Summer is almost over and I haven’t spent much time on the porch watching the goings-on in the Bay. July’s heat made me retreat to the shadier summer kitchen for writing and relaxation, and gardening has taken up a lot of my time.
Just the other day though, my garden labours were pleasantly interrupted by “Dairy Tony” Yantha. (That’s how folks in the Bay differentiate him from the other well-known Tony Yantha, “Tony-the-barber.”) Tony wanted to tell me about the 50th anniversary of his family business, the Barry’s Bay Dairy, so we spent a few hours on the deck of his Trout Lake home chatting about the last half-century.
Above: The Barry’s Bay Dairy’s grand opening on December 20, 1977. These news clippings hold a place of prominence on the wall in the dairy. Tony Yantha and the Barry’s Bay reeve Hilary Jones cutting the ribbon flanked by Tony’s daughter’s Tracey (left) and Tammy (right). Doc, Tony and Tony’s son Darwin. Clippings provided by Tony Yantha.
As a kid, I used to love going to the “Dairy Bar” to buy candy because Tony’s mother Martha was always kind to me. As a little tyke, I used to pester her when she worked in the kitchen at the Balmoral Hotel. I also have a vivid memory of having a burger, fries and a milk shake there one evening in 1972 before going to a show at the Bay Theatre. That, of course, was the old dairy with stools on which you could “sit and spin.” Since the new dairy opened in 1977, I have had many breakfasts and lunches sitting in the booths with friends and family. Many of my visitors request a breakfast at the dairy to get the “authentic Barry’s Bay experience.”
During our chat Tony explained how in 1969, he and his brother Ed went together to purchase the business from Bill and Ella Hoffman. Tony was no stranger to the dairy because he had worked for Hoffmans for six summers. “It’s crazy how vividly I remember my last summer there,” he reminisced. “I got to drive the truck.”
Tony’s family supported him and his brothers in the early days. “Ed had his share for the down payment, but I didn’t. I was married with two children, and working at Atlas Steel in Welland. I really wanted to buy the dairy, so, I visited my Aunt Sally in Toronto to ask her for a loan. When she agreed, Ed and I purchased the dairy. I paid her back with interest within four years. She still reminds me of her error for not asking for a share of the business.”
Tony quit Atlas in the spring of ’71 to manage the dairy, and he brought his wife Anne, daughters Tracey and Tammy, and two-week-old son Darwin, to live in an apartment over the dairy. That’s also when his mother, Martha, took over the restaurant. Ed continued to work at Atlas Steel, until the late 1990s when he moved home to work at the Dairy on a part-time basis. Brother Doc (Sylvester) bought into the business and started working at the Dairy in 1973 when he left his manager’s position with Food City in Toronto.
The Yantha brothers – Doc, Ed and Tony – learned a lot from their parents Martha and August. Photo provided by Tony Yantha
The role of family in this business cannot be underestimated. The Yantha brothers learned the importance of hard work from their parents August and Martha (Chippior) Yantha. August worked in the lumber industry for McRae’s and Conway’s before putting in 30 years at Murray Brothers’ Lumber. Martha went to work as a housekeeper and cook in Ottawa before working at the Balmoral Hotel in Barry’s Bay. As he talked about his parents’ influence, Tony pulled a scrap of paper from his file, with a quotation scrawled on it:
Yes I am a self-made man, but the blueprints come from my mother and dad.
Tony explained how family co-operation was important too: “When we bought the dairy in 1969 our goal was hard work, fun and results. My brothers and I all get along because there is no limit to the amount of good we can do when nobody cares who gets the credit.” The brothers have tried to pass these values onto their own kids. Tony’s children worked at the Dairy over the years. “I told Anne when they were in high school,” he said, “Don’t ever give them money, let them earn their own.”
There have been many changes at the dairy over the years. In 1969, it consisted of a small restaurant on the street with a two-storey building containing the plant and home behind and milk was still being delivered to homes in plastic jugs. The restaurant was very small. In 1977, the new building was built and the old one was demolished. In 1988 an ice-making facility was added. Today in addition to the restaurant, the Yanthas operate a distribution centre for milk, cream, ice-cream and ice purchased from major suppliers and delivered to businesses in the area.
Tony estimated that 15 percent of the dairy’s business involves the delivery of milk and dairy products from suppliers like Natrel and Brum’s; 35 percent comes from the restaurant, and 50 percent is derived from the delivery of ice and ice cream. That last, large chunk is notable insofar as it is seasonal. Tony explained the seasonal aspect of the business to me: “If it’s hot and the sun is shining, the ice business really booms. We get three deliveries of ice per week in the hot weather. All the restaurants and camps want ice, not to mention all the stores that sell ice in the area. If the weather co-operates, we make our money in a 15-week period of the year. This year, it was a cool spring, so maybe we had only 10 weeks.”
He went on to explain their old-fashioned, yet successful, approach to business: “In many respects, we operate in the old-fashioned way. I don’t need a computer to tell me the state of my inventory. I look in the cooler, I check the weather and I call my customers. Sometimes we just send the trucks because we know they’ll need ice.”
Caroline Etmanskie (above left), Brandon Coulas and Emily Sernoskie. Caroline has worked at the dairy twice over the years. She left and then returned after working elsewhere for a number of years. Brandon, the cook, is her grandson. So, the Yanthas aren’t the only family at the dairy. Photo: Mark Woermke
Tony made it clear that the Yanthas couldn’t have made a go of it without hundreds of employees over the years, and he highlighted two: Holly Skuce and Caroline Etmanskie who have been with them a long time. Later, when I chatted with Holly who has been there the longest – forty years — she told me she thinks the greatest contribution the Dairy has made to the area has been employment: “One day I sat down to make a list of all the folks who worked here. I got four pages!”
Holly Skuce (above left) and Tony Yantha. Over the last forty years, Holly has come to play an important role in the business. Photo: Mark Woermke
As our lakeside meeting came to an end, I asked Tony about the future. He shrugged. He explained that running a business like the Dairy is a seven-day-a-week proposition requiring lots of hard work: “As long as our health is there, we will continue. It’s a prosperous business, you know.” Then with a chuckle, he added, “The biggest challenge has been to keep everyone happy – customers, staff, family – but, I think we did okay, eh?”
The Barry’s Bay Dairy is a community hub. There is a group of “regulars” who appear every morning for coffee, breakfast and to catch up on the news. It’s also a popular lunch spot for residents and business owners. The dairy has also been an essential part of summer vacation for generations of cottagers and visitors who pop in for ice cream on hot days, and meals on rainy days when they leave the lake and come into town to shop and see the sights. It also attracts the after-church crowd on Sundays.
To express their gratitude to generations of loyal customers and staff over the last 50 years, the Yantha family is offering free coffee and free ice cream on Saturday September 7 and Sunday September 8 at the Barry’s Bay Dairy.