A recipe for Success: Ure’s Country Kitchen

By Tania Moffat

If you combine keen business sense with hard work, add in the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing retail landscape, one genuinely innovative idea and a full helping of fun, you have the ingredients for Ure’s Country Kitchen’s recipe for success.

Located in the heart of Southern Ontario’s lake country between Harrow and Amherstburg, Ure’s Country Kitchen caters to the local communities, cottagers and tourists. When Laurie and Randy Ure purchased the business 32 years ago, it consisted of a 30-seat restaurant, convenience store, gas bar, an ice cream scoop parlour and a home that extended behind and above the business.

Their three children, Michael, David and Christina, now adults, grew up with the store as their playground, and later it became their first taste at employment. “I saw how hard my parents worked growing up, and they instilled that work ethic within us through their example. They are why the three of us have gone on to university and have great careers,” says daughter Christina.

A taste of history

In addition to their family memories, the location itself has a history in the community. “The building we are in now was erected in 1929 to replace the previous store, but there has been a business on this corner for much longer than that,” says Laurie.

Back in 1988, there were eight small gas stations located along the lake over a 15-mile stretch. Today, Ure’s is the only original business left. “I think businesses like ours in small communities are dying out. Gas, lottery tickets and cigarette sales don’t pay the bills anymore. Gas margins are tighter, cigarette sales are declining, and the retail landscape is changing with the arrival of big-box stores,” says Randy, who now has a Walmart, Tim Horton’s and two drug stores located nearby.

Ure’s Country Kitchen’s sales have been good, and the couple has always made a profit. “To stay fluid, you have to keep a close eye on your numbers because margins are always changing. You have to be able to adapt, have the volume and not be afraid to try new things,” shares Randy.

One of the benefits of being an independent is that they can change gears quickly, capitalizing on new opportunities as they arise. “As an independent, you need to play to your strengths,” explains Randy. Deemed an essential service, the gas and convenience store remained open during the quarantine period of the pandemic. With safety measures in place, they were able to cater to people looking to avoid shopping at big box stores. “Customers could get in and out with their supplies with minimal interaction and get exceptional customer service.”

Over the years, the Ures experimented with several different sale items, including selling bedding plants. They also prefer to work with small or local businesses, like Scholtens Candy Company’s Cottage Country branded candies, nuts and trail mixes. Stocking nostalgic fare that reminds people of their childhood like Chunky Bars has also proven profitable.

Bob Brown from Petroline Fuels has known the Ures for 30 years. “They are great people, keen in business and honest. To them, business is about relationships. Petroline supplied their fuel for 11 years, and it’s now made sense for them to solidify the relationship by becoming a branded Petroline station,” he says.

Standing apart

“We still needed to find a revenue stream that the chain stores couldn’t compete with. Something no one else was going to do, and mini-golf was it,” says Randy. The revolutionary idea started as a passing comment from Randy, but the couple was drawn back to it and began investigating traffic studies, population searches and course creators.

“We decided to update the building and restaurant at the same time. Our restaurant can now service 50 people, and we have added a new covered patio outside for people to sit and enjoy their ice cream,” adds Laurie. The update also made Ure’s wheelchair accessible, including the outside 10 holes of the 18-hole golf course.   

It was an arduous journey that spanned three-and-a-half years, but it was well worth the wait even with the opening delayed until June due to COVID-19. The 18-hole mini-golf course is like no other. To ensure the course was “all about the fun” for their customers, they spared no expense. It is an experience comparable to the likes of Vegas, with a waterfall, five fountains, two running streams and four ponds. Customers can practice their trick shots and enjoy the breaking greens and fairways. The site is exquisitely landscaped and adorned with hand-picked antiques. Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until dusk, players can experience one of Canada’s best courses for under $10 per person.

“The mini-golf is incredible for them and will revolutionize their business,” says son David Ure. Customers appreciate the mini-golf as it allows them to do a safe outdoor activity with their children or a small group while still social distancing. In addition to sanitizing clubs and balls, the Ures teamed up with a local tool and dye shop that designed the Mully Cup to reduce further points of contact on the course. The Mully Cup is a disc that slides up and down the flag. Golfers use their club to push up the disc, and the ball rolls out onto the green.

The revenue streams within the Ure’s business work cohesively. Already famous for their ice-cream, Ure’s has the perfect after golf treat in 32 different flavours. Since opening the course, ice cream sales have increased by 100 per cent. Their breakfast menu is also a big draw and Randy and Laurie anticipate restaurant sales will increase once it reopens this Fall. The couple plans to open up for dinner service during the summer, offering burgers, fries and the like for hungry golfers.

More people gather here now, and we are a big deal on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. In communities like ours, the little places are essential. If they go under, it makes a big difference in the community,” says Randy.

The Ure’s ingenuity, dedication and strong customer relations have kept the business thriving and relevant for over three decades. It was their outside-of-the-box thinking that led them to invest in a premium mini-golf course that has secured their longevity and importance within community. Ure’s Country Kitchen is part of Laurie and Randy’s legacy and will most likely be around long after they decide to retire.

 

 

Tania Moffat is a freelance writer, editor, publisher and photographer. She has worked in the publishing industry for the last 16 years on a wide variety of B2B and consumer publications, both in print and online. You can connect with her at info@chiccountrylife.com