PEI Professional Theatre Network
PEI Professional Theatre Network
The first summer Doug McKinney joined the staff at the Landmark Café in Victoria, on the south shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, he joined at the bottom. He was a busboy. One of the first times he cleaned a table in the newer back dining room of the restaurant, he miscalculated the ceiling.
“I was clearing a mussel dish off a table, stood straight up, and hit my head,” he said. “It was like somebody hitting you right on the top of your head. I blacked out for a second.”
Doug is slightly taller than six feet eight inches. The ceiling is slightly shorter than six feet six inches. Something had to give.
He didn’t make the same mistake twice, although there were several more close calls. Almost knocking yourself out one time is often the charm, never mind any more times.
“I’ve always been the kind of person, if I don’t know how to do something, I’m going to ask, or I’m just going to go ahead and do it. Maybe I do it right. Maybe I do it wrong. If I do it wrong, I’ll probably only do it wrong once.”
An only child, Doug grew up on the eastern end of the island, near Montague. The small town is known as “Montague the Beautiful” for its river, tree-lined streets, and heritage homes. His father was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. In 1993 his dad was struck by a fatal heart attack. The boy was 7-years-old.
The 33-year-old man has a tattoo on his chest honoring his father.
The following year his mother and he moved to Charlottetown, the capitol city of the province.
“The RCMP relocated them, bought them a house,” said Rachel Sauve, Doug’s fiancée.
“They are good for that,” said Doug. “I went from living in a rural community to a brand new suburb. My mom spoiled me a lot, for sure. There were lots of kids my own age. I was playing sports, basketball, and we had more than two TV channels.”
By the time he was 15 he was growing more and playing more basketball. He spent early mornings and late evenings at hoops. You can’t do it by loafing around. Practice makes it happen, not just wanting it to happen, and his growth spurt, which can’t be taught, took him up a notch.
As much as basketball was becoming his life, life and death came knocking.
“I was playing in the Canada Games in 2001 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “I came back home, and even though she had only been given until Christmas, she made it until April.”
An inking honoring his mother joined his father’s tattoo on his chest.
“When I lost her, I put more emphasis on basketball.” Not yet grown up, he had to grow up on his own. It was get up stand up for yourself on your own two feet. He treated every day on the hardwood like every day was his last day draining a jump shot.
“Basketball was developed to meet a need,” said James Naismith, the inventor of the game.
Doug played basketball at university and professionally until he was thirty. A graduate of Charlottetown Rural High School, he played five seasons with the UPEI Panthers. Later he played internationally in Lebanon, and after returning to Prince Edward Island, played four seasons with the Island Storm of Canada’s National Basketball League.
He had his ups and downs fast breaking crashing the boards shooting floaters, like every player, since even the superstars barely shoot 50% for the season, but he knew how to recognize his mistakes, learn from them, and then forget them. He never let an opponent try harder than he did.
”It’s basically grown men who do this for a job,” he said when trying out for the Island Storm in 2011. “Everybody is strong, everybody is athletic. I just try to play hard, sweat as much as I can every day, show that I’m willing to work.” Going nose to nose with grown men means proving yourself every day.
He was named to the NBL All-Star Second Team the 2012 – 2113 season.
When his team needed him to score, he scored. During game seven of the NBL Canada Finals in 2014 he went 7 of 8 from the field, 4 of 4 from the 3-point line, threw in an assist, a steal, and three rebounds, and set a playoff record that still stands for most points scored in the fewest minutes.
Basketball is a team game, to the extent that even the best basketball players, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, could never have won multiple championships without solid teams around them. Doug McKinney’s pro career as a power forward was solid on getting it done.
Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates. Make the extra pass.
After retiring from the pro game he has continued to work with the sport. Last year he was the Minor Basketball Advisor for Basketball Prince Edward Island, helping players and coaches of grassroots programs in PEI communities.
In the meantime, he re-connected with Rachel Sauve.
“We first met in 2002-or-so,” she said. “I was dating one of Doug’s teammates at UPEI.”
Years later they ran into each other at Baba’s Lounge in Charlottetown.
