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Detours lead to more business for St. Jacobs bakery

Susan and John Pries have welcomed the construction of the Hawkesville Road Bridge outside their business, RiverSong Banquet Hall and Bakery, in St. Jacobs, due to it bringing in new customers.

The plethora of road construction has been a blessing in disguise for John and Susan Pries.

The couple owns RiverSong Banquet Hall and Bakery on Hawkesville Road in St. Jacobs. Hawkesville Road Bridge right outside their business is under construction, and while drivers are sitting waiting for the light to change, their eyes wander off the road to notice RiverSong.

John says they’ve seen a steady stream of new customers.

“The numbers I would say are up a little bit, but what happened was the actual clientele changed. People in the area who know about the bridge will find an alternate route if they’re annoyed by the lights,” John said.

They ask customers as they’re coming in if they don’t recognize them why they decided to stop in. At least half of them say they got caught at the lights. Some of them are just passing through and are from places as far afield as London, Niagara and even Wawa.

“But then there are locals who drive by here all the time and say ‘we never noticed you guys until we were stopped,’” John said.

He adds a lot of them have said now they know they’re here they’ll come back.

The lights on the bridge are timed for the horse-drawn buggies, so when the light turns red at one end it will stay red at the other end for at least a minute in case there’s a buggy crossing.

“It’s just one of those things where people sitting out here, while they’re sitting wondering what they’re doing here they’re looking around, so they notice that we’re here,” John said.

They’re now in their 10th year of operation. They initially opened as a banquet hall but soon expanded to include a bakery and cafe. He says business is slowly growing. Three years ago people would ask where they could buy the bread Susan was making for the banquets they held.

“We thought why not set up a bakery? We had the bakery going for about a year and then people started asking about can we get something to eat,” John said.

John estimates about half of their new clientele during the construction period have come in because they were sitting waiting for the red light to change to cross the bridge.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
John estimates about half of their new clientele during the construction period have come in because they were sitting waiting for the red light to change to cross the bridge. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

So now they offer some light lunch options as well as the bread and baked goods. Every once in a while they’ll have Saturday brunch.

They mainly host family gatherings, anniversaries, and Christmas parties. Some organizations come in and use it for a retreat with Susan providing the food. They’ve even held small weddings.

“We have some customers that keep coming back because they can sit outside and don’t feel pressured to make space for somebody else. We just have enough room that we have people that will come and sit for hours talking or we had a prof from the University of Waterloo who used to ride his bicycle out here and grab a coffee and something to eat and he would just sit out by the river or out here in the back and just relax. We encourage that,” John said.

Their business sits on five acres of land with lots of space out back and great views of the river. John says he had always wanted to live in the country and have space outdoors to wander. For Susan, she’d always enjoyed cooking. They started looking for a place 15 years ago.

Now they run the banquet hall, bakery and cafe and live upstairs.

The property boasts plenty of wildlife with upwards of 35 turtle nests alone.

“I protect a few of the nests and help a few of the young turtles down to the river. I’ve identified 115 different species of birds on the property. And we’ve got just this wide range of wildlife,” John said.

He also offers nature walks on the property.

John posits why more people don’t know about their business.

“If you’re approaching from the east people are focused on the bridge and then at the end of the bridge the road goes up to the right, so my guess is most people are or should be focused on their driving and they just don’t look to the sides. Same thing coming over the hill, if you’re coming from the west over the hill the road goes down and turns to the left and there’s a bridge in front of you. You don’t do any sightseeing while that type of thing is happening,” John said.

While they were initially concerned when they heard the bridge would be undergoing construction, their concerns have been alleviated. In spite of some noise when the construction crew was using jackhammers, it didn’t really impact them.

“These guys, they work well, they seem to be very efficient. You don’t see people standing around,” John said.

The crew brings their own lunches, so they don’t benefit from them that way, but the site inspector stops in every Friday to buy bread.

John encourages drivers who have the time and find themselves stopped at the light to stop by and have something to eat with a nice view.

“It’s a place to retreat to, get away from the city, put your feet up, listen to the wind and the leaves, the birds in the trees. We’ve got some nice vantage points to watch the river slowly make its way through the area and we’re open year-round,” John said.

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