This is Ceilidh Sutherland, co-owner of Field Guide in Halifax.
Ceilidh is 31 years old and is from Tatamagouche, a small town located about two hours North of Halifax. To understand how Ceilidh got to open her own bar, we need to go a little bit back in time…
Ceilidh moved away from Tatamagouche when she was 17 years old. She was a bit of a rebel and wanted to see the world. She quit school, shaved her head, got a piercing and enrolled in a Canadian volunteer program called Katimavik. That program would allow her to travel across the country for a year. It actually turned out to be an important moment in her life. Coming from a small town, it definitely exploded her whole world. It was also through that program that she met Dan, the guy that would later become her husband and business partner. But we will get there.
When Ceilidh was 21 years old, she was living in Ottawa with Dan and they became obsessed about food and drinks. She wanted to go back to Nova Scotia, so they moved to Halifax and Dan applied to culinary school. They were in love with the food scene, they loved making drinks at home and they felt some kind of an urge to open their own spot. They wanted to open a restaurant and bar that would be a place where they would want to hang out. And so they did. They opened Field Guide when Ceilidh was 24 years old.
Seven years ago, there wasn’t much in the food and drinks scene in Halifax. Field Guide was on the forefront helping to create that scene. The goal was to build a space where young people would want to hang out. A place that served high quality food and drinks, using local ingredients, and served at an accessible price. Seven years later, Ceilidh now has a new business partner and Field Guide kept true to its original mission.
Field Guide offers an extensive cocktail program, an interesting wine list focused on natural wines and delicious food made with local and quality ingredients. But it is also more than that. It is lively, inclusive, affordable and hospitable. To be frank, I was supposed to go on a bar hop night in Halifax and made my first stop at Field Guide. I loved it so much I ordered diner twice and ended up staying at the bar until it closed. Of course, everything I had was delicious. But most importantly, it was the kind of bar where you sit at and you just feel good. The ambiance is inviting, the staff is friendly, genuine and knowledgeable, the music is good, and basically all the other little details that make a difference at the end of the day were thought of.
A little bit more about Ceilidh...
The three words that describe her best: compassionate – optimistic – fun
The biggest lesson that being a bar owner taught her: Having patience and knowing that sometimes you do things and it takes a long time for people to catch up with what you do and that’s ok, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.
The quality she likes most about an employee: You can teach people pretty much to do any skills, you can teach them how to make cocktails or how to carry tray. But what you cannot teach is compassion and common sense. People either have those qualities or they don’t. So overall, for her it’s about finding employees that are compassionate people.
The biggest work challenge that you had to overcome: Staffing. Even when you have the best staff and Field Guide has been very lucky in that sense. Staffing not as filling the position but more on an interpersonal level. How people relate to each other, how people talk to each other, people are tricky. Obviously, that’s what restaurants are all about, so learning how to communicate and how be a good leader.
What she likes most about owning her own place: Coming to work and feeling charged up. Not feeling like it’s a burden even if there are a million things about running a restaurant that are incredibly difficult and stressful. Coming to work, being happy to have such an amazing team and feeling lucky that even after seven years she still feels amped up to come here.