Last Friday night I found myself in the enviable position of having a free night to myself. The kids were with their dad, and I was basically caught up on work, after a fun week of hockey photos nearly every night. I was ready for a break and some time to unwind.
I had plans with one of my best friends to go out for dinner and catch up, as we haven’t seen much of each other in the past couple of months. We spent a couple of hours chatting and examining our navels until the topic of where to eat came up.
I had been wanting to get dinner at a new little place downtown, called the Starlight (find them on Facebook here). I heard about it from my friend Holly, who knows ALL of the best places to go for a nice dinner. I had been there for both breakfast and lunch, and was very impressed each time. It was decided we would hit the Starlight for dinner and see what we thought.
One of the things I like best about this place, is the feel of the interior. It has this awesome, funky, warm vibe that is perfect for an intimate dinner with friends, or a cozy date night. The warm colours and glowing fire place makes it very inviting to spend some time. As soon as you walk in you feel at home, and comfortable.
The menu is a bit limited, but not when it comes to taste. Annie (the cook and co-owner) makes everything from scratch, and man she can cook. We ordered the Moroccan special, Tajine, with chicken. It came with a most delicious house salad with balsamic vinaigrette (mmmm) or the home-made carrot-apple soup. It sounds awful, but it was absolutely incredible; Warm and spicy with everything a soup needs to impress. The Tajine was also incredible, on a bed of cous cous and full of flavour and colour. For dessert, (and of course we had to try it!) there was home-made blueberry cheesecake. Seriously, it was sublime. Everything is so fresh and full of flavor, and totally home-made. I have officially found my new favorite spot. (Sorry Capers!)
We had a chance to chat with the other co-owner, Joey, who told us a bit more about the place, and generally made us feel very welcome. Annie came out a few times to check on our meal, make recommendations and see how we were doing.
It’s been years since I remember seeing a cook look interested in what was going on out front, but I don’t remember a single time when the person preparing the meal has come out personally to see how it is being enjoyed. It wasn’t the first time either. She did the same thing the previous times I was there, which makes me think this restaurant has really figured out how to appeal to its customers. We felt like honoured guests, not like people rolling in to occupy a table for an hour. There was no rushing any part of our experience, from ordering to our final exit. We truly enjoyed being there, and they seemed to enjoy having us.
As a small business owner, this kind of customer service impresses the hell out of me. I recognize that we were just two in a long lineup of people that walked through the doors, but it’s pretty special when they can make you feel like you were the ONLY two who walked through the doors. I think about how I can spend $50 at Boston Pizza, and see the waitress once during the order, and once during the obligatory ‘How is everything?’, spoken as she sails past the table. Since joining my life to a granola like Birdman, I notice that the way he thinks about things has given me cause to re-examine my own opinons, or lack thereof. He likes to rail on about Big Box stores, and the commercialization of nearly every life experience we have as humans. He despises spending money on foreign products, and I have seen him check labels of dozens of shoes to find one that was made in North America, only to find none. He really does try his best to make his dollar count in a global way, and as a casual observer who never thought that much about it, I have been ashamed at how little I do in my own life to shop locally and think globally.
It’s not that we don’t care about small business, but rather that we don’t really think about it. When I consider a dinner out, my mind automatically goes to the larger, chain-type restaurants that are available in the area. I don’t always consider the smaller restaurants and bistros that often have better food, and cozier atmospheres. It is true that some of these places might be a bit more expensive, but truly, we are talking about a dollar or two per entree, not dozens of dollars. If I really stop to think about it, I have to admit that I am far happier to pay a bit more for a truly fantastic meal and experience, than save a few bucks and do what I always do.
I had Moroccan last night, and it was delicious! I’ve never had anything like that, and I likely wouldn’t have if there had been dozens of choices of entrees, like at Kelseys, or Outback or whatever other big chain restaurant I visited. I know I like the stuff at those places, because it’s all the same. The sign outside is different, but the inside is just a differently packaged box that I am already very familiar with.
Baby, you are rubbing off on me, in a good way. I am trying harder to spend my money in ways that do more than just help me out. I want to support small businesses, who struggle to compete in a global arena. I like feeling good about where I put my money, and more importantly, where I don’t put it. As soon as I tasted that delicious salad, I knew I had to tell as many people as I could about this fantastic jewel of a restaurant, tucked into our very own downtown. If you haven’t heard of it, now you know. Tell Joey and Annie that I sent you. 😉
Don’t let them pave paradise and put up a parking lot,
PS. If you have a great restaurant, or business that really impresses you, let us know! We need to share the word and give people lots of chance to try new businesses that really need local support!)