of them.

“I’m so proud of our kids,” Julie says. “They were worried about us and they pitched in to help in any way they could. They packed up pick-up orders, answered phones and kept everything running smoothly.”

And they are proud of their team members, too!

“Nothing makes people happier than a great real meal and warm service. To us it’s all about taking the time to go the extra mile, adding a personal touch and showing you care,” Julie says.

Since those first heady days of launching a new restaurant in a new community, the Lalondes, who have been a couple for 24 years, have expanded their business to include a gourmet shop – where you can find baked goods, jars of unique condiments, as well as sandwiches and packaged meals, all made on-site – as well as catering and wedding planning.

“Our philosophy is really pure, simple and delicious,” says Julie.

It’s a promise they keep.