Harbourage owner looks forward to 25 years in restaurant industry

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Harbourage, a family-style restaurant overlooking the Rainy River, has been owned by the Bodnar family since 1999. Almost a quarter century in, current owner Edith Bodnar says she is grateful that the business has kept her busy, but that passing the torch has been in the back of her mind.

Bodnar, now 74, said her father bought the business in 1999 after retiring from his business doing drywall and plastering. She had been working full time as a nurse since 1972, which was her “chosen profession,” once working as director of nursing in Emo where she was able to help people in the health care sector.

Serving customers in a restaurant was also a way to help people, Bodnar said, so when her father asked if she wanted to help run the restaurant too, she happily agreed.

“I thought, ‘Sure sounds like fun.’ Neither of us had any idea how to run a restaurant so it was a learning curve,” she said. “When I look back on it now, it’s kind of funny we decided to do it.”

The restaurant name “The Harbourage” was already established when the two acquired the business. Before that, the restaurant was named “The Green Onion,” Bodnar said.

Both dedicated workers, Bodnar and her father quickly adjusted to the restaurant business and found themselves enjoying the busy schedule that being business owners entailed. Working with people, she said, was one of their favorite parts.

Bodnar officially took over the business herself in 2012, after her father’s passing, juggling multiple jobs until 2016 when she retired from nursing and solely focused on running the restaurant.

“I enjoyed coming here and having coffee with the guys and just going around pouring coffee for the customers. Basically, up until a few years before [my father’s passing], he did all the running of it. I just did the staffing, endless grocery ordering and things like that,” she said. “And that was a big change.”

The Harbourage has been a fixture in the community for 25 years, and a beloved stop for locals and tourists alike.

Ordering food, completing paperwork and scheduling staff are a few of the responsibilities Bodnar quickly learned how to do. In addition to “keeping up with the unpredictable supply chain,” Bodnar also bakes home made pies for her customers.

“It’s nice to see the people come in, they’re happy and they’re satisfied with the service. That’s the reward of it all, is seeing that the people are happy and the staff are enjoying what they’re doing,” she said. “That makes my day.”

“It’s a seven-day-a-week job, that’s for sure. Where if you’re the owner, seven days a week, 12 hours a day. But I have a great, amazing staff. So I’m very lucky that way,” she said.

Although finding the strength to keep things running has been harder, Bodnar noted that she is not one to sit around. “I like to be busy, I enjoy it. But it’s getting to be a bit challenging now as they get up in the years,” she said.

When asked whether she has thought about passing on the business, she replied that it’s “always” in the back of her mind.

“I will probably dwell on that very deeply,” said Bodnar. It’s time to relax.”

Some of her favorite memories include seeing regulars at the restaurant, meeting new American tourists in the summer, and making up the menu back when the business was first starting. “Those points make it worthwhile,” Bodnar said.

She also warned that working in the restaurant business is a challenge due to the supply chain, food costs and difficulty of obtaining and retaining staff.

“It’s hard to make it in a restaurant. It took us three years to figure out what works and what didn’t work. Learning the curves and learning what people wanted and what made the best economic decision. So it’s not something you just jump into. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, and it will eat up your life,” she said. “But if you’ve got the energy and wherewithal, you could go for it.”