Situated on the main street of Ajax’s charming downtown throughfare is an equally charming blue two-storey house. Its crisp, white trim and deep, shaded sitting porch conjure warm images of simpler times. This century house is the site of Heritage House Catering, where home-cooked food is handmade with love, and conjures the same warmth and longing for simpler times. To owner Cathy Brown, the people that walk through the doors of her beautiful home-turned-shop are not just customers—they’re family.
Heritage House Catering has been a part of the community of Ajax for over a decade. In fact, it is in its twelfth year this June. Everything here is made onsite with fresh ingredients, and without a heavy reliance on preservatives. “We believe that happiness is homemade,” says Cathy. “We have fresh gourmet meals to go, and homemade soups to go. We make everything from our roast beef dinners, our chicken parmesan dinners, favourites like lasagna, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, penne Bolognese… the list goes on and on.” For those customers with certain food allergies and dietary restrictions, Heritage House will even make dishes and items on request.
When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, Heritage House won’t disappoint with its farm table of baked goods and other treats. At times, Cathy finds that she can’t make her banana bread fast enough. Her brownies, cookies and bread pudding are locally famous, and her old-fashioned date squares “practically fly off the table.” Currently it’s strawberry season in our amazing farm-to-table region, so Cathy and her staff are busy making strawberry jam, creating strawberry salads, and will even be making hot strawberry jelly.
With all that’s going on behind the beautiful blue walls of Heritage House Catering, it comes as no surprise that Cathy and her staff simply love what they do. “We’re passionate about food,” she exclaims, “and we’re passionate about what’s new. We have great staff here—that’s basically what Heritage House is all about. We’re always looking for something new to try, and when we come across new things, we get to tweak recipes and experiment a bit. That’s so much fun.”
Cathy credits the start of her cooking career to an Easy-Bake Oven she received from Santa for Christmas over forty years ago. Her passion and love for baking, even at that age, was something her mother recognized, and she would buy young Cathy cake mixes to bake in her oven, decorate and share, and even sell door to door. “My grandmother was fantastic at baking,” she recalls. “She also did canning. She was a woman who was able to make something out of nothing, and my Mother got that same blessing in her life.”
Cathy, herself, followed suit, and was always the one amongst her friends and acquaintances to host parties and cook for large crowds. When a friend asked if Cathy would cater for a party she was hosting, Cathy took the opportunity to dip into this venture as a side business. This, in turn, led to her taking a job closer to home—moving from CNIB in Toronto to a retirement home for Catholic priests in Pickering.
Eventually, however, her catering business became a runaway success, and she found herself having to evaluate her priorities. “What ended up happening was that I had two full time jobs,” she recalls. “I couldn’t walk away from something that started as a small little business for my friends and ended up being as successful as it was. So I turned my kitchen into a commercial kitchen.” Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) because Cathy’s home wasn’t zoned for a commercial kitchen, she found herself on the hunt for a proper location. This, it appears, is when fate stepped in.
“I started looking, and I saw this big blue century-style house up for sale that previously had a business in it,” she says. “I had always loved this house. I would walk by with friends and tell them I just wanted to get inside. Though it was terrifying making such a financial commitment, it also gave me the perfect opportunity to do my catering and also have a store.” Jumping in, Cathy purchased the building and started immediately on renovations to get it ready for the public.
“This house is just amazing. People will often ask us if it’s haunted,” she adds, laughing. “If it is, it’s friendly. When I came to see it for the first time and I walked through those doors, it was like the door had me at hello. There is a peacefulness about it, and we have added something to this community by being here. People have welcomed us with open arms. Some of them are even interested in the history of the house, and want to come inside to see the finishes like how the doors have been made or the big, deep baseboards. It has a lot of charm and craftsmanship.”
One of the trends that Cathy has noticed since opening Heritage House Catering is that instead of sending flowers to loved ones for extraordinary or difficult times, they are sending food. She says, “When you lose a loved one—and I know I have been in that situation myself—you don’t think about making a meal for your family. It’s not something you want to have to focus on when you’re going through a hard time. Especially during these times of COVID, people know that their neighbour is struggling and will drop something off. Whether it’s a meal or a banana bread or some cookies, it’s a little something. I have really seen a lot of humanity through this pandemic.”
She adds, “I think today, the common thing that we all share is that we all have busy lives. People will come in and be apologetic about hating cooking, but I tell them it’s okay because we all have our talents. After 41 years I’m still passionate about food. To me, if I’m standing in my apron, rolling out some pie crusts or making some cookies, or making some jam, or making some pickles—I mean, what a life to have been able to spend so much time doing what I love!”
Heritage House Catering
479 Kingston Rd. W., Ajax www.heritagehousecatering.ca
Story by Katherine Ryalen