Monday, December 23, 2013

The Tempest

photo courtesy of CBC

I have to say, in only the five or so short weeks that we have been open, there is enough tasty fodder to write a memoir. 

I can only wonder what five months will bring. 

Take for example, this past weekend. On my walk home after Saturday service the much-anticipated freezing rain had been falling for a few hours. I was initially seduced with wonder by the curious coating of ice glistening on the tree branches and the power lines. The neighborhood sparkled like a child-hood dream, making me think of something that my daughter might conjure up at the art table with her glitter gun. The beauty was quickly tempered by a growing sense of unease as I noticed the branches swaying ominously overhead, startling me with gunshot-like reports as the 100 year old wood started to snap. I stopped momentarily to watch as a tree on my street, bowed over under the weight of the ice, reached a black, arthritic branch toward a power line, drawing blue sparks and creating a sound that was cartoonishly electrical; like something one might hear in a Boris Karloff movie. I picked up my pace as best I could given my lack of winter boots and quickly made it home only to find a dark and quickly cooling house. I checked on the kids (thankfully sleeping under layers of blankets, oblivious to the weather outside) and then I crawled into bed next to my shivering wife and spent an uneasy night listening to the crashing, avalanching din of massive tree limbs coming down. It was only a matter of time before I heard the sound of crunching metal and our car alarm going off.  To call it surreal would be an understatement. 

The next morning, our street looked like a disaster zone. A power line literally lay on the street a mere 50 yards from my front door. The venerable maple tree in my backyard was petrified and broken.  Strangely beautiful in a pathetic way, this tree's leafy boughs had been providing shade for my barbecue a mere four months previously; it was reduced to a slick and limbless Venus de Milo. After my grim window side assessment of the neighborhood, our kids jumped in bed with us and spent the morning keeping warm under the covers. Neighbours outside tried in vain to clear some of the heavier tree casualties off the road.

The Beech Tree was set to open that night for our final Sunday Roast before a break for the holidays. One look at my street and I was convinced that the whole city was a wreck. We couldn't open. I decided to take stroll over to Kingston road to check out how the shop did through the night. I was gobsmacked to find businesses open, people out and about and an unexpected, but not at all misplaced sense of community spirit. It appeared that our main strip held on to the last bits of tenuous electrical power while the better part of the homes were cold and dark. I decided I was going to open, if anything, just to give folks a place to get warm. I packed the kids off to Grandma's warm, fully powered house in an unaffected neighborhood and started planning for dinner.  Only trouble was, a good portion of our staff were stuck in other parts of the city. Chef managed to make it in, and I heard that our bartender could get in as well. With me in the mix, that was three people; not a lot of manpower to prep for a dinner service, run the kitchen, front of house and all the other things in between. I enlisted a neighbor who like the rest of us, had been sitting in a dark house; he jumped at a chance to be in a warm, cheery place, even if it meant a hard slog in busy kitchen. Suppliers failed to show up and we were low on a lot of ingredients, so chef and I sat down and banged out a quickie ice storm menu based on what we had and what we could out there. The phone was ringing off the hook and there were rumblings that the pub down the street had been packed for lunch. I knew the crowds would come, I just hoped we could manage the volume. 

Thankfully, our community is forgiving, understanding and quite happy to wait an extra five minutes knowing that we were understaffed and that our kitchen, mere hours previously, had touch-and-go power. 

When the people did arrive (and there were plenty), they simply seemed happy to be warm and dry and have a drink. Whole families showed up and soon our sleepy little neighborhood restaurant had every seat filled with noisy, spirited diners. I worked the line with chef, something I don't often do, but it was certainly an adrenaline rush that kept the blood warm. Despite power surges frying our credit card machine and the new menu not fully programmed into our system, our bartender, bless her, managed the whole, full-to-capacity room single-handedly by doing what she does best: improvise.  We offered every free and available electrical outlet to power up cell phones so folks could go home and keep in touch with family and check updates on the weather. It was a memorable night. We even got a shout-out from our city counselor for the effort: a good feeling. 

Eventually the people drifted reluctantly back to their less-then-welcome cold homes and likely whiled the night away under heavy quilts - that is certainly what I did when I eventually got home (although it did cross my mind to sleep on one of the church pews in the Beech Tree - not as good as a proper mattress, but it would have been warmer). I chalked the night up as another significant event in the soon to be collected annals of the Beech Tree - an unlikely, yet growing collection of stories.

Post Script:

As I write this, I am still without power or heat in my home. The same can be said for many people in our community. I am sitting in the closed up Beech Tree using the only power I have available to bang out this blog entry. Soon I will close up our little eatery for the holidays and join my kids at Grandma's house to have a strange and slightly upside-down Christmas. Yet, I just can't wipe the smile off my face; for every bad hand that the Beech Tree gets thrown, there always seems to be one, well-placed Ace lurking in the next draw. What looked like a bust of a night turned in to a top seller. Who knew?  

We shall see what 2014 brings.

Happy Holidays


  1. My husband, Ray & I were at The Beech Tree for Sunday Roast Dinner that night and we fell in love with the place, the fabulous food, cosy décor, our super Waitress - the Bartender, and Robert, the Owner. All were, at least outwardly, calm and so ready to please. The roast beef, Yorkshire & veggies were the Best! We plan to go there for New Year's Eve. Very Best Wishes for 2014! Gladys

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