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New chicken wings joint takes flight

Barry Thomson hopes he’s on to the next big trend in diners — a chicken-wing joint.
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Barry Thomson and Kara Ferguson, partners in the Tartan Toque, show off some of the menu items at Victoria's first wing house.

Barry Thomson hopes he’s on to the next big trend in diners — a chicken-wing joint.

The owner of the popular Shine Cafe breakfast eateries and partner Kara Ferguson, who managed the kitchen in the busy downtown location, have combined in a new venture specializing in roasting the appendages of the flightless bird. That’s right. Victoria’s first standalone chicken wing house has arrived.

The Tartan Toque Restaurant, which opened in the Stadacona Centre near the Oak Bay Junction over the weekend to a lot of Super Bowl fan fare, is offering more than 20 different kinds of chicken wings. There’s your basic barbecue and teriyaki varieties, cajun garlic and Greek. And it races up the flavour chain to jerk, pesto, chipotle maple, soy wasabi ginger and, a big seller so far, candied bacon.

They sell for $9 a pound for between 12 to 14 wings. There’s also burgers and hotdogs on the menu, with special buns made by Portofino Bakery, and six types of Phillips beer on tap.

Thomson and Ferguson were surprised at the early response, serving 170 guests on Saturday and 120 on Super Bowl Sunday — fewer because football fans lingered longer for the game.

“We’re thinking wings are be the next trend,” said Thomson. “Pubs have always done them, but there hasn’t been a place that really specializes in them. Breakfast places … I think Victoria has enough of them right now. We saw wings as something people really like, but usually have to go to a pub to get them.”

Thomson, a former car mechanic from Scotland and his Victoria-born wife Lauren, opened Shine Cafe — also in Stadacona Centre — nine years ago. They added another location at the corner of Blanshard and Johnson streets two years ago in the former Demitasse coffee shop and were on the front of the curve that brought a flood of breakfast eateries to the market. Shine, by the way, will be featured on the Food Network’s popular You Gotta Eat Here program on March 15.

The same principals of Shine are behind the Tartan Toque — a play on Thomson’s Scottish roots and Ferguson’s favourite headgear most months of the year.

“We make everything in-house and we’re always experimenting to get the best flavours,” said Ferguson. “The staff all pitch in with ideas. I tried seven different recipes for the teriyaki until I found the right one. The dried coconut was another big experiment, but we found kids really like it.”

Ferguson and Thomson took over the fish and chips shop that had been operating at Stadacona Centre for more than 34 years. It closed in November and the new partners rolled up their sleeves and did all the improvements themselves. It seats about 50 and is open every day at 11:30 a.m.

“I think we created a very comfortable atmosphere here,” said Ferguson. “It’s cosy, a place to come with friends or bring the family.”

Ferguson has been in the restaurant industry all her life. She grew up in her grandparent’s Italian eatery and jazz club in Toronto, helping to make ravioli and garlic bread as a child and sleeping in the office until her parents finished their late shifts. She joined Shine five years ago at Stadacona and helped set up the kitchen downtown. “I always say I was born into my passion,” she says.

Thomson left Scotland a decade ago looking for change of scenery, selling his mechanic’s tools and car and arriving in Victoria with $200 in his jeans. He met Lauren while both were working at Barb’s Fish and Chips at Fisherman’s Wharf. Lauren was at the fryers between semesters at McGill where she studied international development.

They both say Candace Vandinther, then-manager at Barb’s and the legislature dining room, was their mentor in getting Shine off the ground. Vandinther not only taught them the art of supply lines but also how to assemble good staff and a decent menu, keep schedules, manage prices and, most importantly, the art of good service.

They started the first Shine on family loans, opening with enough left to make the first payroll. They haven’t looked back since — raising a young family or three and now operating three eateries employing more than 60 staff.

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