“Closing Crosley’s felt like being pushed off a ledge. Theia feels like coming home”: How a Toronto chef started over in Prince Edward County

“Closing Crosley’s felt like being pushed off a ledge. Theia feels like coming home”: How a Toronto chef started over in Prince Edward County

Why the closure of Myles Harrison’s Toronto kitchen was the best thing that ever happened to him

Chef Myles Harrison at Theia, his Prince Edward County restaurant

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A year and a half ago, Myles Harrison was on top of the world. Crosley’s, his restaurant with fellow Brothers alum Joachim Hayward, had quickly become a favourite. It was full every night, packed with a cast of regulars drawn in by tonnato sandwiches and familiar-yet-fanciful anglophilic dishes. But, after a business partner pulled the plug, it all ended overnight.
Fast forward to this summer, and Harrison has a new life in Prince Edward County and a restaurant of his own. It’s a move back to what Crosley’s was supposed to be: a home for locals and a celebration of Ontario ingredients. Here, he tells us how Theia came to life.

We were so proud of Crosley’s. We started it as a takeout dinner series during the pandemic and then opened a restaurant once the lockdowns were over. We managed to operate a fairly successful business at a time when all odds were against us.

Chef Joe Hayward and I poured so much of ourselves into that restaurant. We were pulling crazy hours, but it was fun. It was also a bit wild—at the beginning, we were short staffed, with just three of us in the front and two people in the back. We’d do 80 covers a night, running food 150 feet from the kitchen and up and down stairs.

As we grew, we managed to make a restaurant that felt authentic and organic. Crosley’s was a place to celebrate or a place to drop in when you didn’t want to cook. We tried to treat everyone like they were guests in our home. At every turn, we were injecting more and more of ourselves and our team—the best in the business, in my opinion—as well as our community. We knew everyone on the block. That sense of community is what being a restaurant is about, not just about what goes down on the plate.

Then, suddenly, our business partners pulled the plug. We found out via email. It was all over.

Related: Where to eat and drink in Prince Edward County, according to these Toronto chefs who moved there

Chef Myles Harrison and his fiancée, Margot, at Theia, their Prince Edward County restaurant
The menus at the entrance of Theia, chef Myles Harrison's new restaurant in Prince Edward County

We still don’t really know why—the restaurant was making money. But it was during Omicron and just after New Year’s, which is always a slow time for restaurants, with or without a pandemic.

When we announced the closure on Instagram, I was so surprised at the outpouring of support. When you’re in the thick of running a restaurant, you don’t necessarily see the effect that you have. But, as I read through the comments, our guests seemed even more upset than we were.

Even months afterward, I wasn’t doing well. I tried to look on the bring side and package Crosley’s as a good thing on my resume, but it was hard. I had no creative juice left in my tank.

Then, in February 2022, I came across an ad for a chef position at a resort in Prince Edward County. I sent it to my fiancée, Margot, thinking that it could get us to the countryside. We had always wanted to leave the city, but we needed a good excuse first. I reached out to the resort, we talked about the position, they offered it and I accepted.

Some summer tomatoes at Theia, a new restaurant in Prince Edward County, Ontario
The shrimp cocktail at Theia, Myles Harrison's new restaurant in Prince Edward County

A few months later, we packed up our Jarvis Street apartment and moved out to the county. We had already been spending a lot of time out there, vacationing with friends and family, so we bit the bullet and bought a home: an 1862 farmhouse on 10 acres in Picton.

That first summer, I worked my tail off. I thought, This is it! The new job came with security—medical benefits, vacation time, steady income. I was back.

But, in October, I was let go. The busy season ended, and they ran out of funds. The off-season is slow in the county, and I guess they hadn’t accounted for the slump. It was the worst possible time for someone in my line of work to be laid off.

Winter was tough. I was feeling super low. I started working at a landscaping company and as a line cook at a restaurant in Bloomfield. I started a handyman business on the side, under the name Handyman Harry. I didn’t want anyone to know it was me, but honestly, that job was popping off. The work was steady, and it kept us in the county while we figured out what to do.

A crudo dish at Theia, chef Myles Harrison's new Prince Edward County restaurant
The tartare at Theia, a new restaurant in Prince Edward County

Then Theia came along. My friend Thierry Alcantara-Stewart is the owner of Adega Wine Bar, in Consecon, and he was using a pop-up event space in Picton to pour wine on Sunday nights. I would sit at the bar and hang out with him when he was there.

Meanwhile, I’d already come up with the name for my dream restaurant. It came to me while I was watching the Nature Channel. Morgan Freeman was narrating, talking about how Earth is a Goldilocks planet, formed by a happy accident: according to one theory, it never had a moon, seasons or the capacity to support so much life until it collided with another planet, Theia. The name and the meaning behind it stuck with me.

