Stone Crock gets new owners in sale by Shantz family

Fat Sparrow Group ventures out of Waterloo to take over the range of companies under the St. Jacobs banner

288

It’s been a well regarded name in St. Jacobs for generations. From the meats and cheese store to the bakery, and the iconic restaurant at the heart of the village, the Stone Crock has been a mainstay of the community for more than 40 years.

Headed by the entrepreneurial Shantz family, known for their stewardship of the local farmers’ market through Mercedes Corporation, the legacy of Stone Crock is passing to new hands at the Fat Sparrow Group.

The sale of the Stone Crock follows a steady divestment of the Shantz family from business ventures in the township, including the sale of the market late last year to Schlegel Urban Developments.

“Our family some time ago decided we wanted to maybe wrap things up, and that’s when the Mercedes sale started at the market as well,” explained Sandra Shantz, who has been overseeing the Stone Crock family business for two decades. “So it’s been two years in the making, really.”

Taking over the reins of the local business are Nick and Natalie Benninger of Fat Sparrow Group. Along with their fellow business partners, the husband-and-wife team say they’re hoping to add to the Stone Crock name without taking away from its unique and venerable character built over the years.

“It’s an amazing business, and it was a really great opportunity for us to expand and grow in a way that makes sense because of synergies, including a bakery and butcher shop and a commissary kitchen in the basement for our catering,” said co-owner and chef Nick Benninger.

Known for their diverse collection of restaurants in uptown Waterloo, including Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21, which this week celebrates its tenth anniversary, and the Taco Farm, this will be the Fat Sparrow’s first venture beyond the city limits.

It’s new but not unfamiliar territory for the Benningers, both of whom worked years earlier at Benjamin’s Restaurant when it was under the Stone Crock banner. Returning to the Stone Crock seemed like a naturally fit for Fat Sparrow, say the couple, who hope to capitalize on the full suite of Stone Crock businesses. Beyond taking ownership of the restaurant,the purchase of the local company includes Jacob’s Grill, Stone Crock Meats and Cheese, and St. Jacobs Catering.

“We’ve always tried to make as much as we can in-house,”explains Nick. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in serving things that we had something to do with, all the way along. That gets harder and harder as the business grows. It also gets harder and harder in an industry where profit margins shrink and shrink.

“This move gives us the ability to keep doing that.So now that we have a bakery, a butcher shop and a commissary kitchen, we can really do everything ourselves and keep it all in-house without losing it to the budget.”

They also point out that the Stone Crock is only a short distance away from their uptown Waterloo locations, most of which lie along King Street, and it’s something they’re hoping to convince more of their neighbours in Waterloo to try.

“It is a tourist destination as it is, but I find that with the locals just down the street, they’re like, ‘Oh, I haven’t been to the market in years. Oh, I haven’t been to the restaurant in year.’ So it would be nice to see those people come out,” said Natalie Benninger.

“We actually hope we can continue to spread that message to more and more people in Kitchener and Waterloo to get them to becoming here more often,” said Nick. “Because we know it can seem like a drive sometimes to folks, but it’s really not. It’s quite close. So we’re excited to make that gap a little smaller.”

With Nick applying his culinary talents to the kitchen and menu, and Natalie focusing her years of customers service to operating the front end of the business, the duo say they are hoping to add their own flourishes to the Stone Crock suite of businesses without reinventing the wheel.

“We don’t intend to change the concept of the businesses at all, just to continue to add strength to them and continue to improve them as the Shantz family has over the years, and just carry on,” said Nick. “As we keep saying, they are very strong businesses that do very well.There’s no need for a retooling. It’s more of a just continued success, and continuing to build it into a stronger thing.”

For Shantz, the Benningers’ past experience with Stone Crock, combined with their strong local success and willingness to carry on the Stone Crock legacy, made Fat Sparrow the ideal candidate to run the business founded in 1975 by Milo and Laura Shantz.

“Definitely finding people that are familiar with restaurants, are familiar with our restaurants [which is] even better, and our culture. And that was going to continue operating it. That was a big piece for me,” said Shantz, who will be assisting with the transition to the new ownership.