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Business brings family back together in Antigonish

Damian Welsh with daughter Kheiran handing out one of Back East Seafood’s specialties – a two-piece fish and chips.
Damian Welsh with daughter Kheiran handing out one of Back East Seafood’s specialties – a two-piece fish and chips. - Richard MacKenzie

Back East Seafood located off of Main Street

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

Antigonish native Damian Welsh said he had just about “given up;” had “resigned” himself to the fact he would remain a “visitor in his own house,” for a number of years.

“I resigned myself to the fact I might be doing this for the next 25, 30 years; flying back-and-forth, missing seeing my kids grow up, missing my wife, having them miss me, just to maintain our current standard of living which wasn’t, by any means, extravagant … it was just getting by,” Damian said, referencing his work as a chef, in Alberta camps for oil patch field workers.

“It was always in the back of my mind; what can I do, what is going to happen? Honestly, I gave up, resigned myself to the fact that this is our life now; everybody was in the groove, it was just what we did.”

Damian and Melissa as well as son Brayden.
Damian and Melissa as well as son Brayden.

The ‘everybody’ in the unfortunate ‘groove’ was Damian’s wife Melissa, and their three children; twin girls Kheiran and Khelsea-Lee (13 years-old) and son Brayden, who is 9.  

It was a life that lasted six years and was only transformed by a Facebook post from a friend; one Damian viewed, at first, as just another random post.

“A friend of mine, Stewart Robinson from Pomquet, he posted a KIJIJI ad on my Facebook wall, for a fish truck that was for sale in Port Hawkesbury. I thought ‘oh boy, that’s too bad … I like the fish and chips down there, it’s a shame he is going to sell it.’ I hit ‘like’ and kept scrolling,” Damian said, indicating the post really didn’t resonate with him right away.

“Then a couple of days went by, a few people made comments on it, and I looked at it and thought, ‘I wonder.’ It started rolling in my mind; maybe this is the ticket, the chance to make something to come home. It was kind of a long-shot but, I don’t know, it worked out somehow.”

What worked out is Back East Seafood – the mobile food truck that specializes in fresh Atlantic lobster dishes and is set-up on the east part of Main Street in Antigonish, behind Webb’s Superstore.

But it didn’t come easy. Damian noted once he decided to pursue the for sale food truck, it was a matter of contacting the owner and starting to work on a business plan around his busy schedule in Alberta.

“I did that after work out-west; the business plan, the financials, all the projections, the marketing plan, everything,” he said.

“I would do that after hours; so I would get up at 7 a.m. and would work until 9 p.m. at camp, and then go back to my room, eat, shower, and get on the laptop until I would, literally, fall asleep. Just trying to get it all done; so it would be 2, 3 in the morning, sometimes. Then I would get up at 7 a.m., do a 13-hour day … and again and again.”

Twin sisters Kheiran and Khelsea-Lee Welsh display a couple of the tasty fishes to be found at the family business – Back East Seafood.
Twin sisters Kheiran and Khelsea-Lee Welsh display a couple of the tasty fishes to be found at the family business – Back East Seafood.

He noted the assistance of CBDC NOBL, as well as the Michelin Development Fund, in helping the plan and business coming together.

“We pulled it all together, created an incorporated company,” he said. “May 30 of last year was our first paying gig. We did the Port Hawkesbury Air Show; the Snowbirds were there, it was a big airshow. We did that and it went really well.”

Damian and Melissa were “college sweethearts,” having met at the Nova Scotia Community College Strait Area campus. Originally from Peterborough, Ontario but raised in River Bourgeois, Cape Breton, Melissa said the timing of Damian’s decision to pursue the food truck business came while she was going through what she described, as a “nervous breakdown.”

She noted several distressing situations all seemed to come at once, to a point where she felt, “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

“It might still be a challenge for us right now, but it’s worth the challenge. And we are together, and can get through whatever together,” Melissa said.

Location and mobility

While they have a permanent location behind Webb’s Superstore, and keep pretty regular 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. hours, Damian said they’re still a mobile business and will do special events and other private functions. For example, they hope to be part of Nova Scotia Summerfest at the Keppoch this August.

“We have to turn down some too,” Damian said of the events. “That’s our main site, people know we’re there, we don’t want to be always picking up and leaving. We don’t want people coming from New Glasgow and not see us there.”

The colorfully decorated Back East Seafood mobile truck.
The colorfully decorated Back East Seafood mobile truck.

The family is living in Clydesdale these days and the business has become a real family affair, with the girls helping out taking orders. Young Brayden hopes to get in on the action this summer and is planning a lemonade stand set-up near the truck.

“He has it all planned out, is quite excited,” Melissa said.

The couple stressed the key to their life turnaround has been the support of not only family (Melissa’s parents spent all of last summer helping the family settle into their new business, Damian’s brother and father help out mechanically with the truck) but the Antigonish community as a whole.  

“Without their support, we wouldn't have been able to do what we do,” Damian said, acknowledging their families first.

“And the support from the community, the town and county, everyone has been phenomenal. Our repeat customers repeat and repeat; so our gratitude goes out to them. It has been huge support from so many.”

The Back East Seafood take-away menu tells the family and business story and for more, and to stay up-to-date, visit their Facebook page.  

Back East Seafood is set up behind Webb’s Superstore on the east-side of Main Street in Antigonish.
Back East Seafood is set up behind Webb’s Superstore on the east-side of Main Street in Antigonish.

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