Enjoy Fresh Fish in Historic Digs at Purvis Fish & Chips in Gore Bay
Avery Sheppard is, in many ways, the typical Carleton University student. She’s in her early twenties, loves to wear hoodies, and is preoccupied with papers and exams from September to May. But in the summer months, Sheppard has another identity. She’s a hugely successful restaurant owner in her hometown of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
Sheppard is the owner and operator of Purvis Fish & Chips. At a time when most students are likely poring over take-out pizza menus, Sheppard has worked hard designing her own menu, which features fresh wild-caught whitefish done in English-style batter, three kinds of tartar sauce, blackened lake char sandwiches, deep-fried ‘blooming onions,’ and some killer frozen cocktails. I had the chance to visit Purvis Fish & Chips and was able to pepper Sheppard with questions about her family, her business, and her fortitude, all while she was busy tending to the bar. I saw firsthand that absolutely nothing could slow her down!
The Unlikely Origins of Purvis Fish & Chips
Sheppard opened Purvis Fish & Chips in the summer of 2021 when she was just 18 years old. She has always enjoyed cooking and even considered attending culinary school. As a kid, she made her mom eat what she describes as her “concoctions.” (There is no word on what exactly they contained, but it’s safe to assume some were pretty experimental in nature!) She comes by her passion for food naturally, as both her grandmothers liked to bake, so it’s no surprise that the kitchen has always held her curiosity. When her mom mentioned a restaurant opportunity in passing, an idea was born.
Opening a restaurant isn’t exactly for the faint of heart, and doing so in the middle of a pandemic, when dining-in services were locked down, might seem downright audacious to some people. But Sheppard wasn’t daunted. Although the restaurant was initially limited to take-out service due to COVID-19 restrictions, she paid back all her opening debts within a year.
Adaptive Reuse of an Architectural Marvel
Part of her motivation came from a desire to see the restaurant’s building have a new life again. The lighthouse-shaped structure on the edge of Gore Bay boasts spectacular water views but has sat empty for years. Opening a new restaurant meant a lot of gritty work, like tearing the old kitchen apart and re-doing floors. But Sheppard knew what the space was capable of and just how successful a fish and chips joint could be, partly because she knows just about everything there is to know about fish.
Sheppard is a proud 6th generation member of a local fishing family, and she knows firsthand just how delicious the region’s fresh fish is. Her family owns and operates Purvis Fisheries on the west end of Manitoulin Island, and the restaurant's inside is a testament to their long legacy of working those waters. The nautical decor inside the restaurant isn’t just for show. These are family photographs and artifacts from homes, boats, and wharves. Sheppard wrote in a social media post:
“The first picture I put up is a painted picture from the 1800s of where the fishery started out on Outer Duck Island. The fishery later moved to the mainland and was run out of Burnt Island. We had boats in Meldrum Bay, Gore Bay, Providence Bay, and Burnt Island. I have historical family photos, along with many photos of the harbour of Gore Bay where my restaurant sits. One of the Purvis Docks used to be beside my restaurant and the Merchants dock was where my restaurant sits today. The Merchants dock was where all the merchandise received and exported near Gore Bay was loaded/unloaded onto ships.”
All that family history and culinary flair is evident in Sheppard’s fish-forward menu. In addition to the whitefish and lake char, she also serves up pickerel, shrimp, and a smoked whitefish pate. The menu includes other cafe favourites, like chicken burgers, sweet potato fries, and mozza sticks. Customers rave about the tartar sauce selection (regular, spicy, and dill are available), and the scrumptious blooming onion is a crowd favourite. Wednesdays are wing night, with 12 flavours available, and cocktails ranging from frozen daiquiris to whiskey sours are available.
However, unless you’re a die-hard cocktail fan, you might want to grab a beer on tap. Products from local companies such as Manitoulin Brewing Company and Split Rail Brewing Company are available. Split Rail is located just across the road from Purvis Fish & Chips, making a quick brewery visit an easy stop for visitors once they’re done with lunch.
A meal at Purvis Fish & Chips is an essential (and tasty!) part of any Manitoulin Island visit. However, you’ll have to plan carefully. The restaurant is typically only open from the beginning of June until the end of August. After all, Sheppard and most of her team must return to school!
And no, Sheppard doesn’t attend culinary school. She’s studying business. I think it’s safe to say that Purvis Fish & Chips may just be the start of an empire.