Japanese fusion comes to Nova Scotia’s South Shore

By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
June 1, 2024
962 words

Partners and co-owners of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar, Shani Beadle, left, and Andreas Arnmar, right, are photographed at their restaurant in Liverpool, Nova Scotia on December 30, 2023.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Andreas Arnmar and Shani Beadle’s road to restaurant ownership was what you could call uphill, right from the concept stage.

Late last year the husband and wife opened the Dining Room at Main & Mersey, an Japanese-fusion restaurant, in Liverpool on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. With a population of 2,500, the town boasts culinary options that lean toward fish and chips and lobster rolls.

Believing locals would appreciate the dishes they were envisioning, such as Oyster Mushroom Tempura or Agedashi Tofu, was a real leap of faith, they say now. And that was just the first challenge.

The couple’s culinary journey started small: with coffee. After moving to Liverpool from the U.K. in 2017 (Beadle is from B.C., while Arnmar was born and raised in Sweden), they opened home-furnishings store Main & Mersey on the town’s Main Street. Beadle’s background in fabric design positioned her well for the endeavour.

While she ran the shop, Arnmar renovated their new home and raised their young daughter. Two years later, they launched a small coffee shop behind the store because, in the words of Arnmar, “there wasn’t any good coffee that we liked around this area.”

Main & Mersey’s menu offerings include, lobster kani salad, left, and salmon misozuke, right.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The coffee bar did a lot better than they expected, and so did the bakery they added in 2022, serving up treats such as cinnamon buns, lemon-curd croissants and spinach and feta rolls. Soon, she adds, “I saw how many people we turned away asking for proper food, who didn’t just want fish and chips and chowder. There was a massive gap in the food spectrum, especially when the tourists are in town.”

To fill that gap, Beadle and Arnmar knew they wanted to do something new, namely to go higher end and introduce different flavours to the town’s dining scene. They secured a bigger location just a few feet away from the furniture shop in fall, 2022, and began construction on the space.

A brand-new restaurant kitchen, a welcoming bar and an accessible washroom are all complemented by wood-topped tables, tropical plants and cozy lighting. Much of the painting and tile work was done by Beadle, Arnmar and local volunteers. And they converted the upper floor of the building into apartments, with rent offsetting part of the cost of renovations.

The interior of Main & Mersey Dining Room and Coffee Bar.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

The couple decided to bring along their pastry chef from the bakery, Aimee Corbet, and hired winemaker and mixologist, Alexandra Beaulieu, as well as a Peruvian-Japanese chef. Their Japanese-fusion menu is integral to their vision, of course, but Arnmar stresses that they’re out to do more than just serve food on plates.

“You can get a great cocktail, you can try a really amazing bottle of wine that you may not have had before. You get food that you may not have tried before, good service‚ and you’re in a beautiful space. It’s just kind of ticking the boxes.”

But inevitably, there were delays. Their grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region and because of government paperwork. In the meantime, they were on the hook for mortgage payments, construction costs and staff salaries.

And then, when opening weekend finally arrived last August, their chef made a sudden departure.

Beadle and Arnmar were faced with a new and almost impossible challenge: How do you run a restaurant without a trained chef? Fortunately, he had already trained the rest of the kitchen to prepare his menu. And Beadle stepped up to take on a job she never expected to fill as a member of the kitchen staff, doing prep for the evening, creating new menu items and training her staff. Meanwhile, Arnmar is up front, welcoming customers and greeting regulars by name.

The restaurant’s grand opening was punted forward two months owing to a shortage of tradespeople in the region.Meagan Hancock/The Globe and Mail

Opening the restaurant stretched the couple’s financial resources to the limit. The first big lifeline came from the FarmWorks Investment Co-operative, a Nova Scotia for-profit co-op that lends funds to food businesses in the province. The funding comes on the condition that the restaurant will buy from provincial producers, and serve Nova Scotia fish, meat and produce.

Beadle is on board. “The idea is we use 50 per cent locally sourced ingredients. That can be wine, that could be produce, that can be meat, that can be mushrooms or whatever. It could be distilled liquor that’s made in the province. Obviously, it’s easier in the summer months than in the winter, but we’re also doing things like pickles and other preserved ingredients. ”

Main & Mersey crowdfunded for the final push before opening day. Beadle posted an appeal on their website and received 85 per cent of the $50,000 they were seeking. “You can’t pull out once you’ve taken people’s money. It’s really impressive, that people in our community will step up like that.”

One of those community members is local Laurie-Anne Brown, who grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s when “it was a thriving paper mill town” with a bustling Main Street full of shops and restaurants.

She hopes new establishments like the Dining Room at Main & Mersey will restore “a thriving Main Street that I once knew.”

Beadle notes that the restaurant had donors from as far away as London and Toronto, but they’re counting on locals, like Brown, and residents of the province from further afield, too. “Build it and hopefully they’ll come. People already get in their car and drive an hour and a bit for our pastries so if the food is good … that’s the plan.”