Amanda Carter, female restaurateur and sommelier, is the PowHERhouse behind Regina's recently re-branded Bar Willow restaurant.
"Service and family," says Amanda when asked who Bar Willow is in the community and how they want to be known by the community.
“15 years ago, we knew we could provide service,” says Amanda of the five original business partners who started up the first of two restaurants.
Service continues to be the foundation for both our restaurants. We started this journey when we had little kids, so we always had our kids with us.
Family has always been a big part of our restaurant and will continue to be. “
Over the years, business partnerships have shifted and evolved, and now, Amanda has a key role in championing the re-brand of Bar Willow, formerly Willow on Wascana, alongside her husband and business partner, Darren Carter, and their business partner, James Taylor.
Born in Prince Albert, SK, Amanda moved to Regina at a young age and has called Regina home ever since. Upon meeting Amanda, you immediately sense what she is passionate about - family and friends.
As a devoted mom to three children, Amanda is a huge supporter of their activities. You'll often find her on the sidelines cheering on her children in their athletic endeavours!
Through the opportunity provided by the restaurants, Amanda cherishes and celebrates relationships with both staff and customers. She is the ultimate people person! And with a WSET Level 3 Certificate in wine tasting, Amanda enjoys learning and sharing her fascination with wine. “It’s agriculture. I started my career in agribusiness as a CPA, professional accountant. Grapes are just another crop. The product can be so different. It’s super fun, and you get to taste and learn about different regions, varietals, and flavours."
Bar Willow is the vehicle for driving her passion for people and setting the atmosphere for a welcoming, memorable experience - just like being among family.
The critical key to their unmatched competitive advantage? The location. Best view in all of Regina!
My first encounter with Amanda was as her customer years ago in both restaurants. Now, I have the pleasure of working with Amanda as a member in one of my The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada business groups that I chair in Regina. She is an incredibly valuable member of that group of CEOs and owners who are growing their businesses through the support of the peer group.
How did you recognize the opportunity and find the courage to act on it to transform Bar Willow in order to better serve the community?
“'You should have done it sooner!' is what our customers are saying now, says Amanda. It’s always easier to say that in retrospect.
My learning from the experience of the re-branding process at Bar Willow has left me with some valuable leadership insights:"
- Be aware: I recognized it was time for change when nothing we were doing with social media was working.
- Be observant: Keep your finger on the pulse. Stay relevant. Watch for signs and observe what’s no longer working or flat-lining.
- Know what you want: My partners and I knew we wanted to create a way to do two things: Maintain our current customers and meet new customers.
- Be open: Our re-brand is the result of being truly open-minded and honest."
How do you decide where you are going to once you commit to a transformation?
Deciding where we were ready to go involved 'taking it to the next level while staying relevant in our industry'. In our case, this meant shifting from being a formal restaurant that focused on anniversary and birthday celebrations to a casual 'pop-in and walk around the lake' restaurant.
Amanda describes the up-leveled atmosphere as fun, everyday, laid back place, but still with kick-ass food. She truly believes that their team is doing more than just providing a meal - "They are providing a unique, much-needed experience."
“Put your phone away, and try the food, try the wine. Have some conversation. Experiencing LIFE with everyone at the table. Wine is like coffee… it's part of your culture.”
How do you effectively communicate that change to those who already know and love you as well as those who may not?
"The Bar Willow team is having some fun with our branding and marketing. We are utilizing some radio messaging to maintain momentum through the winter with some edgy, cheeky, and fun positioning: The best deck in Regina. Located on Wascana Lake, even in the winter months, it is, 'The best view in Regina!' which is our tagline. Radio ads invite guests to, “Come visit Bar Willow! #biggestdeckintown.
Amanda has also brought in a new Executive Chef who has amazing passion, adrenaline and youthful energy! Chris Maitland was the Willow on Wascana's Sous Chef. He went to the Okanagan and spent some time in that region's incredible culinary culture, and now he has returned to Regina as the Executive Chef at Bar Willow, and we're so grateful to have him back!"
How does your change – the elevation of who you are and how you show up in the community (“the new normal”) – better serve the community while not losing sight of who you are at the core and what you are here to do?
“One thing we did not change was our emphasis on local suppliers.” Amanda also says the other thing they didn’t change was the focus on enjoying wine.
"I wanted to keep the wine concept but I take the snootiness out of wine tasting. Let's make it a more interesting, accessible and fun experience!”
Amanda describes her staff as loyal, and they work hard and care. They also see Amanda working alongside them:
“This isn’t a machine. This is a family. Staff don’t get better by being mean to them. We create an environment that makes a difference. This is a fam-style environment. They are resilient and rise to the challenge, and most importantly, our staff know our customers over many years. Our Culture is to work your ass off, trust us, and we will be there to support you and protect you. We expect a high level, not everyone can work here so some turnover is okay. We are upping our game, and our staff know it.
Customers say they love the changes. They know the staff. You build a relationship, a friendship with your customers. That is what a restaurant is .. it’s relationship building. The owner can’t always be there so your staff has to be able to build relationships. We are attracting new customers since our re-brand. When people ask where the washroom is then we know they are new!
I so believe in it. Every day we have fun. The kitchen staff sing and work their butts off.”
Amanda is a recognizable face in Regina now, and more and more people are also gravitating to her fun wine tastings, which are a must-do and must-enjoy in Regina.
Fun, friendly, casual... Come try the new Bar Willow!
‘Lights Out at the Willow’
Always looking for a great culinary experience, we stumbled upon the Dark Dining concept that was being done in several places in Europe. As you remove your sense of sight and your food misconceptions, your other senses are enhanced and the event of eating in the dark becomes a culinary adventure!
PowHERhouse is proud to support senior women leaders through our AMPLIFY program.
Together, with our clients, we celebrate strong women in leadership across diverse sectors and industries in Canada. Our ripple of impact through positive role-modelling, up-levelling leadership and talking about it continues.
Thank you for creating exactly what I had envisioned.
I’m drawn to excellence, and last night’s experience was nothing short of that.
My core team and the women I have the pleasure of working closely with and representing were blown away.
You are amazing!
Please, please let your Chef know just how much of an impression was left on all of us!
Thank you from PowHERhouse!