The yellow warbler flits among the trees back of the patio and main building at RiverSong as Susan Pries takes a break from providing meals and snacks to a daylong retreat of pastors.
Pries and her husband John own and run the catering, banquet and day retreat centre at Three Bridges, just west of St. Jacobs. They opened in 2008 after six months of renovations to bring the building “up to code” and refresh the décor.
“The business is in John’s name,” says Pries with a laugh. “He has the full-time employment to back the loan.”
Pries loves cooking and her husband was to run the business end, but his day job has meant that she has taken on more and more of the business details. After doing “informal catering” for a number of years, they spent five years looking for a place to do the work more formally, eventually finding Riverside Maples, a Sunday brunch restaurant. They bought the location, which includes living quarters for them, but not the business.
The first year saw them work too hard. Their son, who until recently assisted them, still does not want to see another turkey, after serving 19 such dinners that first Christmas. They intentionally shrank the business the second year—from a gross of $40,000 to $30,000—to make things more manageable and enjoyable.
Faith is important to Pries and her husband. The organist at First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, she also plays piano for Lifted Voices, a women’s sacred singing group. While business groups have used her services, she enjoys family and faith groups more.
So does her son. “I really enjoy the groups that come from churches,” he remarks. When Pries asks why, he responds, “They want to connect with you. They think the same as you do.” Pries agrees. “For other groups, it’s just a business,” she says.
The focus on a family atmosphere has made RiverSong the place to go for a number of families who have either outgrown their house for entertaining or who find Waterloo Region to be central for scattered families to gather. When families book a dinner they have the place for four hours. RiverSong provides games for all ages, places to sit and visit inside and out, and hiking trails along the river.
Creation care is important to Pries. RiverSong “mostly” doesn’t use disposable dishes, she says, to the point that the retreat centre has purchased good plastic wear for some events.
The business is located on conservation land along the Conestoga River, but the Prieses see this as an opportunity to consider the environment, rather than a problem with the stricter land use rules. Her husband’s day job is as an environmental wastewater technologist and consultant, designing natural methods to deal with wastewater.
A musician, Pries wrote “River Song,” a song that parallels life with a river, going through the seasons, flowing along, living the life God has given. She sums up her philosophy and theology: “God doesn’t care so much what we do. God cares more about who we are than what we show, what the world thinks about us.” This leads her to help people who come to have a quiet time and to enjoy life in an informal place, all the while “making a living.”