WIIKWEMKOONG – Hiawatha Osawamick was weeks away from opening her flagship Hiawatha’s restaurant in Sudbury when COVID-19 halted those plans, but the entrepreneur and restauranteur took the challenge in stride by opening a full-time food truck in Wiikwemkoong to stay open during the tough times, all while helping her community.
“It was an innovative move to open a food truck full-time. I have three employees through the food truck and we’re just trying to work around the pandemic here. So far, it’s been going well,” said Ms. Osawamick.
At the start of the outbreak, she moved home to Wiikwemkoong to get away from the city and its higher risk factors. She also worried about her family and friends there.
When Wiikwemkoong locked down, the food services available in the community were sparse and food costs were high. Ms. Osawamick opted to open her food trailer at a few locations in the community to provide good meals.
“It was only supposed to be temporary, during the lockdown, but then the community requested that I open up full-time because they enjoyed it that much. I’ve been doing it full time since the beginning of July and people are travelling from all over the Island to eat here,” she said.
The trailer sits at Monument Hill next to Zipp Thru Gas Bar, just south of the village of Wiikwemkoong. There are picnic tables set up for those who prefer to eat on-site, as well as take-away.
Business has boomed. Ms. Osawamick said there is a lineup as soon as the trailer opens at 4 pm and she estimated that hundreds eat there every day. Despite the demands, she prides herself on her team’s speedy service and their ability to keep the lines moving (faster than McDonalds, according to one diner).
Ms. Osawamick has focused on plenty of her traditional menu items like fish, wild rice and game meat in addition to typical food truck fare like fries and poutine. And yes, there is scone.
“You have to live a healthy lifestyle, especially with COVID. That’s why we have the options of good things like berries and vegetables,” she said.
Abandoning the restaurant, whether for a short time or long-term, was a tough decision. Ms. Osawamick said she is still debating whether to keep the lease or walk away at renewal time.
“I invested all my money, had booths in the restaurant and new tables and chairs, I redid the interior, installed industrial carpeting and painted the walls. It took me six months to get my restaurant to where I wanted it to be and we were just about there,” she said.
“My current restaurant has 50 seats so I think I’d need a bigger layout so people can social distance. I’d also like booths throughout versus tables of two, because they act as barriers and are more intimate—Plexiglas looks a little ridiculous,” she added with a laugh.
The food trailer is only a seasonal offering and cannot continue into the winter. Ms. Osawamick’s catering business has also halted with the absence of big gatherings but she has kept her commercial kitchen in Sudbury.
Ms. Osawamick said she was convinced that she would take whatever happens next in stride, despite the uncertainty.
Hiawatha’s food trailer is open from 4 to 8 pm from Wednesday to Sunday at 1900 Wikwemikong Way.