“One of my Storm teammates texted me that he was there, and even though I usually never went there, I went,” said Doug. “I saw her, she gave me a big hug, we hung out for a little bit, and after I left I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”
“I don’t think either of us were looking for a relationship, but we didn’t want to pass it up,” said Rachel. ”We both are islanders and want to be here.”
“I think we both knew there was something other than the fact that I’m really tall and she’s definitely shorter, something special about our energy together,” said Doug.
Rachel was working at the Landmark Café, her family’s homemade soup signature quiche traditional meat pies hot-off-the-press seafood all made fresh daily sit-down in the heart of their small town. The produce is local organic and they make their own salad dressings. Her father, Eugene, and mother, Julia, had staked out the restaurant, several times expanded since, excavating a new basement for storage and coolers, building new dining rooms, and adding an outdoor deck, twenty nine years earlier in what had once been Annie Craig’s Grocery Store and Post Office, kitty corner from the Victoria Playhouse.
“As kids my brother and I were always helping, doing stuff at the restaurant, washing dishes, running to the freezers for ice cream,” said Rachel.
Her father’s entrepreneurship rubbed off on her.
“I sat out front at a picnic table and sold stuff,” she said. “ I was 11, 12-years-old.”
She sold wood figurines, creating faces and outfits for them. She sold bootleg Anne of Green Gables straw hats with red braids. She sold wax jewelry that she and a friend designed and molded out of leftover wax from the café.
“We had a problem with it, though, because the wax would melt in the sun. We put it in boxes so it wouldn’t start melting until the tourists had left the village.”
The family has worked together at the Landmark from the word go.
Shortly after Doug and Rachel had gone from an encounter to a thing together, the restaurant posted a “Help Wanted” for the summer season sign.
Once Doug got the parameters of the back dining room’s ceiling right, he went from busboy to server to integral part of the roster, picking up vittles in the morning, working long into the night cleaning up and closing down.
“It goes back to growing up and playing on teams,” he said. “I’ve played on good ones. I’ve played on bad ones. I’ve always prided myself on being a team player. The Landmark is the kind of place, you’re either going to swim or you’re going to sink.”
“You either do the dance or you don’t do the dance,” said Rachel.
Working for a family business is a dynamic unlike other work. Your mom and dad or grandparents started it from scratch and you’re never going to be one of the founding fathers. Sometimes it’s one big happy family at the dinner table, but sometimes it’s like the Mafia. Whatever the big cheese says is what goes, and you have to come to grips with it.
Doug spent four years at the Landmark Café.
“I was actually the tallest server east of Montreal,” said Doug. “I didn’t want to just serve anywhere, except the Landmark.”
Their lives took a turn toward the end of last winter when they came to a fork in the road and took it. They had just come back to Prince Edward Island from several weeks in Cuba. “That was our last hurrah before the summer,” said Rachel. But once at home, instead of going back to work at the Landmark Café, Doug and Rachel took jobs with Fairholm Inn and Properties.
The collection of archetypal inns in downtown Charlottetown, including the eponymous Fairholm Inn, the Hillhurst Inn, and the Cranford House, share the same grounds, gardens, and outdoor fire-pit. The Fairholm Inn is a National Historic Site, originally a large family home built in 1838 for Thomas Haviland, a many times mayor of the capitol city.
Doug and Rachel are the Jack and Jill of all trades at Fairholm.
“I do the front desk, maintenance work, a little bit of everything,” said Doug.
“They wanted me to learn how to edit websites,” sad Rachel. “Now I know how to edit websites.”
“After Rachel got hired, they needed more help on their team, and thought I could help them out,” said Doug.
“He’s been building cabinets there,” said Rachel.
“It’s awesome working together,” said Doug “We’ve found that even when we’re not working, we go golfing together, go places on the island, have adventures.”
Fairholm Properties schedules most of their days off at the same time.
“It’s evolved into us realizing we work well together. After five years we’re at a spot where we’re trying to figure out our next life,” said Rachel.
“Our next play,” said Doug. “I’m adding stuff to my tool belt, but at the same time, we want to work for ourselves.”
“It might be a tabletop, food truck, catering, something,” said Rachel. “We’re lucky on this island. We have the best local seafood and meat. I can’t see myself being out of that line of work. My dad taught me. All my cooking skills are from him. I’ve got his cooking style in my blood.”
