by Sarah Greene
Passersby on Quinpool Road can stop to admire bright, fanciful wedding cakes through the window. Leafing through Scanway’s catering menus you will find everything from simple picnic baskets to food for elaborate receptions. Scanway has won The Coast’s Best Catering award for years, and it isn’t hard to see why its their time for ascension to the Hall of Fame. Co-owner Geir Simenson speaks on behalf of his mother Unni Simenson, as she is vacationing near the Arctic Circle. “Unni is definitely an entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “She is very creative for coming up with fun ideas, very whimsical, which I think has definitely been a huge part of the appeal of Scanway for very many years.”
The Simenson’s moved from Norway to Montreal in the late sixties and to Halifax in 1979 when Unni’s husband Ragnar, a marine engineer, was offered a job here. Scanway Catering opened in 1981 in Unni’s kitchen with little parties and afternoon teas. One of her first weddings---150 people---was in the valley. She catered the whole thing with just one friend.
Scanway brought a new, European approach to food to Halifax. Unni offered light open-faced sandwiches and healthy soups, more delicate seafood. She put fresh flowers on tables. Geir says the lighter fare appealled to women.
Over 27 years Unni’s company has grown to include three restaurants (Sweet Basil, Saege, and the Cheapside Grill) a cake shop and a large staff. But Geir, who has been working for Scanway since he was thirteen, says that their attention to detail and their philosophy have not changed. “We’re not buying this product because it is cheaper,” he says. “We’re buying it because it is the best product we can buy---our standards are very high.”
What has changed, is the customers: “Our guests are becoming much more educated,” Geir says. People are asking more questions. They want food that is local and Nova Scotian. and also like to eat food from all over the world. A guest will comment that they love the look of the tomatoes there and ask where they came from. “I think it’s great,” Geir says. “A lot of the efforts that we’ve been doing, people want to know about them now. “
Catering presents certain challenges, like transporting wedding cakes and coordinating staff. “You have to be able to do restaurant style plates,” Geir says, “and sometimes do it out in the middle of a field with limited power.” But the Simenson’s enjoy it.
Unni bought flowers recently for a couple with a hundred dollar flower budget. Geir says he watched her unload flowers worth much more than that.. “I said, ‘Unni, what happened to the budget?’ she says, ‘but they’re so gorgeous, they’re going to love them.’ She’s just giddy with excitement about being able to make it so special for the couple.”
© 2017 The Coast Halifax