Throwback Thursday – Six years ago on this very day (well the very day that Jan 8th occurred on back in 2009) I was living in Thunder Bay, having breakfast with my friend Rachel, at the sadly now-defunct Thunder Bay Restaurant. With few diners of its era left, Thunder Bay Restaurant was a stalwart example of a dying institution: the lunch-counter. Serving all day breakfast, sandwiches, pierogies and endless pots of coffee to an endless rotation of regulars, TBR felt simultaneously timeless and time-worn under the neon-glow of its taxi sign.
It was the sassy and spirited owner-chef-server-in-one Denyse who made eating at Thunder Bay Restaurant truly an experience unto itself! Regulars and newcomers alike were expected to serve themselves at this one woman show. Denyse always yelled a friendly welcome but it was up to the customer to grab their own menu, seat, drinks and if it was really busy even retrieve their own food from the kitchen pass. She’d also sass you for ordering anything unusual or complicated and if you didn’t clear your plate there was a .25 cent fine. The fines and any tips Denyse was unsuccessful in refusing went into what she called the penalty box, an ongoing collection for charity fund. Despite the attitude, Denyse always made everyone feel welcome, loved and at home – serving hugs with a side of advice, wanted or not! As student at Lakehead University I lived on grilled cheese sandwiches, hunched over textbooks at the counter or stuffed myself full of hangover breakfasts, friends and roommates stuffed into one of the booths. Refilling coffee for all those restaurant patrons was where I got some of my first and most valuable serving experience.
Everyone always talks up the Hoito, but I always thought Thunder Bay Restaurant was the underrated gem just one block down Bay St. I’m really sad to hear that TBR closed down but I hope it is because Denyse finally retired at 65 as she always said she would!