Though we didn’t see Dad so much that summer, he was always with us in every sound of the hammer, whine of the skill saw, or whirl of the battery drill. He came up for meals, but other than that he was always just 20 feet below us.
All this was kind of a revelation to us. He was skilled with his hands in ways we hadn’t known, and whenever we journeyed down the stairs to take him some tea our just to witness his progress, he had always fashioned something new or ingenious to make the restaurant as intimate and sensible as possible. He had the knack for styling and decor and before long it had come into shape.
His pride and joy was the ceramic oven which Mrs. Dawson had helped him buy for $70,000. As long as a car, it stood on legs about six inches off the ground, was stainless steel, and had three ovens and three sets of burners for cooking. It was a masterpiece and Dad always cleaned off the dust from his working every day before he journeyed upstairs for the evening.
For pizzas and baked dishes, he installed a kiln oven – covered with glazed tiles and sloped down from the top like an igloo. Its chimney ran up through the ceiling somewhere but we could always smell the delightful aroma from the fire as he tested it.
One Sunday morning both Daisy and Mom were sick with colds, leaving Dad and I strolling to church together, our scarves and overcoats attempting to fend off the cold of that grey late-November day. Such occasions I was to remember and cherish years later.
“So, what do you think of the restaurant now that it’s almost done?” he asked in a nonchalant manner.
“Well,” I began, attempting to appear thoughtful, “I think it’s beautiful, and I love that it’s in a house – our house. But I love all the restaurants we go to – even McDonald’s.” It likely wasn’t the best thing to say, judging from the silence that ensued for the next few moments.
“The Third Place will be different from all the others,” he said at last.
“Because of the food?”
“No. It’s just that we’ll be practicing what the name suggests,” he replied.
That was beyond a ten-year old’s understanding, so I dug deeper. It was only years later that I came to understand that this was a technique he frequently used to teach us some important lessons.
“I didn’t come up with that term – the Third Place,” he said. “For a long time, it meant a place outside of the home or where people work where they could gather and just be themselves – a favourite place where they could relax.”
“Like Taco Bell,” I interjected, in hopes that he could tell I understood. The grimace spreading across his face revealed my error.
“Well, places like Taco Bell and McDonald’s are called fast food places for a reason, Annie. People just want to eat quick and get on with their busy lives. Third places are where you intend to stay for a longer period of time to enjoy the food, drink, and especially your friends, coworkers, teammates or family. I want our restaurant to give them a special place with the food they like.”
It had made a bit of sense at the time, though I liked hanging out with my friends at McDonald’s for birthday parties or after school. But I understood what he was saying. It would be a kind of slower place, where people didn’t have to hurry off.
“So, home is the first place?” I asked.
“Right, and work is the second. Our restaurant will be the third.”
I understood that part at least.
And by Christmas time Dad, with Mom’s help, was putting it to the test. Opening day for the establishment was to be December 2nd – just in time for the holidays and the annual desire for people to break out of their normal routines. Our house, located in the historic village portion, was in the middle of the main gathering place of our city. Surrounded by great trees and gardens, the older district was nevertheless a favourite place where people bought homes, started businesses, held community celebrations, supported their schools and local library, and fought collectively to maintain its historic vitality and identity. It was never referred to as a neighbourhood or district; it was the always “the village.”
We all came to understand why Dad chose to set up shop there: it had a built-in clientele and was located in an area where people were travelling to anyway, to enjoy the sense of community.
And come they did. Our family, dressed up in festive attire after school, watched as Dad opened the front door for the first time. We looked in vain at his countenance for a sense of pride at what he had done, but what we perceived instead was just a steady determination to make it work.
One hour later the main dining room was packed. In the back kitchen the cooks had their hands full, but since their livelihoods depended on it they were possessed by a kind of happy optimism, knowing that the Grand Opening had indeed been grand.
Closer to Christmas, entire families and company employees came for the traditional holiday season specialties the Third Place was offering – not just turkey, but well-seasoned eggnog, gift crackers by each setting, tasty desserts, and even some homemade pies Dad had bought from neighbours.
Two things created a festive spirit in ways that nothing else could. Instead of piping in holiday music over a speaker system, Dad had local musicians not only singing and playing, but leading the customers in celebration and singing. And then there was the bare Christmas tree – a pine that smelled fantastic and whose tip come close to the ceiling. In the local village magazine a few days before Christmas, Dad had asked people to bring their own decorations – something that was meaningful to them if they wished – and place them on the branches. They were welcome to take them back following Christmas, or they could leave them and they would be on each successive tree over the years. The most eclectic tree anyone had ever seen, it became an expression of the community’s good will, generosity and personal intimacy.
The Third Place was about to become the best place.
Next post – The House