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Nikki Orosz is the director of operations for the Caldwell First Nation. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC) Head down to Point Pelee National Park and you’ll pass a fair number of restaurants. With names like Birdie’s Perch and Paula’s Fish Place, it’s no surprise that fresh Lake Erie fish is the star of just about every menu.

Recently, my colleague Katerina Georgieva told me about a new restaurant on the road to the park that piqued my interest.

The Happy Snapper opened its doors on Aug. 17. Located in the same complex as marina and bait shop of the same name, the restaurant serves much of the same fare as its competitors — including a great plate of fried perch. A plate of fried Lake Erie perch. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC) What makes it unique, however, is who owns it: the Caldwell First Nation.

After reaching a land claim settlement with the federal government in 2010, the Caldwell First Nation began purchasing land in Leamington with the goal of developing a reserve. One of purchases was a building now home to The Happy Snapper, a subtle nod to the idea that many Indigenous people refer to North America as "Turtle Island."

"This represents an opportunity for the First Nation to grow and develop and generate own-source revenue so that we become self-reliant and self-sufficient in the future," explained Nikki Orosz, Caldwell’s director of operations.

"Council is looking at this as an opportunity to look at best practices — what works, what doesn’t — and use it as a model for future development and future economic activities," she said.

As an economic development lab, The Happy Snapper is constantly tweaking and expanding its offerings. Aside from a small selection of Indigenous art in the gift shop, most visitors to The Happy Snapper wouldn’t know it was owned by the Caldwell First Nation — but that could change in the future, as more traditional foods are added to the menu. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC) For example, while the current menu is similar to the fried fish and chips available elsewhere along Point Pelee Drive, Orosz said adding more traditional food such as frybread and strawberry water is under consideration.

"The council really sees a lot of potential in this restaurant and in the business in general," she said. "We’ve done a lot of improvements to the building already … we really want to be a hot spot for Point Pelee and the Leamington area."

The Happy Snapper is located at 592 Bevel Line Rd . in Leamington.

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto travels across southwestern Ontario as Afternoon Drive’s "food dude." Know of a place you think he should check out? Email him at jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jonathan_pinto .

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