Quick Hitch Café Brings Track Cooking Back to Mohawk

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Rose Denne and Al Mitchell bring back meals and cooking memories.

by Melissa Keith

Kitchens on rails are harder to find because fewer tracks have active backstretches. While the horses arrive and race from the Woodbine Mohawk Park paddock, the humans working with them can still sample the old-fashioned racetrack cuisines of the Quick Hitch Cafe, located in the same building.

Before being interviewed, Rose Denne had to lower the heat of the broccoli and cheddar soup she was preparing. She and partner Al Mitchell began running the trackside canteen earlier this year, expanding their former business of selling breakfast and lunch items from a truck that visited fitness centers. formation around Mohawk.

“We started on the first of June. Things are going well,” she told HRU.

The Quick Hitch Cafe now occupies a canteen space that was previously closed during the pandemic.

“People kept telling us, because we had a mobile going around all the standardbred barns, with sandwiches and drinks and wraps: they kept saying this place had to be open.”

Encouraged by a family friend, Rose contacted Woodbine Entertainment’s director of standardbred racing to reopen the closed canteen. “Our coach, Rod Hughes, said, ‘You have to go over there and talk to Bill McLinchey.’ I messaged Bill, but COVID was on, so he said it was a bit on hold. A few months passed, and then Rod said again, ‘You should go!’ »

McLinchey put the couple in touch with Heather Flaherty, general manager of Woodbine Mohawk Park.

“She asked me to make a proposal,” Denne said. “So I went home and prepared the proposal and sent it to him. In a few days, she called me back, and we’re here!

Mitchell and Denne each operated several restaurants and eateries, but the pandemic forced them to abandon the last one.

“We had a cafe in Barrie, it was at the Barrie Chrysler Dodge dealership. We had it for three years, then COVID hit and they shut us down. I called it ‘Dodge N Go’,” Denne said.

It was Coach Hughes who first suggested the couple start the mobile catering service for the academy. “Rod called and said, ‘We need sandwiches and stuff,'” Denne said. “So we got down and started going from barn to barn. We asked all the owners who owned the property and the barns if they would let us come in and do this, and they were happy to let us, so that’s how it all started.

Denne’s homemade sandwiches, baked goods and coffee received a warm welcome on busy mornings.

“We would just go to the barn, honk our horns, and they would come get their stuff. It was pretty cool actually,” she told HRU. “Now, loop, we are here! And I can still see everyone and I’m with the horses, which I love, so it all went well.

The couple currently share ownership of one horse, Warrawee Yippie, with Hughes.

“When I grew up I had ponies and horses,” Denne said. “We’ve been together for six years and Al had horses – seven of them – in the early 90s. Jerry Hughes, Rod’s father, was Al’s trainer.

The pair were part of San Pail’s (7-year-old, 1:50.4m; $3,012,029) fan entourage during his racing career. The 2011 Dan Patch/O’Brien Horse of the Year is co-owned by Rod Hughes and Glenn Van Camp of Port Perry, Ontario. After the trotter retired from the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2015, Denne and Mitchell got to visit and watch him graze near their home.

Twin B Archie (3.1:53.1s; $604,638) is the current sentimental favorite at Quick Hitch Cafe. While operating the mobile food service with Mitchell, Denne said she was amazed by the dark brown trotter.

“Samantha McEneny was riding a horse. I said, ‘What’s his name?’ She said, ‘Twin B Archie,’ and since then I just followed it…My dad’s name was Archie Denne,” she said. The 3-year-old gelding finished his season at the top of the Ontario Sires Stakes gold standings for his division.

Denne plans to put a photo of Twin B Archie on the Quick Hitch wall, which currently has some racing photos. Customers also have a perfect view of the horses approaching Mohawk’s first corner. But it’s the cuisine and the friendliness that quickly made the restaurant a popular stopover.

“It’s just all homemade,” Rose said. “I don’t buy it and bring it, other than when I started here I didn’t have enough time to cook so I brought stuff…I don’t like to bring stuff. stuff it’s already done, because that’s not who I am.

Mitchell has a background in the sport that dates back to Greenwood Raceway.

