Hespeler Village, part of the City of Cambridge, is the only place in the world named 'Hespeler' and one of the oldest settlements in Waterloo Region.
Other than a year spent in Vancouver, Obie’s Bar & Grille chef-proprietor Justin O’Brien has lived in Cambridge all his life. He’s a Hespeler boy, he says.
“I love this city. I’m very excited to have finally opened my own restaurant here.”
A self-taught cook O’Brien started doing prep at a family friend’s catering company when he was 13. From there, he moved on to the Holiday Inn in Cambridge and worked his way up to Chef de Partie over a twelve-year period before heading across the country.
“I went to Vancouver with a friend and worked at Bridges restaurant on Granville Island and also as a personal chef for a few clients,” he says. “I stayed there for about a year and decided it was time to come back home to Cambridge, and also back to the Holiday Inn where I then met my wife.
“I stayed at the Holiday Inn for another couple of years and then went on to be the head chef at the former King Crab Oyster Bar in Kitchener. I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot about being in that position, including hands-on education on running a restaurant and what makes it successful.”
He helped open the new Milestones in Waterloo as the head chef before he became head chef at Borealis Grille in Guelph. “I was there for four years and learned so much about running a successful restaurant, what it takes to be a leader, how important it really is to have a great team that I trust along with a product I can be proud of.”
After 20 years, O’Brien felt the time was right and he had the opportunity to open his own restaurant. “Obie’s Bar and Grille is a dream come true and something I’ve aspired to my entire career in kitchens. In between all of those years of hard work, I married my beautiful wife Lyndsey and we’ve had two wonderful kids. We bought our first home, and made our dream come true. It’s been a wonderful life so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s yet to come.”
Rapid-fire Round with Justin O’Brien
Explore Waterloo Region: Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
O’Brien: Smoked lamb neck.
Other career you could have pursued?
O’Brien: None. I have only worked in the restaurant industry.
Chef you’d most like to meet?
O’Brien: None that come to mind.
Best footwear (for the kitchen or otherwise)?
Favourite “international” food in Waterloo Region?
Greatest failed recipe?
O’Brien: Honestly, I always forget the bad ones and move on.
A favourite teacher you’ve had?
O’Brien: My shop teacher in high school. He taught me how to work with my hands.
Do you ride a bike?
O’Brien: Not since I was a kid.
O’Brien: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Who would you like to cook for?
O’Brien: All of the guests that come into my restaurant.
The thing you wish for Waterloo Region?
O’Brien: No more construction!
Go-to late-night snack?
O’Brien: Cereal. The healthier, the better.
Most dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
O’Brien: Blue suede shoes.
Would you describe yourself as sweet or savoury?