When you hear of dishes like frog legs, steak tartare, seared ostrich, kangaroo sirloin and bison osso buco — you’re likely envisioning them being served in downtown Toronto, or maybe even abroad. But if you live in Bowmanville, Ont., or surrounding area, you’re bound to have heard rave reviews about The Yardbird — the sophisticated (yet comfortable and friendly) French flair co-owners Kevin Noonan and Jason Fuller have introduced to the area.
Yardbird’s owners first met 16 years ago when Fuller walked into Noonan’s successful downtown Toronto restaurant to pick his brain and do some research for his own restaurant that he was opening. Fuller went on to work for Noonan, and eventually the pair became life and business partners. Years later, when Noonan sold his restaurant, the couple moved to Ottawa and opened a restaurant there. They then moved to Bowmanville in a bid to be closer to family, with the goal of opening a restaurant.
They quickly realized there was a niche market that wasn’t being catered to in the area, and knew they wanted to open a restaurant that focused on healthier and higher-protein game dishes, rather than the usual farmed animals. (Their offerings also include equally unique and flavourful vegetarian and vegan dishes.)
“I’ve been very lucky and have worked in a lot of really top-end restaurants between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and now Bowmanville,” says Noonan. “In Toronto in particular, the first big restaurant I worked at was a really well-known French bistro called Le Select Bistro (known as the most authentic Parisian bistro around), so I learned a lot about wine and French food there. Then I went to a really amazing Italian restaurant, where I learned more about Italian dishes, which is why we want to do Italian next! Then I was lucky enough to work at a higher-end Irish dining room, called Allen’s on the Danforth, which has the number-one Canadian wine list in Canada. I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty great experiences and that’s how this all culminated.”
Their launch was delayed as the hunt for a space proved to be more difficult than anticipated, with many local landlords being hesitant to rent to a restaurant. As the search dragged on, Noonan and Fuller worked other jobs, which were eventually halted due to the pandemic, and like many around the world, they were left feeling imprisoned in their own home. That feeling, paired with the desire to incorporate some of Bowmanville’s history of housing Camp 30 — a
Canadian-run prisoner of war camp for German soldiers during World War II — is how they landed on the name.
Eventually a successful café in downtown Bowmanville (The Toasted Walnut) moved to a larger location across the street, and they were able to secure their location on King Street. Launching a restaurant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been catastrophic, but their unique and fresh take on food was met by the support of an enthusiastic community. While their original plan was to only do dinner four or five nights a week, they quickly realized they needed to open for takeout lunch due to limitations from pandemic restrictions. It was about six months in when restrictions began to lift and they decided to open for dinner as well and Noonan says, “First lunches took off, and then the dinners as well, and now here we are — six days a week, day and night, and we’ve been so embraced by the community. It’s been incredible.”
Noonan says their favourite part about The Yardbird is the customer base. “People have been so receptive since the day we opened, it’s truly unbelievable. The initial reception was incredible, and it has just continued, and we have so many returning guests, and so many new guests all the time as well. We never had to do any advertising because the word of mouth has been that incredible. It never could have happened in a bigger city like this, ever. This is an amazing community.”
Patrons are in
great hands with chef
Chris Michaud manning the kitchen. With an Acadian background, Michaud grew up with an appreciation for French food, and has been a perfect addition to the team. “He’s the most approachable chef I’ve ever worked with,” says Noonan. “He loves to be creative, but he also has an open ear so we can talk about anything. […] I know he’s enjoying himself here, and we are so happy
to have him.”
o do any advertising because the word of mouth has been that incredible. It never could have happened in a bigger city like this, ever. This is an amazing community.”
They may be a small restaurant with a small kitchen, but they’re no strangers to getting creative and keeping things new and exciting for their team and customers alike. Whether it’s offering collaborative dinners with restaurant neighbours such as Three Six Kitchen & Lounge or Chanterelle Bistro, changing up two items on their dinner menu each month, or new this spring, opening on Sundays to offer pop-up menus featuring a wide array of cuisines, they are on a mission to keep things fresh.
The Yardbird’s fans near and far will be thrilled to know that Noonan and Fuller are actively looking for space in either Bowmanville or Newcastle to open a second location — this time a northern-Italian-style restaurant. “We’d like to have both going, so The Yardbird will be Jason’s baby, and the new restaurant will be mine,” says Noonan. “I’m more of the wine guy, and he’s the craft beer guy and cocktail guru.”
The plan is to have their second location up and running this year, and they’re grateful to be in a position to do so: “We have been so blessed with how our launch went,” says Noonan. “It’s been an incredible experience, and so, so special. And it’s really nice that now, a year and a half in, we have gained the trust of all of these wonderful people, so now we feel empowered to do something else. We totally have faith that our customers will follow us to this new venture. We want variety, and we want to keep it fresh for everybody.”