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CJ’s serves H’ford with a smile, pandemic or no pandemic

CJ’s Corner Kitchen, owned and operated by Joanna Bigras and Cassie Lussier, first opened its doors last year on July 4 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, while the vaccines roll out and the pandemic continues, the owners reflect on a year of serving the Hemmingford community amidst extraordinary circumstances.

“The first year open has been a rollercoaster of emotion, blood, sweat, and tears, joy, and everything all at the same time,” says Bigras.

Cooking together has been a passion since childhood for friends Bigras and Lussier, and they also share a great love for the small towns they have called home.

 

Cassie Lussier and Joanna Bigras of CJs Corner Kitchen are serving up a menu of summer favourites in Hemmingford PHOTO CJs Corner Kitchen

 

When they first opened the restaurant, they had a simple menu of homemade pizza, pasta, subs, and poke bowls, with plans to expand as the restaurant grew.

They also sold take-away homemade meals, to serve those homebound by the pandemic. The various stages of lockdown created obstacles for disabled people, those who have a high risk of catching COVID-19, and people who were suddenly at home working full-time and having to take care of their kids. This service was not only a great hit in the community but helped support the restaurant during the ever-changing rules and regulations.

“Every time [the government] made its announcements, it really affected business the next day. We still had people coming, our regulars, [getting] prepared meals, which were a huge hit,” says Bigras. “It was our saving grace, it got us through the winter.”

The community’s support was notable as soon as the restaurant opened. “Since the beginning, the support has been overwhelming,” says Bigras. “It’s always really nice to see the locals coming back again and mentioning that they want to come here.”

After a successful summer last year, the restauranteurs decided to make some additions to their menu. Summer favourites became permanent fixtures. The addition of burgers and wraps, as well as continued daily specials, have kept people coming back and excited to see what is new. CJ’s has also begun serving breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings, which has been a big hit.

A love for the local community is at the heart of CJ’s. Nearly all ingredients come from local suppliers, and any item not made in-house is sourced from local businesses. “We have some really wonderful local suppliers who [were] really understanding. [Being] with a local supplier, a family-run business, is just a godsend,” says Bigras.

Inside the restaurant is a display of Valley-made products, such as coffees, teas, and popcorn, which are available for purchase. In fact, many of the products sold here are also used in the restaurant’s kitchen: for example, specialty iced coffees are made with River Road Roasters coffee, and the menu will soon offer specialty iced teas using Tea for Two products.

As turbulent and unpredictable as the adventure has been so far, CJ’s co-owners are thankful, and excited for the future of the restaurant. Bigras says of the past year, “I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt a lot about others, about teamwork. There are a million things you can learn in a year, no matter how old you are. And I really appreciate this past year.”

The two hope to continue serving homemade food with a smile to their community for years to come.
For more information, check out the Facebook page, Cuisine du coin CJ’s Corner Kitchen, or call 450-247-2444.

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