When Pat Nelson saw the for sale sign on the corner of Water Street and Parkhill, she knew that it was meant to be. This would be the beginning of her new student friendly restaurant, Sophia’s. Nelson could only dream of the success that she would receive from the grand opening on February 11th.
Sophia’s, a restaurant named after Nelson’s own mother, was something which was created with a very specific purpose in mind.
“One day my daughter only had 7 dollars for her lunch, and she wasn’t able to buy one. I said to her ‘I’m going to own a restaurant where you can get a full meal, fries, and a drink, everything, for 7 dollars’, and here we are.” Nelson smiles as she looks at the dream which has come to fruition in front of her eyes. The mother of two opened up Sophia’s in October of last year, just as students were getting used life at Trent. Nelson’s goal? Feeding all of them for a reasonable price.
Family and friends have arrived from all over Ontario today to assist Pat Nelson with her grand opening. As usual, nothing is out of place and the counters are always shiny, but the atmosphere is more elated than it normally is. Customers are greeted with a warm welcome from Nelson when they enter the restaurant, and a smile from trusted employees like Breanne Burch, and Ted Sunnerton. Sophia’s is Pat Nelson’s dream, and you can tell by how much pride is put into each detail. There is a consensus from everyone who is here to support Nelson. She has worked hard for this. No one deserves this more than her. Her story is one of determination and inspiration.
When talking to Nelson’s daughters, the message she tries to send them seems to resonate. Dakota, her youngest, says that today is exciting for her and that she appreciates all that her mother has done to achieve her dreams. Madison has also arrived today to help her mother, and she exhibits similar praises while bonding with her aunts and sister.
Starting up such a vision has its challenges. Sophia’s was a great deal of work with long hours and Nelson had a hard road with months of preparation. When interviewing Pat Nelson there was a definite sense of resilience. Every struggle in Sophia’s has been overcome with a passion and drive, which will continue as the business grows and flourishes. Today is a celebration of how far Nelson has come.
Nelson’s strength and determination shine through as she talks about what keeps her going on days that are the most difficult.
“I need my kids to know that they can’t ever give up” Nelson says, “On the toughest days I take a deep breath and remember why I’m doing this.”
Nelson’s love of feeding people is obvious in both the prices and the quality of the food. Her 7 dollar special is a big seller among students, but her personal favourite thing on the menu is called the ‘Hail Mary’ after her mother’s middle name. After it made its presence on social media, people began asking for it consistently. Nelson explained that she didn’t think people would eat the full burger, but it turns out that the entire thing is often devoured quickly.
Another feature on the menu are Nelson’s onion rings, a recipe which she learned from another restaurant she once worked at. Nelson swears by the recipe, mentioning the main idea is that the smaller the onion, the sweeter the ring. Often dubbed ‘onion donuts’ (a phrase Nelson loves to hear) one is often placed on top of a box of fries. Students also enjoy them on their own, and they have become quite a popular seller.
Sue Midolo, a friend of Nelson’s, mentions the importance of the food being fresh, “at McDonalds it’s twice as much and everything is processed, here you get real food and real nourishment.” Nelson’s family nods in agreement.
Nelson’s nurturing nature goes into both preparing and serving her food to students,
She loves seeing students happy, and says that often, “I have to stop myself from asking, ‘did you eat dinner?’ and sometimes I don’t stop myself.” The basic principle for the restaurant is that people are served good food, at good prices, with amazing service.
In terms of her own success, Nelson wants to give the following advice to students, “you can do whatever you want to do. Never take no for an answer. To challenge yourself is good.” She says that she wants students to know that the things which hold us back are lessons, and that she truly believes a person can do whatever they want.
Sophia’s is open from 11am – 9pm Monday – Saturday. There may soon be opportunities for students such as upcoming contests, but for now, Nelson has one goal; “I want to feed the world.”