For many small towns, news of a business closing its doors is much more common that a business adding on! Residents of Rockglen are proud to say that one main street business did just that. Sue Rayner, who was at the Burning Hills Cafe in Rockglen for coffee said, “We are so proud of our restaurant. It just adds to our community and the people are so awesome! That’s what makes people come back, is the people that run it.”
Those “people” are Russell and Jeanette Belback, the owners of the Burning Hills Cafe in Rockglen. The Belbacks, ranchers in the area, purchased the vacant restaurant and opened Monday, May 2, 2011, Canada’s last Federal election day, to a standing room only crowd.
Russell talked about his and his wife’s new adventure, “The cafe came up for sale and it’s always been a dream of Jeanette’s to own her own place, for lack of a better way to say it, we were not getting any younger, so it’s now or never,” remembered Russell. Jeanette cooked at the hospital in Rockglen for nearly twenty years before giving it up to take her spot behind the grill in the cafe. “That’s all I have every done is cook,” said the mother of three grown children and two grandchildren.
The only show in town, the Belbacks added a liquor license soon after opening and offer 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. hours, 7 days a week.
Asked the specialty of the short-order cafe, Rayner spoke up and said the veggie burger was her favourite, and Russell added that the Philly Cheesesteak was his number one.
The Belbacks planned renovations and an addition from the beginning, but broke ground about 1 1/2 years into their new venture. They have recently completed an addition and renovations to the restaurant. Russell and his 84 year old dad Dan, built the new room that includes wheelchair accessible washrooms and 25 new seats, bring the total capacity to 75 seats.
The Belbacks employ seven other staff and look forward to using the new space to host parties, such as birthdays and Christmas parties. They also reported that the space has been used for meetings for local businesses.
A unique feature of the cafe, is the local artwork on display on the walls. Paintings by Sandra Lamontagne and Neil Jones, who recently opened an art studio in Rockglen, adorn the walls, along with the photography of Wanda Knoss and Gerry Kuglan, who moved to the area from Ontario 3 years ago. “That was one of the things that we wanted to do, display and sell local art,” said Russell. He reported sales of over 50 pieces since they opened, as well as commissioned pieces by the artists.
“It’s been fun. There’s no work, cause it’s fun!” said a smiling Russell, “we get to have coffee with interesting people.” Jeanette agreed and added with a chuckle, “We drink way too much coffee!”
Jeanette elaborated by sharing the locales of many of their patrons. Tourists from Norway, Germany, Japan, Africa and China have signed the guest book thus far. Russell said that most of the international guests stop in when they are visiting the Grasslands National Park, located West of Rockglen.
Russell also shared their plan to help keep the community alive, by bringing events into town. “Our newest endeavour. . . we are partnering with Neil Jones to bring musicians to town, trying to bring more activities to town,” said Russell. They and Jones are bringing The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderers for a concert at the Dreamland Theatre on Sunday, March 3. Tickets are available at the cafe.