Matt and Jenn Heyne are chef and owners at the Cow Cafe West Coast Grill in Cowichan Bay. Photographs by Lia Crowe

West Coast Inspiration At Cow Cafe

Chef and owners Matt and Jenn Heyne in Cowichan Bay

  • Dec. 21, 2020 7:00 a.m.

– Words By Susan Lundy Photos by Lia Crowe

Where did you come from and how did you get to Cowichan Bay?

‏Growing up on the West Coast, we have always been drawn to the ocean. After purchasing a house in Cowichan Bay in 2004, we knew this was home. An opportunity came about in 2012 in a location that we had my eyes on for years, and we found ourselves jumping in head first with absolute certainty that this was the right decision. After operating at our original Cowichan Bay location for five years, it was clear we had out grown that space and that’s when we were approached by the Oceanfront Suites Hotel to take over the 11,000-square-foot penthouse restaurant that included an ocean-view dining room, two event spaces, a street-side patio and a kitchen four times larger than our previous space. We knew right away that our vibe would be a perfect match for this space.

‏Matt, what inspired you to become a chef?

‏The majority of my childhood was spent living in Long Beach, California, where my parents worked at an upscale hotel. As a child, I spent countless hours roaming the property and mostly making my way into the kitchen where the executive chef had taken me under his wing. I was always intrigued by the creations I saw, and one day I told him I wanted to cook my mom lobster for her birthday—I was six! The next week he brought me into the kitchen, gave me a custom-made apron, a classic “toque” chefs’ hat and three beautiful Atlantic lobster. The next day, I was cooking steak and lobster on a Webber barbecue…with supervision, of course! I’d have to say that’s what originally inspired me, but what keeps me going is the beauty of the West Coast and its offerings.

‏How did you adapt to becoming chef and owner of Cow Cafe?

‏Honestly, I think my biggest strength is adaptability. We are in an industry that is very demanding in so many ways. You need to be quick on your feet to make changes or accommodate something that might put you out of your comfort zone. When I initially took over operations as owner, I was mostly FOH (front of house) and had been for a of couple years. At that point, I didn’t really have a desire to be in the kitchen: I was very focused on the big picture and wanting to learn everything I could about the industry as a whole. However, I had a vision: I knew what I wanted to see coming out of the kitchen—my food! I knew I had to be in the kitchen if I was going make this vision a reality.

‏What challenges and rewards does working together as a couple and business owners bring?

‏One of our biggest challenges, but also the most rewarding was deciding to have a family: with both of us being so hands on in our respective positions, we had to figure out how to maintain our restaurant while learning to be new parents. We have always been a team in every aspect of our business, and finding a new balance has been a journey. But being able to share the journey as a family has been the ultimate reward.

What makes Cow Cafe special?

‏We believe its our staff; they are like family to us. In this industry it’s very common to have staff come and go quite frequently. This is not the case here—our core is our family and friends, and together we have made it through so many ups and downs. We all love what we do and we believe in the potential and growth of the business. Recently, we have had so many compliments from customers noting that everyone is so positive around here. This makes our hearts so happy as this is so important in the world, especially right now.

‏Your specialty is “modern, West Coast-inspired comfort food.” Can you give a few examples from your menu.

‏Well, we love staying ahead of trends, but in our own unique way. One thing we’ve created is our famous Coast-to-Coast Caesar—we’ve taken the Caesar craze to a whole new level by incorporating seafood from Canada’s east coast —lobster tails from Nova Scotia, eastern sea scallops—with west coast seafood, such as Pacific prawns and locally smoked candied salmon from Port Hardy. When we think of comfort food, it always reminds us of family gatherings in the kitchen, so we try to put that feel in almost everything we do. I think our best representation of that on our menu would have to be the Millionaires Meatloaf. It’s a classic home-cooked-inspired meal, but with a modern West Coast spin. We’ve taken locally raised grass-fed beef and a Japanese-raised wagyu beef, wrapped it in a local bacon and topped it with fire-grilled garlic cajun Pacific shrimp and a Dungeness-crab-infused hollandaise. It’s like mom’s home cooking meets west coast contemporary.

‏Tell us about the dining experience: what do you hope to create for your patrons?

Honestly—we just want people to feel at home. We want parents to feel that they can come in for a date night or a family night. We want dad to be able to get steak and lobster, while the kids can enjoy a burger and a milkshake. We want mom to enjoy a delicious glass of locally made cider with her girlfriends on a Tuesday night, or a 90th birthday celebration on a Sunday afternoon. We want people to just be able to enjoy great food in great company and feel at home, and while doing so without the dishes.

‏What is your favourite cuisine to eat?

‏At home, we love to enjoy as a family any kind of home-cooked meal that isn’t grilled cheese and tomato soup. We also do really enjoy a good Mexican spread and our occasional sushi dates.

‏When are you happiest at work?

‏For Matt: “First thing in the morning: I’ve always been an early-bird-gets-the-worm kind of guy, and to arrive at my restaurant when the sun is just starting to rise over beautiful Cowichan Bay, I sometimes find myself able to take five minutes to just soak it in. That’s when i feel truly inspired and blessed to be where we are. For Jenn” “It’s taking a moment in the middle of a dinner service to gaze across our oceanfront dining room to see the smiles and laughter coming from the families and friends as they fill their bellies with our delicious food and drinks.”

‏When are you happiest outside of work?

‏Jenn: “I can answer this one for Matt—golf! Anything golf: watching, playing, reading, talking golf. He’s so happy, haha, and, of course, any family time we get to share with the three of us is always so nice, whether this is at home playing or out adventuring on the island.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

DiningFoodrestaurant

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation man shot and killed by Tofino RCMP

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Visitors relax at the natural hot springs located within Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. (tofinohiking.com photo)
Maquinna Marine Provincial Park boardwalk project on track

“The walk down the two-kilometre boardwalk to the springs itself is by far one of the most incredible experiences.”

WILDLIFE TREE: Tofino Poet Laureate Christine Lowther stands next to a giant cedar tree on District Lot 114, the site of Tofino’s controversial affordable housing project. The tree was pinned with an official Ministry of Forests yellow wildlife tree sign to educate fallers that the tree needs to be left standing for food, shelter and nesting. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Tofino author Christine Lowther calling for poetry about trees

“I’m thrilled to be of service to trees through poetry.”

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino’s mayoralty candidates lay out key differences

Tofino will elect a new mayor and two new councillors on March 6.

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Dasher is back home with mom Christine Girvin thanks to some help from BC Ferries staff. Photo supplied
The cat came back, with help from BC Ferries staff

After Dasher made a dash, staff in Comox found her and got her home safe

Most Read