“I started in 1989,” he told HRU. “I got involved through a friend of mine who was in the horse business. I’m a retired professional golfer now, but I was playing golf then and he was just like, ‘Hey, would you like to get involved in horses?’ I said, “Yeah, why not? Let’s buy one and see what happens. He already had a couple, so I got involved. One became two became three became four…

“I had one that was a bit successful [pacing-bred trotter Brown Road]so once that happens, it makes you want to have another one,” he said with a laugh.

Two-year-old colt Warrawee Yippie (Sportswriter–Fliponetwothree) is his most recent foray into horse ownership, after a long hiatus. Naturally, it was Rod Hughes who helped him reconnect: “I’ve known Rod since he was 16, so I’ve known him for 32 years.

“I was out of it for so long and then I thought, you know what? Maybe I’ll get back into it. I saw Rod at Georgian Downs and I just said, ‘It doesn’t bother me. wouldn’t mind getting back to it and meeting you on the horse if something happens.” A few months later he called me and said, “I just bought one in the States and if you’re interested, I’ll give you a piece. That was three years ago, in 2019.”

Mitchell had spent 27 years away from racing before the reintroduction.

“I got out in 1992. About a year before Greenwood closed, and they were starting to close all the ‘B’ lanes,” Al recalled. “They were closing Kingston and Belleville, and there were just a few left- one. You still had Elmira, and Orangeville was closing. We weren’t having any success with the horses, so I just clung to that.

He changed careers and went into the restaurant business.

“As a golf professional, I managed a golf course in Port Sydney, Ontario, which is just south of Huntsville, and we had a restaurant there that I built from scratch. And I had two Shoeless Joe’s stores, one in Oshawa and one in Maple. They are long gone.

This year, the couple chose to focus exclusively on the Quick Hitch Cafe.

“We’re basically open 5-10pm on race nights and then qualifying mornings, which have slowed down because it’s winter,” Al said. “It’s been really good. We were happy to do our mobile service, which was good too, but with the cost of gas and driving… We still appreciate it, but it seemed like a better opportunity.

It was also an opportunity to revive the atmosphere of the old-fashioned kitchen, in a corner of Mohawk’s very modern paddock.

“That’s what all the older coaches and drivers I’ve known over the years say, we’re a lot like the backstretch kitchen in Greenwood or the backstretch kitchen they had here in Mohawk,” said Mitchell said. “There was a lot of backstretch here, before the big fire [in April 1992]…I think a lot of young drivers and coaches don’t remember that.

Al says he’s noticed a few changes from the kitchen clientele of yesteryear. “We had a good mix of people. We haven’t had too many owners – that has faded over the years – but some owners have arrived, as well as keepers, coaches and drivers. Drivers will walk through a door and greet Rose whether they are buying something or not.

The unexpected bestseller? Chicken fingers and fries.

“They’re definitely the number one seller,” Mitchell said. “When we first took it, when [Bill McLinchey and Heather Flaherty] talked to us about what we wanted to do or what we were going to sell, they said, “If you only sell chicken fingers and fries, you’ll be fine. At our cafe in Barrie, we weren’t even selling chicken fingers and fries! So we said to ourselves: ‘You are crazy. But we brought chicken fingers and fries, and now we buy more every day.

Runner-up is “one of Rose’s sandwiches, because she won’t keep a sandwich overnight. So they are always fresh,” he said. “And we just started with the soups. Our first night was Saturday night [Nov. 12], because it was cold, and now we still have soup tonight. We sold out all of our soup the first night – cream of potatoes and bacon.

Mitchell estimated that “probably 90%” of Quick Hitch Cafe orders are take-out, including a special meal they made for Canadian Thanksgiving (October 10).

“Woodbine paid for Thanksgiving dinner for all the riders,” he told HRU. “We have done everything here. They just walked in and had their free turkey dinner. [Rose] makes turkey and mashed potatoes and vegetables for 200 people. In fact, a lot of people were staying and eating too, as that included Woodbine employees. The guards took it with them.

Expect something festive at Quick Hitch during the Christmas holidays.

“We’re going to put up a tree and lights and have a turkey dinner,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to hang up a lot of paraphernalia from the horse racing industry. Just things like whips, bits and harnesses, and the stories behind them. We’re redecorating to make it look more like some sort of hometown tavern.

At a time of year when many reflect on their blessings, Rose said she was grateful for the opportunity to run the Quick Hitch Cafe, the support of the riders and the encouragement of Rod Hughes.

“He was a big, big help. I can’t thank Rod enough, that’s for sure.

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