In 2019, Bernadette MacNeil launched her first business in Millbrook, the Milbrook Mercantile, specializing in gourmet meats, cheeses and local, artisanal foods.
After moving to Millbrook in 2010 with her husband, Bernadette felt the draw to entrepreneurship. Originally the plan was to open a restaurant, following her and her husband’s family histories in the restaurant business.
“Both my husband and I grew up in the restaurant industry,” explains Bernadette. “Our grandparents and parents owned restaurants and delis in Toronto in the 1930s and 1940s. We knew we wanted to keep that tradition alive, so when the opportunity came about in 2019 to open a retail space, we jumped at the opportunity.”
The Millbrook Mercantile is one of the unique local businesses in Millbrook, offering a wide range of local and artisanal food products that you can’t find at a traditional grocery store. The shelves are stocked with gourmet meats, cheese and food from local farmers and producers. Throughout the store, Bernadette pays homage to her family history with photos of her grandparents and parents’ restaurant businesses. “It’s my way of keeping them with me,” she says.
The motto of the Millbrook Mercantile is “big city style with small-town charm,” and Bernadette is proud to embody that mantra for her customers. “I wanted to create a special place for this special little town,” Bernadette explains. “I knew Millbrook would be growing, and the needs of our customers would shift. Of course, I could have never known a pandemic was just around the corner when we opened our doors in 2019. Throughout the pandemic, we have been able to bring specialty grocery items to our customers closer to where they live.”
In addition to specialty grocery items, the Millbrook Mercantile also offers locally crafted and handmade crafts, decor items, beauty products and gifts. “We’ve worked very hard to create a hub for all things local,” says Bernadette. “We’ve really been embraced by the community of Millbrook, especially during these challenging times of the pandemic. Our customers have appreciated being able to find the items they love without leaving the area where they live. For many of our customers, the pandemic may have brought them to us out of necessity, but they continue to return because they love the local specialties we offer.”
When asked what they are best known for, Bernadette explains that without a doubt, it is their custom-curated charcuterie boards. “Our charcuterie boards have grown in popularity,” shares Bernadette. “Sharing a charcuterie board at home is great pandemic date night, and many of our customers love the option of trying new meats and cheeses. We can customize our charcuterie boards to specific countries or preferences. So you can eat as though you’re in Paris or Italy, without having to leave their living room. I think those little luxuries have made all the difference for folks during these tough times. We can’t go out to eat or travel, but we can bring a quality food experience home with one of our charcuterie boards.”
When asked about how the store is curated, Bernadette shared a bit more about her process. “I come from a chef and restaurant background,” explains Bernadette. “I understand the importance of serving high-quality food and products that we can be proud of. Everything in the store is hand-picked by me and something that I love. I try everything we sell, so I know exactly what our customers can expect.”
As a small, family-run business, the last year has not been without its’ challenges. “No one opens a business expecting to walk headfirst into a global pandemic,” says Bernadette. “This past year is not something I think any of us could have ever prepared for or imagined. I am so thankful to be living in the Kawarthas, and for all the support we have been shown from our community. We feel very fortunate to be living here.”
In addition to their in-person shopping opportunities, the next opportunity for the Millbrook Mercantile is expanding their eCommerce space. This spring, customers will be able to shop online at the Millbrook Mercantile website to find some of their favourite local products and new specialty grocery items.
As Bernadette explains, “we know that online shopping is the new frontier, and something we want to provide as an option for our customers. Our website will not feature all of the same products we offer in-store, but we’re proud of the selection we can provide as a small locally owned business.” Bernadette explains that her staff offer over-the-phone shopping as well for community members who may not be comfortable with in-person shopping and do not have access to the Internet.
“Shopping locally and supporting small businesses is an incredible way to help our community,” says Bernadette. “Keeping your hard dollars in the community benefits not only us and our fellow business owners but also all of us in Millbrook. We know we can’t always compete with some of the big box stores, but we can offer local support and a personal connection to what you buy. We are so grateful to the community of Millbrook for supporting us and other fellow small businesses.”
To shop the Millbrook Mercantile website, visit https://www.millbrookmercantile.com/ or drop by the store at 28 King Street East.