At the Country Grill, pigs are everywhere you look—cross-stitched pigs, pig magnets, pig water glasses, shelves and shelves full of pig figurines.
“I have no idea how many pigs there are,” says Sharron Matthias, co-owner of Topley’s one and only café.
At last count, the pigs were tallied at about 900.
But that was two years ago, she added, and new pigs keep coming.
The Country Grill is a 38-seat, home-style café, known for delicious pies as well as its pig decor.
Before settling down in Houston, owners Sharron and Earl both lived in large cities. Sharron, a city girl from Vancouver, said it was quite a culture shock when they started out on Earl’s hobby farm, keeping mostly pigs and chickens.
“But I loved it,” she says.
It was through those live pigs that the Matthias’ collection began.
When friends gave the Matthias’ a few pig ornaments, they “just stuck them in a corner and didn’t think anything of it,” Sharron said.
“And then people thought that we were collecting and it just started!”
Now, pig ornaments come to them from all over the world.
Some are dropped off, while others are mailed in, often by people who have heard about the café from friends.
In the summer, Sharron says that she usually gets at least one pig a day. She now has boxes of pigs in the back room and has to rotate her display because they’ve run out of room.
Earl says Sharron’s favourite is the Rolly Polly pig—a stuffed pig that rolls across the counter laughing when you press a button.
Earl’s favourite is a pig that sings.
Plenty of the Country Grill pigs are world travellers.
One came from Thailand after the two girls who were travelling with it walked into the Country Grill and decided it was a perfect resting place because the pig would have so much company.
Another pig, one with more sentimental value, is from England. It was donated by a couple who had come every summer for six years until the wife died from cancer.
“I got it after she died with a letter to remember her by,” Sharron said. “I get teary eyes now just thinking about it.”
Sharron said the best part of running the café is meeting all kinds of people.
Besides locals, customers include yearly regulars from Terrace and Vancouver Island, she said.
And many new customers come after hearing about the pigs and pie from friends.
“It’s amazing—word of mouth,” said Sharron. “You get people from Georgia coming up and saying, ‘Oh yeah, our friends were here, they told us we had to stop. You’ve got the best pie.’”
All the pies are home-made at the café—the fruit pies by Earl and the cream pies by Sharron.
The two split the rest of the café managing as well. Earl handles most of the baking, prep and maintenance work, while Sharron does all the cooking, bookkeeping and business.
For the past decade, waitress Brenda Wright has joined the couple for the busy summer months. She loves showing off the pigs, she says, especially the battery-powered favourites that laugh and sing.
Earl and Sharron paid off the café’s mortgage two years ago, 14 years after they bought it.
Community Futures helped the Matthias’ a lot in that first year, said Sharron, advising them on how to run the books and handle other licensing and staffing issues.
The building was in rough shape at first, but now the whole thing is nearly redone.
That didn’t come without some tough years, especially after some Topley families moved to Houston following the closure of Topley Elementary, and when the Topley convenience store next door shut down its gas pumps.
But the business is doing well, with the mortgage paid off, the store re-opening its gas pumps, and news of the Topley pigs spreading around the world.