By Brendan Ahern
Underneath a table big enough to seat eight people, there’s a Thomas the Tank Engine toy, it’s blue paint standing out against the hardwood floor, and the white walls make it feel like it’s a new day even though it’s closing time at the Rose and Rooster Café.
Sarah Zollinger opened the little café in Seaforth in 2012. She didn’t plan to be here but going with the flow has served her well so far.
“It was really fluid. We didn’t start with a plan, one decision forced another,” she said.
Zollinger and her partner Jeff Adams’s decision to open the Rose and Rooster had less to do with being business owners and more to do with a commitment to the community that they call home.
“We’ve created a space where people can come together. The food and coffee is the vehicle for that.”
It happened one step at a time, and it started when Zollinger made the decision to move to Nova Scotia from British Columbia where she had just completed her Bachelor in Fine arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and had a desire to do two things:
“Where can I do architecture and surf?”
Halifax was the answer, and as what tends to happen when building from life’s passions, the next steps for Zollinger came naturally.
First, she met her partner while they were both surfing the reef at Lawrencetown Beach, and the two soon found that they had a common goal.
“The intention for the business was about community and bringing people together. It’s something that Jeff and I talked a lot about when we were meeting, courting, and sharing food. The beauty of that, and how little of that there was here,” says Zollinger from the patio that they had built overlooking a back lawn and a small saltwater harbour that is less than a kilometre from the Atlantic coast.
The Rose and Rooster is not far from Lawrencetown. Throughout the year they welcome locals and day-trippers from Halifax and Dartmouth, and during the summertime, the place blooms with tourists who come from everywhere to enjoy this rugged bit of coast, and, of course, the waves.
Inside, Zollinger has hung pictures of some of the area’s first surfers.
“I think sometimes we all think that we’re the first ones, but there’s always a history behind it,” says Zollinger of the men who have been playing in these particular waves for the last 50 years, back when their cafe was a farmer’s co-op.
Before Zollinger and Jeff could get to work on the gutting and redesigning of that building, they would sell bread and other baked goods once every month at the local market. When that wasn’t enough they started selling out of their home every other weekend.
Then, the chance came to buy one of the few commercial buildings in the area.
“We made the decision to be all-in.”
They built a kitchen, and raised the ceilings, added hardwood floors, big benches, a family-sized table and painted the walls white.
Then they just needed a name.
“We were bouncing around ideas, and nothing was really sticking, but at that time my uncle passed away, and his nickname was Rooster,” says Zollinger who has fond memories of visiting her aunt and uncle at their country home in Scotland.
“He and his wife just had this beautiful old house in the country in Scotland that they had renovated by themselves from one room. They were always so welcoming, like the quintessential hosts and it just felt really right to connect with those experiences.”
Zollinger is still very close with her family, even though some of them live as far away as you can go before you start coming back.
“My sister’s name is Rosie. She lives in Australia right now. We’re really close but we haven’t lived together as adults.”
Today the Rose and Rooster serve a menu that’s always changing with the seasonal foods that their local suppliers bring them. Chef Krista Gillis is a new addition to the team.
“She has been able to build out more of what I always hoped this place could be,” says Zollinger who, for the last two and a half years has finally been able to step back and survey the life that she has made for herself on the East Coast.
“I have a son who’s three-and-a-half. I have time for him, I have time for work, and I have time for surfing. That’s good for now.”