By: Todd Colin Vaughan, Red Deer Express

Westlake Grill is always looking to ‘wow’ their customers and this year they have won the Best of Red Deer Gold Award in Fine Dining. Ken MacAulay, director of operations, said the success of the restaurant stems from the vision of its owner Joel Martens.

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Westlake Grill is always looking to ‘wow’ their customers and this year they have won the Best of Red Deer Gold Award in Fine Dining. Ken MacAulay, director of operations, said the success of the restaurant stems from the vision of its owner Joel Martens.

“When I came on, Joel showed me his vision in giving people an incredible experience — allowing people to have a fine-dining experience in a relaxed, beautiful setting,” MacAulay said. The experience they have created at Westlake includes ensuring that local products are included from the beginning to the end of the meal. “Being someone (Martens) who has lived in the community for so many years, he wanted to let people taste what the land has to offer,” MacAulay said. “When you are are having your vegetables — it is from the ground over by Alix. “A lot of people get to say, ‘This is the fruits of everyone’s labour around here’.”

Martens said that local food can often be a significant cost, but it is crucial to the overall experience.

“It can be a challenge competing in price. We have countered that by giving people an amazing experience. When they come out here, we seek to hear the word ‘amazing’. That is what we are after,” Martens said.

Another crucial step in creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience is catering to the different groups that come in. To do this, Westlake Grill has separated out their group rooms and date rooms — along with also having the patio along the trails for a more casual experience.

“The building is really conducive for that,” Martens said. “We have had weddings, the upstairs room has been kept for couples as much as we can and the main floor and patio is for lunches and groups. We have different rooms for different things and that seems to work well.” MacAulay said the focus on connection is something the entire staff takes great pride in. “The thing that always attracted me is that human connection part,” he said. “There is a sense of belonging and you walk away and feel like you are a part of that.

“The staff loves seeing the connection with family. We get to see things like first dates and see people connecting.”

Martens added one of his favourite things to see at the restaurant is when people sit at their table long after their meal is finished — something that is made easier by the scenic views of Red Deer’s trail system and the 217 acres at Heritage Ranch.

“It is an oasis in the middle of the busy,” MacAulay said. “We have had many people come in, sit out on the patio and say, ‘I feel like I am in Canmore’. You are 10 minutes from downtown but when you are here, you can hear the birds and you can walk the trails. When I drive in every morning, I go from the bustling traffic into this tranquil atmosphere.”

He added they have really focused on creating a relaxed atmosphere within the fine-dining experience.

“Being in this business for 30 years, I’ve seen that the good value is the whole package,” MacAulay said. “For us going ahead we are looking at the whole package and focusing in on the details,” he said.

Martens added Westlake Grill will continue to add to the experience of Heritage Ranch. MacAulay added, “I wanted to say thank you to the people who voted for us and we look forward to serving you in the future. We will keep trying to wow you every time.”

todd.vaughan@reddeerexpress.com