Meet the Maker: Paul Fortier of Jessup Food & Heritage

By Hannah Bock

Kingston has a rich history. It was Canada’s first capital, home to Canada’s first Prime Minister, and the location of Fort Henry, which to this day is the largest military fortification west of Quebec City. It’s also a serious foodie town—but how are Kingston’s food and history related?

Local entrepreneur Paul Fortier has owned and operated Jessup Food & Heritage since 1989, when he opened his first restaurant in Prescott, Ontario in a heritage building that was used as a barracks during the war of 1812. “A handful of the neighbours objected and then so did the municipality and the matter went to the Ontario Municipal Board.” Fortier recounts. “It was the story of David and Goliath.”

Photo via Paul Fortier: Cajun on King dining room

Since then, Fortier has accomplished a great deal in Kingston including being the sole food service provider at Kingston’s Fort Henry from 1994 to 2017. Jessup Food & Heritage now comprises 3 unique venues: The Public House, located in the one-time law office of Sir John A. MacDonald, Cajun on King directly upstairs, and Renaissance Event Venue in the oldest surviving church structure in Kingston (built in 1837).

Photo via Paul Fortier: The Public House Patio

Paul’s background in history and museum studies couldn’t quell his nurtured passion for food. “Both of my parents were excellent home cooks and one of my grandmothers operated a lunch restaurant […] between Kingston and Montreal during the 1930s and 40s.” He continues: “After having spent more than 20 years working for the federal government I was drawn to food service by the camaraderie and the instant gratification I observed in the hospitality industry.”

People in the foodservice industry talk about their work as a labour of love—but the labour is present and intense. On the notion of instant gratification in the industry Paul says: “When […] talking to guests it is always gratifying to hear how much they enjoyed the food, service, and ambiance.” Fortier continues, “You get that immediate feedback and it can be constant.”

Photo via Paul Fortier: Renaissance Event Venue upper salon from the balcony

Paul’s receptiveness to feedback has made The Public House a local favourite as well as a cornerstone of Kingston’s LGBTQ Community: “My partner and I have always made our venues available to support LGBTQ events as well as sponsor them in other ways when possible.” Jessup Food & Heritage hosts all kinds of events, says Fortier. ”We are open to anything and like to be as flexible as possible hosting dance parties, weddings, vegan food shows, fashion shows, drag shows, and an annual kink festival.” 

Paul’s businesses offer varied elements of Canadian cuisine. His previous career as an historian comes through when he talks about the early influences on food in Canada; Indigenous hunting and fishing traditions combined with the culinary influence of the French, English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants. “More recently,” says Fortier, “Canada has become a haven of immigrants from around the world and their international food traditions have become very much of Canada.” 

Photo via Paul Fortier: Grilled vegetable & chèvre tart – The Public House

“Examining the role of food and hospitality in our cultures,” he continues, “helps us understand who we are today.” To Paul Fortier, food and history are inextricably linked, and though it is more ubiquitous now, foodie culture and ideas about farm-to-table eating have been around for centuries. “We have recipe books from Roman times,” says Fortier. “While in the past the world of the gourmand may have been restricted to the rich and the ruling elite, it was something that crossed all periods of history.”  

Fortier says, “Local and seasonal food is a reality of the past that we are just re-learning.” Kingston’s proximity to local farms gives him access to a great local food supply: “We use locally-sourced food including most of our meats from Quinn’s Meats in Yarker and local cheeses from the Wilton Cheese Factory.”

Photo via Paul Fortier: Cajun Crawfish Boil – Cajun on King

Paul hopes Kingston’s downtown food scene continues to grow and evolve. “Kingston is a small town with a big city feel,” says Fortier. “The downtown and local attractions like Fort Henry make it a delight for locals and visitors.” 

Even though Kingston and the service industry have changed, Paul Fortier and Jessup Food & Heritage are helping to keep Kingston well-fed, and connected to its roots. If you’d like to learn more about Jessup Food & Heritage, visit The Public House or Cajun on King, or book your next event at the Renaissance Event Venue—you can visit their website.