Her father and his Landmark Café have long made the list in the independent guide ‘Where to Eat in Canada’. He is known for his fusion of Asian, Cajun, and native PEI foods, and was once known as a pioneer for his never fried and healthy fare. He is still known for his tasty healthy never fried fare.
Doug’s mother had been a manager at Myron’s in Charlottetown, which was one of eastern Canada’s biggest and most popular sports bar restaurant nightclub concert venues of its time.
“I grew up in the industry without even realizing it,” said Doug.
There isn’t much needed to make your life. It’s all within you, in your way of thinking, in knowing what you want. Being an entrepreneur is a mindset. What it takes is taking the plunge, putting everything you’ve got into being your own boss, exploiting your opportunities when you get them.
It’s jumping off the Confederation Bridge to catch a flying fish. You might go splat in the Northumberland Straight. It will test your risk aversion, but it is, at least, one way to start swimming. You might, on the other hand, land in the fish market, show you’re worth your salt, because you saw something and built your wings on the way down.
No risk no reward.
“We have ideas for our own food venue,” said Rachel, “We’re not chefs, but we’re both great cooks.”
“We eat like kings at home,” said Doug.
“I want the lifestyle, the lifestyle I’ve been living all my life,” said Rachel.
“I’ve gotten to love it, too,” said Doug. “Grind all summer and then find summer somewhere else.”
“I’m not going to sit at a desk,” said Rachel. “That’s not going to happen.”
Whatever does happen, the two of them are undeniably hand to the plow. When they were with the Landmark Café they often worked seven days a week, twelve and fourteen hours a day, most of those hours on their feet. Restaurant work is hard enough, but seasonal restaurant work is getting down to business, not a moment to lose.
“We know many people in the food industry on the island, and some of them want us to work for them, but we want to have our own thing,” said Rachel.
Although raising capital is always a problem for new ventures, especially those related to food enterprises, Rachel Sauve and Doug McKinney are willing to work steadfast persevering to achieve their ends.
“I’m not too good to wash dishes, to do whatever it takes,“ said Doug. “There are a lot of opportunities to capitalize on the food scene on Prince Edward Island in the summertime.”
“When I do a post-up of something we’re cooking at home at night, and I see the reaction, I know it’s something I should be doing,” said Rachel. “We’re trying to mold our future.”
Rachel and Doug may be on a small team at the moment, since it is only the two of them on the roster, far from first place in the standings, but they are on one another’s side, both of them no ifs buts or maybes, their minds made up to make it happen.
“That’s the difference maker,” said Doug. “When you know what you want, you can make a difference.”
Everything’s on the front burner, pots and pans, the kitchen sink, plans goals around the corner, their feet to the bright side of the fire.
Originally posted on http://www.147stanleystreet.com.
There are thousands of moving parts to restaurants, from good food in the larder to wage and safety regulations to the spaces in the parking lot. Keeping a restaurant running is an exercise in controlling chaos. That’s why Calvin Trillin, the New York City food writer, has said he never eats in a restaurant over a hundred feet off the ground or one that won’t stand still.
Restaurants can be a Ruth’s Chris with a formal atmosphere or a gastropub in Toronto or a clam chowder shack in southern California. All restaurants, from fast food to fine dining, need stoves and ovens and grills to prepare food. And no matter what kind of a restaurant it is, unless it’s a market stall, a street takeaway, or a food truck, it needs chairs, tables, and booths.
“There was a neighbor of mine up the road in Crapaud, a farmer, who had built tables for a little church fair,” said Eugene Sauve, the owner and chef of the Landmark Café in Victoria, a seacoast town in the Atlantic Canada province of Prince Edward Island. “I asked him if he would consider building tables and a whole bunch of chairs for me. A week later he said, I’ll do it for two thousand.”
A dozen some tables and forty chairs were made. It was 1988. “I didn’t have a formal plan, but it was all visually in my mind,” said Mr. Sauve. “I knew I wanted a big round one. The tables and chairs in the front and back dining rooms are still the originals. The big round one is still in the front.”
The Landmark Café, in the centuries old building that had been Craig’s Grocery Store, opened when long-time Victoria resident Hope Laird drove her three-wheeled bicycle through the grand opening ceremonial ribbon. “When we were kids we used to call Craig’s Store the Landmark,” she said. “Say meet you at the Landmark and all the kids would meet you there.”
