The Salsbury Grill - aka The Sal - has been a Westfort Village dining staple since 1964.

Aaron Gilingham - The Sal



The restaurant is, in fact, one of Thunder Bay’s oldest, and while its ownership has changed over the decades, the quality of the food hasn’t. Today, The Sal still serves home-cooked, generously-portioned meals, with classics like fish ‘n’ chips, tacos, poutine, and burgers available six days a week.

Owner Aaron Gilingham, who took over The Sal in 2017, spoke to the CEDC for Small Business Week.

  • What started you on the entrepreneurial journey (who/what inspired you?)
    • I was inspired in business at an early age by my dad! He was a successful businessman and he encouraged me at a young age. As a kid, I would sell refurbished golf balls, I'd pick worms and sell fish bait, I sorted mail at the local post office. I had a lot of funny side hustle projects on the go as a youngster. It was because of my father that I was motivated to be an entrepreneur as a youngster.

  • Where did you turn for assistance/mentoring?
    • I spent a couple of years working in Calgary at the head office of a restaurant chain. I received an incredible amount of experience and wisdom from a great group of guys that taught me everything I know about the restaurant world, managing a medium or large-scale operation, and the functions of business that I still use today. I was very young for the position I held, so I often found myself seeking advice at every turn. I had many mentors within that organization that I leaned on, and still consider friends to this day.
  • What were some of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned along the way?
    • Success doesn't come overnight (like some schools may lead you to believe). You get out of your business what you are willing to put in. Success has nothing to do with the balance in your chequing account. Success is a state of mind.
  • Why Thunder Bay?
    • I'm born and raised. I left for Calgary, and later Ottawa; two incredible Canadian cities. I loved both cities for very different reasons. I chose to come back to Thunder Bay for a number of reasons. I've often found in my experience that people sometimes come home out of necessity, that they had failed in their attempts professionally and came back as a means to make ends meet. I have loved being back home. My network here in Thunder Bay is a great tool in business. I've been able to be a part of something bigger in Westfort. I'm very proud to be doing business in this community and be a part of its growth.
  • What advice would you give to someone who’s just started - or thinking of starting - their entrepreneurial journey?
    • Don't wait for someone to tell you you can't do something. Ask for forgiveness later rather than wait in line for permission. Become your business. Become entrenched in what you are doing. If you have the passion to succeed then you will. Stop planning and Do!
  • What was something that was unexpected in this journey?
    • I've learned at The Sal that most of our greatest innovations or ideas come out of necessity rather than planning. Think in the moment. I have always been a planner. I would create excel spreadsheets for days to plan a menu or operation in the restaurant. But over time, I've learned that our biggest leaps have always come in the moment, at times of need, as opposed to forecasting and planning ahead.
  • What was the greatest moment in this journey (your biggest ‘a-ha’)?
    • Seeing the team come together to figure out the day-to-day operations in our first few weeks of opening. Having all of these minds work together, rather than have one dictate the day-to-day, has become our greatest strength. I empower my staff to make decisions, and mistakes, in order to get to the best outcome in the end.
  • If you could be a food, which would it be?
    • Good question! I'd probably be our fish taco. I've definitely eaten enough of them now ... But with a side of poutine! Blending in the best of the old Salsbury Grill homestyle cooking with the best of the new in our most popular "new" item, the fish taco.
  • What is your business’ short pitch?
    • The Sal is all about serving up the best in casual, classic eats. Our slogan says it all! Easy Casual Eating - since 1964.

For more information about The Sal, visit the restaurant at 118 Frederica Street W., or check out the website at thesalthunderbay.com.

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