A few days ago, I found out that my favourite restaurant had closed down. Just like that. No warning. No emotional send off to the last piece of dessert on my plate. Nothing. It’s gone, forever.
For privacy purposes, I won’t reveal the name of the restaurant, but it was an Italian buffet that my family and I had been going to since I was (about) seven-years-old.
Its original location opened in the late 90s, before moving to its current location some time in the 2000s. It is not a franchise – there is no other location. This was it.
In a way, I grew up at this restaurant.
In Grade 2, I had my Communion and then my family, cousins, and grandparents went to this restaurant afterwards. We were there for over two hours. I ate 12 slices of cheese pizza; don’t ask me how. That remains my personal best.
That day, Little Paul wore a golf shirt with navy blue and white horizontal stripes. It was my favourite shirt. And you know what I did to it? I dropped a pizza slice face down, right in the middle of it.
You know in Home Alone how an iron leaves an imprint on Marv’s face? Picture that, but on a shirt, with sauce and grease, in the shape of a pizza slice.
The shirt was ruined, but that story still gets told often.
Another time we were at the restaurant, my grandfather hung up his hat on the window. I don’t know why it was so funny, but I’ll never forget it.
And then there was that day when I became a child model.
I was about 7 or 8 at the time – very small – and my family went there for lunch. My mom and I went up for food together, when a photographer pulled us aside to ask if we wanted to be in the restaurant’s brochure.
Of course we did! They probably picked me out because I was cute and wearing a golf shirt tucked into a pair of jeans. Dare I say I was dapper. I now hate wearing jeans and haven’t in years. They are not comfortable.
So, the photographer had us stand at the pasta station, with our backs to the camera, and pretend to put pasta on our plates. I still remember standing there. I was just tall enough to see over the counter. Pretty sure I could rest my chin on it without needing to bend over.
I was still too small to actually reach for the pasta tongs, so I just stood there holding my plate. Easier said than done. The counter was boiling hot! So there I am, holding my plate a centimetre higher than the counter and trying not to move, while my mom pretended to put pasta on my plate.
Models don’t get enough credit. It’s hard work.
A few months later, when we went back to the restaurant, we noticed new brochures on display. And sure enough, there I was – Little Paul with his mommy. Our backs to the camera, pretending to get pasta.
Since we were pretty much local celebrities, we took a bunch of brochures. We still have them and I even cut out the photo of us to keep on my desk. It’s a very small photo, but a modelling career was born.
That’s also where the modelling career ended.
This restaurant meant a lot to me for the last 22 years, or so. It’s where I always wanted to go for my birthday. Where am I supposed to go now? The other Italian buffet? The Chinese buffet? I mean, that’s what will happen, but this was always the one.
Whenever I came home from university for a weekend (which was rare), my dad and I went there for lunch on Saturday. It was something to look forward to. Most people go home and want home cooking. I wanted home cooking AND a trip to my favourite Italian buffet.
And over the past few years, it’s become a place where I can meet up with old university friends, since it’s sort of in the middle of where we all live.
This Italian buffet had incredible food. The food didn’t make you full after two plates, which was good. The pasta station was one of my favourites. Rigatoni alla vodka and seafood linguine were the two pastas that had my heart and stomach.
The pizza station was also wonderful, though he taste had changed, just a bit, when they moved locations. The original location had the best pizza I’ve ever had. Hence, I ate 12 slices of it, and wore the 13th.
Then there was the calamari. Oh, the calamari. You don’t understand how good it was.
I could go on and list more delicious foods, but the pasta, pizza, and calamari were my favourites. They were leading off the first inning for me, so to speak.
My eating philosophy at a buffet was derived from watching what my dad would do.
I always noticed that he would add one dessert to his first or second plate (sometimes both), and not wait until the end of the meal to peruse the dessert counter.
The reason for this is simple. You might not be hungry enough for dessert at the end, so you might as well eat it with everything else. No one’s going to stop you. If they wanted us to eat dessert at the end, they wouldn’t have it on display as soon as the restaurant opened.
So that’s what I would do. I’d throw a nanaimo bar or a tiny (and I mean tiny) brownie on the side of my first plate. When I eat with friends, they don’t get it. Though, over the years, they’ve realized, “That’s just what Paul does” and dare I say, some of them have even done the same thing.
I’m a trendsetter, if nothing else.
One of the waitresses at this restaurant was one of the nicest people you could meet. She’d see my family walk in from the other side of the room, wave at us, and come say hello, even if our table wasn’t in her designated area.
If I went with friends, she’d always ask about the rest of my family and have me say hello to them. And once she knew I had friends, she’d ask me when they were coming back, whenever I went with my family.
We had known her for well over a decade, dating back to when this restaurant was at the old location. She knew a lot of customers in the same way. And in the blink of an eye, all those relationships are gone.
When a restaurant closes, it’s not just the food that is lost. It’s the bonds you had with the staff. It’s the tradition of going there on your birthday. It’s the meet-up place. It’s the memories that can no longer be made within those walls.
Food is one of those things that brings people together, until it can’t. There’s no more pasta, there’s no more pizza, there’s no more calamari. There’s no more kid’s station or ice cream freezer with one scooper.
There’s just a building that used to be an Italian restaurant.
And I’ll miss it.