By K-L Grant
There was no gratuitous fanfare, opening gimmicks or first-night anxiety.
And there were no empty tables, no available bar stools and, a mere two hours after the Southside Diner opened its doors for the first time, there were no meatballs.
The space that nourished and filled locals for 20 years as the Southside Deli has been resurrected and reborn as the Southside Diner. Business partners John Henry, Les Ecker and Doug Lungren, all locals with a long history in the Whistler hospitality industry, have wisely kept the soul of the Deli, but up-dated it to serve the changing needs of Whistler locals.
And the unanimous response from customers is "awesome".
"My food was amazing, and as a chef I was impressed, an awesome job," says Mike Nagy. "The people are great and it takes 20 minutes to get back to your seat, because you know everybody here. Its nice to have something close to home and the best of luck to all the boys. Ill be here all the time supporting them."
Cat Cameron agreed. "I was drawn in by the crowd of familiar faces and my experience was absolutely awesome. I had a veggie burger, which was fresh, home made and full of flavour."
Squamish resident and old Whistler local Graham Kuerbis made a special trip to Whistler for the night and he was not disappointed. "Im so happy right now, rolling in here after a year or so since its was the Southside Deli and seeing this? How awesome does it look? You tell me. It is killer!," says Kuerbis. "Its just what the Creekside needed, somewhere for the locals to hang out without having to go into the village."
Word of mouth about the soft opening reached every corner of Whistler society and over the course of the evening a whos who of Whistler locals streamed through the restaurant. There were professionals, business owners, artists, service industry staff, schoolteachers, mountain climbers, hairdressers, yoga instructors, chefs and gym staff.
But the diverse clientele were united in one factor. They were all locals. Councillor Marianne Wade, graciously exchanging tables with a group who needed more space, enjoyed a glass of wine after her meal on a stool at the bar. "This is fabulous, just like old times in the Creekside good people, good times and good energy," says Wade. "I think its very uplifting for the Creekside as it brings the vitality of an old place with a new spin."
The Southside Deli dominated Creeksides eating scene for over 20 years and many tears were shed when owners Cal Schacter and Herschel Miedzagorski closed the Delis doors at the end of the 2003 winter. They retained ownership of the building and the space was leased to a seafood restaurant, the Screaming Oyster. While that restaurant didnt excite Whistlers palettes, it left behind a completely refurbished and revitalized space reminiscent of an old-style diner.
Waitress Ace Mackay-Smith stepped right into role, showing up for her first shift wearing a red and white-checkered diner dress. "The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was Aces little outfit. Its the best waitress outfit I have ever seen," says Chris Rollette, co-owner of Whistler Bungee. "As always, Ace is taking it down. This will be Whistlers hot spot for sure."
Mackay Smith, who epitomizes the working Whistler artist, infuses everything she does with creativity. Shes not only waitressing at the diner, but shes the first artist featured on what co-owner John Henry terms the Diners Revolving Walls. "Were excited to offer different local artists a chance to highlight their work. Every month, well host an opening for a different artist. Their work will hang for a month, and then well change it up," says Henry.
Henry flitted up and down the restaurant all night, clearing plates, picking up glasses, chatting to customers and generally doing whatever needed to be doing. "Im proud and impressed with the support of the locals that came in knowing that things werent going to be perfect for our soft opening," says Henry. "This has been a long time coming. Were going to try and listen to what people want and meet their needs and form our business around that. We believe that the majority of our customers are locals and our goal is to never leave you hanging. And we always serve the truth and tell the truth. Thats our mission statement."
Partner Les Ecker was too busy working the bar to do more than stop for a quick photo, but partner Doug Lungren stopped to share his feelings on the opening of the restaurant. With a shake of his head and a wink he responded. "Its awesome, its bigger than I ever imagined, and the futures so bright I gotta wear shades." And then he was gone, swallowed up by another table walking in.
The Diner played it smart, opting for a soft opening, and even with no advertising, the place was packed from the moment the doors opened. When the official opening does happen, one thing is certain, it will be the hottest ticket in town. The spirit of the Deli has risen again.