Our tenth year

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It has been a long road to where we are now. We started in 2007 with a dream of what we would like, but had no experience owning a restaurant. I had worked in many restaurants and bars over the years, but never in management, and never with any insight into the sheer guts it takes to tough out the bad times and capitalize on the good times.

One of the real challenges in building an award-winning business is developing an ego – a strong sense of self and confidence in your own leadership and vision. It is easy to listen to other people, friends, family, staff and customers, as to what you should be doing with the business, and it is certainly important to adjust your vision and direction based on the marketplace. Still, having listened to and incorporated other people’s advice, it is just as important to articulate your own values and goals to your team and make sure they understand what you expect the business to deliver.

In our case, the underlying values of the Star have never changed. We value excellence in all we do. We value our customers, our team, our community. We value fresh ingredients, complex flavours and careful preparation. We value heritage.

We are now about to enter our tenth year, with our ninth birthday on June 8, 2016. In some ways it has seemed like way longer, and in other ways it seems we opened only yesterday. I do know that while sometimes I may be tired or out of sorts, when I walk into the Star and greet the team, I always get a lift and look forward to service.

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When we opened, our tables were dressed in white tablecloths and stemware. We had visions of grandeur and wanted to compete with the big city restaurants. Over time we went to checked cloths and coloured napkins, and now we have bare tables with cotton napkins. We still do white cloths when asked and on Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, but we have come to realize that a small-town restaurant has to reflect the community as well as the owners’ aesthetic.

We have to reflect the community’s values as well: hard work, fair value for money, and above all, friendliness and mutual respect. These values are the glue which cements our ties to Maple Creek and its people. We hope the Star will serve you as well for the next ten years.

Refining our style

We have started this season’s round of menu wars, which, by the way, has gone very well, and it got me thinking about style.

I spend a few minutes on Pinterest every day, not looking at food, but at decorating and crafting ideas. I have been an avid primitive decorator and heritage craft buff for many years, and Pinterest has certainly slowed down my magazine buying (which my daughter Rachel will appreciate when I die and she has to go through my stuff).

When I did the annual magazine purge about a month ago, which is really just looking at my magazines for a day and keeping most of them, I noticed a real trend in the evolution of my style, which is also reflected on my Pinterest boards. Now, I can see that reflection in our upcoming menu as well.

When the kids were small, I was all about country – pine and gingham and borders on my walls. I lived in a log cabin for a while when they were small, and this greatly influenced my decorating style, although it is hard to put any kind of wallpaper border on a log wall. I have loved antiques and country decorating since high school, and still have the first real antique I bought with my own money when I was 18.

As the kids got older and I had more time and money, my decorating schemes became more Martha, with subdued powdery colours and rich looking fabrics – a very upmarket feel. I still had a great garden, put up my canning, and did my crafts, but I pared down the gingham and fussiness and went for classic good taste. I collected Wedgewood and Spode and amassed a huge number of high-end kitchen tools. I was organized, driven by perfection and really hard to live with, I suspect.

The kids left home and I refined my style further, caring less about perfection and more about authenticity, landing finally on a heritage-driven, primitive look that easily incorporates my rather substantial collection of unique “junque.” Now I look for quality and simplicity and find beauty in the well-used piece that shows its history.

This evolution to quality and simplicity shows itself in our menu as well. Gone are the days of trying to impress with frills and ruffles, special sauces, hard-to-stock ingredients and one-upmanship. The heritage of our town and our people, carefully thought-out flavours, and unique dishes characterize our food these days. The classics are still there, but Chef Joel has a clear vision about what is Star quality and what is not.

Of course, there are menu items we cannot get rid of (yes, the portobello mushroom is still on), but you will see a continued reflection of the traditions of our cooks past and present in our new menu, as well as a couple of my own favourites.

We hope you enjoy it.

Mother's Day

I love Mother’s Day. It falls at a perfect time of year for me, when all our flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom, the hardy seeds have sprouted in the garden, and I hear from, and sometimes spend real quality time, with my kids.

By Mother’s Day I have received, and drooled over, two Lee Valley gardening catalogues. The local garden centres are open. Most years there is a lift of bagged topsoil on my driveway ready to top up my raised beds. On Mother’s Day, when my daughter Rachel is around, we spend the day moving that topsoil and planting beans, carrots, and the like, and then enjoy an iced tea on the deck. Of course this year I won’t have her help with the topsoil since they live in Kamloops now, but then I didn’t order a lift of topsoil this year either.

After a good day gardening, I go to work at the Star, where we serve many mothers and their families a lovely meal. I really enjoy that part of the day as well, with the happy chatter and beaming moms.

All this focus on mothers has caused me to think about my mother and the legacy she left. She died young, at 67, and suddenly, so I didn’t get all the family stories and recipes I wanted, but she left a less concrete, and more valuable legacy behind. She was a teacher, and delighted in awakening the fire for knowledge in young people. She had a keen mind and a political bent, so we had many interesting discussions about Canadian and American politics. (I can just imagine what she would have to say about the current presidential primary race.) I don’t remember a time when I was not aware of political events – the Suez Canal crisis, Franco’s Spain, the flag debate.

My mother was not a hugger – she was raised by a very proper Victorian grandmother. While positive and supportive, she was not lavish with her praise. She was measured in her opinions and prepared to change her mind given new information. I only saw her cry once, and unfortunately I was the cause of her tears. She was a good mother; she fed and clothed us well, sewed many of our dresses, she taught us about where food comes from and how to darn a sock.

She made sure we wore white gloves and white shoes only between Easter and Labour Day. She inspired our minds and taught us to set our goals high. She forgave us our pecadillos readily and easily, although she often asked the dreaded question, “what do you think you should do?”

Like my mother, I try to be positive and supportive. I try to make well-considered decisions and to show flexibility in my thinking. I enjoy vibrant discussions about a range of topics, and encourage my children to use their brains. I forgive easily. But, I am a hugger. I cry easily and wear my heart on my sleeve. My husband thinks I’m a pushover for a sad story. I’m not really, but I do see the value in kindness.

And now Rachel is a mother. Like my mother, she has a keen mind and is a natural teacher. Like me, she is a hugger. This visible link between generations of mothers makes me cry, and swell with pride.

Happy Mother’s Day.