I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the culinary industry knows how to collaborate. It’s inspiring to see a local industry that spends more energy supporting each other than trying to out-manoeuvre each other. Take for example, two of Owen Sound’s newest entrepreneurs in the food & drink game, Sarah and Robin Miller. The Miller’s took ownership of The Milk Maid recently and have joined a group of businesses in Owen Sound catering to people’s three basic needs: eating, drinking, and socializing. And by eating, we really mean cheese. The Milk Maid is Owen Sound’s only spot for fine cheese, gourmet pantry items, and in-house wine & cheese dining.
“We’re very happy to be part of this new wave popping up and helping Owen Sound become a real foodie place,” says Sarah. “We feel fortunate to have so much support and shared excitement about what’s happening here.”
Sarah and Robin note how great it is to see their friends, and previous employers, coming in to shop and dine at their beautiful spot along 2nd Ave E. See, Sarah isn’t a newbie to the scene; she’s worked at both Casero Kitchen Table and Heartwood Concert Hall, two neighbours of the Milk Maid. And instead of seeing each other as competitors, they see each other as friends and collaborators. She and Robin patronize both businesses on the regular, and in turn they frequent the Miller’s spot. The Milk Maid also supplies cheese to other local businesses like The Launch. Pretty simple right? That’s how community is formed.
I think Sarah says it best when she describes the life of an entrepreneur as “scary, but also awesome.”
You see, to be a successful business owner, there are some key things involved. There is dedication and passion, absolutely. And let’s not forget the serious work ethic. But there’s also personality that makes people want to come into your place of business. And Robin and Sarah are two of the nicest, chillest people I know. Their friendly vibe comes naturally, but their skills have been developed over a lifetime.
“We’ve been together 15 years and that whole time Sarah’s been working in the food industry,” says Robin, who worked for years in the retail space, and does a lot of the behind the scenes work at The Milk Maid, like invoicing, marketing, and planning. “We’ve always dreamed of opening a restaurant or some sort of food related business.”
They credit Sarah’s time at both Casero and Heartwood, and Robin’s retail experience and business degree, for giving them the know-how and confidence to take over The Milk Maid, but there were many experiences prior to moving to Owen Sound that also helped build their skill set, including selling baked goods at farmers’ markets and a brief stint selling cheese in Barrie. For the latter, their homework included drinking wine and eating lots of cheese, which Sarah jokes was not a bad way to make a living.
“I’m passionate about food, and I’m honest about it,” says Sarah, who often suggests customers taste a cheese with her if she can’t describe it. And that just makes for a fun experience.
“Sarah is a fantastic host,” says Robin proudly. “And even better cook!”
“I love being in the kitchen,” says Sarah, who’s the type of chef who doesn’t write down recipes. It comes from her mother on the East Coast. All the quinoa and pasta salads they sell are Sarah’s creations, as well as the sandwiches and baked goods to go. And they’re selling lots! People like quick and easy food that’s healthy and served with a friendly smile. Let me stop there for a quick second and offer my two cents: Is it just me or is a friendly smile at a check-out getting less common? As soon as Sarah and Robin said they were taking on this venture, I knew they’d do well – they both have a warmth to them that leaves you feeling better after an encounter. Same goes for staff members, Andy and Jana, who have helped make the transition an easy one.
The Millers are also quick to credit Milk Maid’s previous owner, Cody Hay, for being so gracious throughout the process. As a member of 2S-LGBTQQIA+ community, it was important for Cody to support her community and she was excited that the new owners of the Milk Maid were also queer because she knew that the Milk Maid would continue to be a safe place for the queer and trans community. That, and the fact that the Millers want to continue working with local producers, and even go a step further to make their shop as hyper-local as possible.
“We plan on being purposeful about sourcing our products from socially and environmentally friendly vendors,” says Robin. “We chose local producers not just for the freshness factor and to support our local community, but also because it is more environmentally friendly to get their products onto our shelves without any international shipping or excessive packaging. Many of our cheeses come from small farmstead producers, using fresh milk from either their own livestock or at least from local neighboring farms.”
Returning to the idea of collaboration, Sarah and Robin also plan to be more purposeful about hosting cool events and pop-ups with other like-minded people. They’ve already held a pop-up seafood night with The Bivalve, out of Thornbury. And they have many other wine tastings, evenings with local chefs, art installations, and pop ups with other local businesses in the works.
One question they’ve been asked repeatedly since taking ownership is whether they would bring back table service. And the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. So, tell all your friends – you can come in and sit down for lunch, maybe relax with some after-work wine and cheese with your colleagues on a Friday, or stay ‘til 9 on Thursdays and Fridays for a date night. The bonus is that you’ll get to spend more time with this lovely couple who are working their butts off to provide Owen Sound with a cool new spot to spend their time. And they’re loving every minute of it.
“Every day it’s like a dream come true for us,” says Robin.
Sarah’s final comment is one that assures me Milk Maid is in good hands going forward: “I love my new job,” she says. “I love food and drink. And I love serving food and drink.”
So come in and let this fine couple serve you some fine, gourmet food and drink.
Go to themilkmaidcheese.com to find more info or follow them on socials @themilkmaidcheese
Words Jesse Wilkinson
Photos Tiffany McMillan