To keep my creativity flowing during the winter, I started building the perfect Spotify playlist for my dream restaurant. Right after I named the playlist “Theia”, I got a text from Thierry. The owner of the space he was using on Sunday nights was ready to lease it commercially. “Do you want to meet her?” he asked.

Myles Harrison's Prince Edward County farmhouse
Theia chef and owner Myles Harrison, in a pickup truck on his Prince Edward County property

A few days later, I walked through the space and met the person who would end up being my landlord. She was so nice. Within two weeks, we signed a lease. I got keys to the space on April 15 and opened on June 16.

We’ve been open for just over two months now, and it’s been amazing to have a restaurant again. It’s just a couple dozen seats, a small menu, and a drinks list highlighting our favourite producers from nearby and around the world—like local breweries and Fin Soda from Montreal—but it’s my restaurant.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard. Opening a restaurant is quite challenging. We’re busy, but we’re small. We don’t have a gas oven, just a small induction behind the bar. We only have one person in the kitchen. We’ve done nights with just Margot and I, and we got crushed. Some nights, we’re like, Oh my god, what are we doing?

Some freshly picked radishes on a Prince Edward County farm
A picnic table setting on the grounds of chef Myles Harrison's Prince Edward County property

But there have been so many beautiful moments. We have the privilege of working directly with the people we source from. I’m working with a water buffalo farm in Stirling—their raw buffalo milk is phenomenal—and Lynne Leavitt’s beef farm just a little north of here. And those cows are so local, we share a water table. It’s really cool.

We get meat that’s raised just a kilometre from our house, and it’s butchered at an abattoir 10 kilometres away. It’s so fresh, and the farmer is so excited about his product—he usually sells to big suppliers, so it’s beautiful to build a more personal relationship with him. He’s currently collecting cheeks and tongues for my fall menu.

I get so jazzed when I talk to these producers and they tell me what they love about their craft. I find it so cool that farmers let me work with their favourite products—things like tomatoes, peas, leeks and lake trout. Prince Edward County is such an agricultural hub, so why wouldn’t we use local products to anchor our menu? I often just shop at farm stands—Vicki’s Veggies, Edwin County Farms or Laundry Farms. They sell vegetables that were picked less than 24 hours ago by people who actually give a shit. Food this fresh makes my job easy—all I need to do is apply some technique and a bit of seasoning.

Hens in their henhouse at Myles Harrison's Prince Edward County farm
Fresh-laid eggs from chef Myle's Harrison's hens

The county swells in the summer, but we’re keeping an eye on the winter. We had previously looked at spaces that were 60 to 80 seats, but a room that big doesn’t make sense. In the wintertime, the dining room would have 10 people in it, all of whom would probably be locals. When you’re one of those people, the restaurant so big wouldn’t feel built for you. A small space like Theia feels like a reflection of the community.

We’re here for the long term, so we want to keep the menu eclectic and fresh, and we want the community to keep coming in. We don’t need hamburgers or chicken wings to attract people who are stopping in for the weekend. We want a menu that changes, one that’s more of an expression of who we are as individuals and as a community.

Taking a step back, it’s been a crazy few months. Compared to where we were a year or so ago, our life has drastically changed. We were living in a 400-square-foot apartment downtown, and we made that work, but I lived there for five years and talked to my next-door neighbour twice. Twice.

A picnic table setting on the grounds of chef Myles Harrison's Prince Edward County property
Chef Myles Harrison enjoying dinner on the property of his Prince Edward County farmhouse

We didn’t have a huge social network when we moved here, and making friends when you’re an adult is not the easiest thing in the world. But the county creates community. We have neighbours like Thierry, or Luhana and Zach Littlejohn of Littlejohn Farm. Out here, everyone leans on one another. Zach will help me with my garden, and I’ll feed his pigs when he can’t. If you need a chainsaw, a tractor or a tow in the winter, they’re just a call away.

It’s lovely out here. It’s so different. There’s no Uber, no concierge to collect my packages—none of those luxuries. But it’s great. At our home, we have a half-acre garden that we use for the restaurant—we grow lettuce, squash and beans. We’re starting to grow grapevines. We have a puppy. We even have chickens. We have a restaurant where we’re able to put our own food on the menu. It’s almost more authentic than what I had before. And it’s all ours.

Closing Crosley’s felt like being pushed off a ledge. Now, it finally feels like we were in the right place at the right time. And all the turmoil led us here.

Theia, 7 Elizabeth St., Picton, 437-429-6487, wearetheia.ca, @___theia

Chef Myles Harrison's dog on his Prince Edward County property
Chef Myles Harrison in a pickup truck at his Prince Edward County property