“So, that’s what we called it,” said Mr. Sauve.
Restaurateurs open eateries because they are conversant with the business, are self-motivated, and are usually people with people skills. They are foodies who want to match a menu with what they love. Sometimes they are people who just like getting their hands wet and dirty, like to be on their feet all day, and like to work long, long hours.
Opening your own sit-down means pulling up your pants, pilgrim. It takes gumption and hard work the long hours you are on your feet. It takes nerve, too. 50% of all restaurants go south within three years. After a decade more than 70% have closed their doors. Why do friends let friends open restaurants?
“I remember having nightmares opening this place,” said Mr. Sauve. “All my friends were saying, you’re crazy, you’re wasting your money.”
What Eugene Sauve’s friends didn’t know was that Mr. Sauve had worked in restaurants since he was 16-years-old and had an outsize appetite, to boot. A business centering on an all-you-can-eat buffet made all the sense in the world. “Growing up I played a lot of hockey and I was always hungry,” he said.
“But, my father was very formal. He was a banker. He would come home from work, go upstairs, get out of his suit, come down, sit down, and only then was supper served. So, I volunteered to help in the kitchen. I had three sisters, but they weren’t interested. My mom was an amazing cook. One night dinner would be Japanese, another Italian, another French. Every time my mom turned her back in the kitchen I was eating.”
In the early 1970s Euene Sauve’s father, Eugene, Sr., was transferred from Quebec to British Columbia. He was the first French-Canadian to become vice-president of a major bank in western Canada. Eugene’s sisters, as they grew up, went into banking, following their father.
“I was the only one who got away,” said Mr. Sauve.
His father had been football player in high school and later joined the Navy. “After his military service he became a loan officer in a bank. Sometimes loans would only be ten or twenty dollars and he would literally hound guys for fifty cents. It was right after the war and every penny counted. Since he had also once been a boxer, he was an ideal collector.”
After leaving home in the mid 70s Eugene Sauve was on the road and staying in a small coastal town in Portugal. It was where he found out for himself what was good food, the kind of food he describes to this day as something that “snaps and cracks.” It was the kind of food 27 years after opening the Landmark Café he continues to procure and make and serve.
“The fishermen would come in, take a little nap, get dressed up, and walk around the plaza, drinking coffee and booze. Their women would go to work, sardines on the barbeque, dipped in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, with a big crusty roll. Those are my images of good food, simple.”
There’s a difference between good table manners and good food. No one needs a silver spoon to eat the best food.
By the 1980s, although his wanderlust had not, and has not to this day abated, he found himself living, working, and newly married in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “Julia was from New York, performing in a modern dance company.” He was soon working in the performing arts and the father of the first of two children.
But, his children didn’t grow up in PEI’s capital city. Charlottetown is the province’s largest city. They grew up in Victoria. It is one of the province’s smallest communities.
“Erskine Smith, the director of the theater in Victoria, phoned me in April one day out of the blue,” said Eugene Sauve. “He said, I’d like to have you at the Victoria Playhouse, would you come out to talk?”
The seaside town that is Victoria, once known simply as Lot 29, was founded in 1819. Besides landing fish, its livelihood was shipping potatoes and eggs to Europe and the Indies. There are fewer than 200 year-round residents. Summer is what animates the former seaport of family-run fine and folk-art galleries, artisan chocolate and coffee shops, and the Victoria Playhouse. The Landmark Café is kitty-corner to the theater.
The town in April is quiet wet cold. “I had a half-hour, I walked around, and I instantly felt something here, something about this place. I got the job, and a month in someone at the theater says to me, there’s a house on the corner. I think the guy wants to sell it.” By the end of the summer Eugene Sauve and his nascent family were living in Victoria.
Two years later he approached Annie Craig about renting her grocery store to him for a seasonal café to serve the theater’s playgoers.
“She had the post office, a bit of pension, although she wasn’t making a living at the store. But, she said no,” said Mr. Sauve.
Two months later he approached her again. “This time I asked her if I could buy it. She said no, again.”
Annie Craig spent winters knitting sitting in a rocking chair in the back corner of the store. “Under our carpet you can see where she wore the floor out, rubbing her feet as she rocked,” said Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. “She wore through the tile and into the wood.”
