McKecks back to local ownership
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | July 10, 2018
McKecks Tap & Grill is once again completely locally-owned.
Chef Aaron Walker and his wife Melissa took ownership of the popular Haliburton establishment on July 1. They bought out primary shareholders Maarten and Laura Steinkamp.
“I think McKecks has a great spirit to it,” said Walker, 48, in an interview. “I love the tradition behind it.”
In 2009, Maarten, a record executive and entrepreneur, purchased the restaurant from its founder Walt McKechnie. Walker joined the team as chef and a shareholder two years later. Longtime general manager and events coordinator Karen Frybort has also had a stake in the company and will remain a small shareholder.
Although the Steinkamp’s were primary shareholders, Walker and Frybort have been in charge of the operation for some time. Maarten cottages in the area but spends most of his time in Europe.
The four of them began discussing the transaction five years ago but didn’t get into the specifics until two-and-a-half years ago, said Walker. They expected to sign the deal last year but postponed due to their busy schedules.
Originally from Toronto, Walker got into the restaurant business when he was a teenager. He took cooking courses at George Brown College and apprenticed with several distinguished chefs, including Restaurant Makeover star Lynn Crawford. At the age of 30, he obtained his Red Seal papers.
Walker visited the Haliburton area for many years and permanently relocated in 2006. He worked for McKechnie for a couple of months and went on to become chef at Minden’s Grill on the Gull for five years.
From a young age, he knew he wanted to eventually own a restaurant.
“I didn’t actually envision that McKecks would be that restaurant … but I love living in Haliburton, and it’s a sustainable business and a huge part of the community. It just seemed like a natural evolution,” he said.
He calls the business a family affair. Melissa is manager and their boys, 17-year-old Taggar and 22-year-old Cole, work in the kitchen.
Walker is grateful for the contributions of his team members, past and present.
“I think Walt laid down the foundation and built the clientele. Maarten and Laura elevated the décor. When I came on board, I elevated the culinary aspect,” he said.
Walker also recognized Frybort, who has been a staple of the business for 25 years.
“We value Karen immensely. She’s both part of the heritage behind us and the future in front of us.”
He doesn’t plan on implementing any major changes in the foreseeable future but wants to make improvements wherever possible. This includes service and food quality.
He wants to maintain the restaurant’s community involvement by supporting events and organizations.
Outside of the restaurant, Walker plans to continue volunteering his time as coordinator of the Food for Kids program. He’s also taking his second run at a Dysart council seat.
Maarten told The Highlander he and his wife have been “extremely proud to be involved in such an iconic restaurant, not only to support the business where and when needed but also to look after a piece of heritage which is closely involved in the community.”
He said selling to the Walkers was the right choice and thanked Frybort for being “an amazing general manager and dear friend.”
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.