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 8:00 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

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, updates British Columbians about COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week. (B.C. Government image)
B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 confirmed a year ago today

Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the province’s fight against the novel coronavirus

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

Columbia Basin Trust is asking residents across the region to test their internet speeds so the Trust can better identify which areas aren’t meeting service expectations. (Columbia Basin Trust file)
Columbia Basin Trust asks residents to test internet speeds

Several communities across the Basin region, including Moyie, are asked to take the test

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

We’ve got ambitious goals for this year’s garden, which means a lot of planning and organizing over the coming weeks. (Corey Bullock file)
Farm Life: The seeds of tomorrow

Time to plan for the growing season

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)
University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Vancouver Island woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny rescue operation

Amy McLaughlin has rescued more than 400 bunnies, pushing for the capacity to help more

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Most Read