The Craig’s Grocery Store building was almost two hundred years old. It had been gambled away in a card game and had once been sold with the bill of sale hand written out on the back of a pack of cigarettes. Before it was a grocery it had a history of cobbling, butchering, and bootlegging.
Annie Craig called back the next spring. “You know what, I will sell to you,” she said.
“How much?” asked Eugene Sauve.
“Twenty thousand. I’m going to be firm on that,” she said.
“You got a deal,” he said.
“20 grand,” he thought after hanging up the phone. “Where am I going to get 20 grand?”
Entrepreneurs need capital to get going, but banks don’t like lending to start-up ventures. “They have no historical income,” said Tom Swenson, chief executive of a western American bank. “If you are proposing a start-up business, you are de facto proposing something that doesn’t meet typical bank underwriting standards.”
If it’s a food-related business, they like it even less, because restaurants have high rates of default, no matter how much people like eating the food or how well known the chef might be. Pessimism is the default setting of most banks. Many start-ups look to their families for cash.
Eugene Sauve looked to his father, who was family, and a banker, too.
“My father lent me the 20 grand since I was determined to open it for exactly that,” he said. “But, I had to bring him in as a partner. It cost me 50 for 20 the six years he was my partner, which was pretty darn good for him, which is why he was a banker.”
Eugene Sauve stuck close to his budget by buying end-of-the-roll carpeting for $75.00, cadging at no cost paint that had been returned because it was the wrong color, and doing a lot of the heavy lifting himself. “A buddy of mine was an electrician. I worked with him. That‘s how it all fell together.”
His first stove was an old 4-burner Enterprise. The galvanized range hood came from a bakery going bankrupt. He was the chef, sous chef, and dishwasher. The kitchen had no air conditioning. “It used to be so hot in here it was unbelievable.”
The Landmark Café in Victoria opened in the summer of 1989. In the movies they say things like, “If you build it they will come.” In real life not everything is scripted. “The first day was really scary,” said Mr. Sauve. “I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to walk in.”
But, if you build something good somebody is going to pay good money for it.
“The best Caesar salad I have ever experienced. The flavors were amazing. And the seafood pasta was melt in your mouth delicious.”
“I had been searching for a great seafood chowder. After four other places this was the best I’ve had on the island so far, just delicious.”
“I usually go with the flavorful Acadian meat pie, but yesterday I tried the special, a fish burger. It was delicious.”
When you’re serving people delicious food they don’t complain.
Not much beats delicious. Sunshine and fresh air are delicious. Kissing is delicious, tastier than sex. You don’t have to think about rotisserie chicken to know that it’s delicious. Authentic fresh yummy ingredients like island beef, island fish, and island produce are what make the Landmark Café a landmark when Eugene Sauve brings them to the table.
A decade-and-a-half later in the mid-aughts the family, son Oliver and daughter Rachel having joined the labor force, expanded the Landmark Café. “We lifted the whole building, since we had a problem with storage and there was no basement, which we needed,“ said Mr. Sauve.
“We added 40 seats and that changed everything, since we were turning people away. The air conditioning in the kitchen got done, too. I’m the chef here, anyway, and I need to stay cool. That way we serve more food and everybody’s happy.”
For all the changes and renovations, the original chairs and tables built by Crapaud farmer George Nicholson nearly thirty years ago are still what many diners sit on and eat at in the Landmark Café. In the course of time, however, things happen, chairs and tables sometimes taking the brunt of it.
Opening the restaurant one morning after a stormy night Eugene Sauve found a note addressed to him.
Please accept my sincere apology for the disorderly behavior I displayed last evening. Enclosed is a cheque that I hope is sufficient for the purchase of a new table. It’s been awhile since I’ve let myself loose like that and I’m only sorry it was at your expense.
Eugene Sauve wrote back.
Pam, the table is going to be fixed with a little glue. There’s no problem. You are always welcome here.
Who doesn’t want to stop and eat and drink somewhere where the chairs are sturdy and the table is always set for you?
Originally posted on http://www.147stanleystreet.com.
The fundraising dinner on June 9th for the Victoria Theatre at the Landmark Cafe has been sold out. Many thanks to everyone.