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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Feeding the flock

Michelle Bahm, manager of the Cromer Cafe in Cromer, Manitoba brings cutlery and small talk to hungry customers Ken Hamel and Dallas Coulter during the lunch rush on April 21. The tiny cafe does big business, attracting oil workers with daily specials and delivery to the patch.

TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Michelle Bahm, manager of the Cromer Cafe in Cromer, Manitoba brings cutlery and small talk to hungry customers Ken Hamel and Dallas Coulter during the lunch rush on April 21. The tiny cafe does big business, attracting oil workers with daily specials and delivery to the patch.

CROMER — In a shoe-box kitchen with a two-foot grill in the middle of the oilfield, Michele Bahm and Christine Jensen are pumping out food orders for hungry workers.

The community of Cromer, Manitoba with the Enbridge Cromer Terminal visible in the background.

Enlarge Image

The community of Cromer, Manitoba with the Enbridge Cromer Terminal visible in the background.

Workers are framed by pipes and structures at the Enbridge Cromer Terminal just north of Cromer.

Enlarge Image

Workers are framed by pipes and structures at the Enbridge Cromer Terminal just north of Cromer.

The Cromer Café is just one of several success stories in Westman, capitalizing on the oil and gas industry in the surrounding area.

Bahm said there are times the lineup is out the door and around the corner as crews wait for hearty, homemade meals.

The pair have served workers from coast-to-coast — Newfoundland to British Columbia and everywhere in between —and have even picked up some of the lingo.

"Some days it can be pretty hairy in here, but we get ’er done," Bahm said with a laugh.

The tiny restaurant was forced to build a deck in order to accommodate more people.

Bahm said customers are like family, often offering up their table to others when they are finished eating, understanding the small quarters are part of the café’s charm.

In the kitchen, Bahm and Jensen are not unlike some of the greatest duos in sports history. Like Jordan and Pippen, Montana and Rice, and Kurri and Gretzky, the pair have an undeniable chemistry in the kitchen.

"For the past two years, we’ve worked together and now we’re able to anticipate what the other person is going to do before they do it," Bahm said. "When one person falls behind, the other one pitches in, so it’s a pretty good system we have going."

Daily orders can range from 150 to 2,000 depending on the time of year. The numbers are more impressive when you consider the community has a population of 25 residents.

"The big orders really get us going," said Bahm, who also knows where they make their bacon, literally and figuratively.

"If the oil industry wasn’t here, the business wouldn’t be here."

Across the street, the Cromer Valley Store is the very definition of diversification.

In 1977, Mark Toews ran the small grocery store with his father.

Today, two new buildings later and now running the store with his son-in-law, Mark hasn’t subscribed to the status quo.

The grocery is now just a fraction of the business, which sells oilfield equipment ranging from coveralls to hoses.

There’s a market for liquor and cigarettes, too, but Toews said he wouldn’t want to get into that side of the business for "religious reasons." But that’s about all they don’t do.

"We do embroidery and custom logos for businesses and we sell fuel, both gas and diesel," Toews said. "The latest boom has expanded our line and we rent out rig mats to the oilfield."

The store does work for Enbridge and Tundra Oil and Gas, two of the major players in Manitoba.

"On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most important, I would say the oil industry is a nine for us," Toews said.

» ctweed@brandonsun.com
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 19, 2014

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