Tag Archives: Victoria PEI

Near and Far

DSC00230

Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian province, is off the Atlantic Canada coast in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, east of New Brunswick and north of Nova Scotia. Its land mass is less than 2200 square miles. Victoria, a village on the southern edge of the island on the Northumberland Straight, isn’t measured in square miles. It is measured in square feet.

Six months of the year, from about the middle of spring to the about the middle of autumn, Olivier Sauve, who was born and bred and lives and works in Victoria, spends almost all of his time inside those square feet.

“I don’t go far,” he said. “I might go to the liquor store once a week, do a pick-up, and if Doug and Rachel need a day off, I’ll do the food run.” Rachel is his sister and Doug is her boyfriend. The pick-ups and runs for food and drink are for the family business.

“I’m working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I go from the house to the restaurant and from there back to the house. Sometimes I go to the post office.”

Olivier’s parents, Julia, a Manhattanite, and Eugene, a Quebecois, met and married on PEI, opening the Landmark Café catty-corner to the Victoria Theatre 28 years ago, when he was six.

“I grew up in Victoria, played ball hockey, jumped off the wharf, ate dirt all summer. We’ve got everything here, friends, neighbors, home.”

The other six months of the year Olivier goes globetrotting. The earth is 197 million square miles, which is too many square feet to try counting. Over the past 15 years the 34-year-old Olivier Sauve has bussed boated walked the length and breadth of 52 countries. “I know because I can name them all,“ he said.

“I’m a good counter, too.”

In 2015 he hiked from southern to northern Spain and then pivoted west to Portugal. He walked almost a thousand miles in 40 days, averaging close to the equivalent of a marathon every day.

“I’m into walking, hiking, being outside,” he said. “I’ve hiked the Andes, the Himalayas, Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka.”

He stopped in San Lorenzo in central Spain for the hot springs and dinner.

“The thermal spring baths in the middle of the town have been flowing out of a mountain for 2000 years,” he said. ”There was a pizzeria around the corner from my hostel. After walking 20, 25 miles, there’s nothing like a big pizza.”

“It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,” said the singing cowgirl Dale Evans.

Although at home Olivier’s days and nights are framed by village life and work, travel is in his blood. “We moved to Montreal when I was two, but then my parents bought a house here when I was three. Every winter we would visit mom’s family in New York City and dad’s family in Vancouver.”

The family went Canadian winters to Florida or Jamaica, too. “I made sure we went somewhere,” said Eugene Sauve.

“We’re not like some PEI families that have a thousand cousins in a 10 mile radius, said Olivier. “It’s just us, no cousins, aunts, or uncles on the island.”

Traveling is getting past what’s in plain sight, becoming alert to the secret strange out-of-the-way parade of the rest of the world. It’s going somewhere else that you find out that nearsightedness isn’t the great again agenda it’s cracked up to be.

“There’s one thing about traveling,” said Olivier. ”You don’t want to give people too much advice. Everybody’s got to make their own trip, their own experiences. You don’t want to go on somebody else’s trip.”

One traditional way of traveling is to make sure you see what you have gone to see. The other way is to see whatever it is you are seeing. The sightseers who circle around journey’s end often see the most because they’re always on the way. It’s not necessarily about stockpiling souvenirs, but about keeping watch, sea to shining sea.

“My parents continually traveled. My father has been all over the world. I remember laying around in Costa Rica when I was ten-years-old, saying to myself, I can’t wait until I turn 18 and can get that little book that says Canada Passport.”

After his parents separated Olivier’s mother moved to New Hampshire with the children. He went to five different schools in five years. “You don’t get to know people well, but you get to know yourself well,” he said. When they moved back to Prince Edward Island they moved back to Victoria. He started working at the Landmark Café no sooner than reaching thirteen.

“He’d get a bench, get up to the sink, and wash dishes,” said Eugene Sauve. “He wanted to do it.”

Like father, like son.

Eugene Sauve left home when he was 16, moving from Montreal to Vancouver “My first job was at a Greek restaurant, washing dishes. The owner was a macho man, always wore a brown jumpsuit and a Santa Claus belt, wife in a fur coat, dripping with jewelry.”

“Washing dishes should be a perquisite for life,” said Olivier. “If you were in a sweaty dish pit, everybody screaming and throwing greasy pans, that would suck. But, here, we have music playing, JR’s hair is blue this week, and everybody helps out.”

It isn’t possible for anyone to help everyone. At the Landmark Café everyone helps someone. The homegrown menu, meat pies, pasta, salad, down to the salad dressing, has long been recommended by ‘Where to Eat in Canada’.

“The restaurant business is awesome. It’s high-paced, fun, frustrating. It isn’t for everyone, not if you can’t multi-task, aren’t sociable, and don’t appreciate food. Food can be anything. If you’re going to make a cheeseburger, get some awesome meat, throw in some salt and pepper, and make an awesome cheeseburger.”

When he turned 19 Olivier Sauve flew overseas by himself for the first time.

“I took off for six months. Eugene met me in Bangkok, We went down to Vietnam and Cambodia together for a few weeks.” After they separated Eugene Sauve planned on going to Africa. But, a week later, Olivier was crossing a street in Ho Chi Minh City when a man crossing in his direction called out.

“Ollie!” he said.

“Dad!” said Olivier.

“After that dad went to Africa and I spent the next five months running around Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.”

The next winter, back on Prince Edward Island, Olivier enrolled at UPEI. “I was in for a couple of weeks, but I said, no, I don’t want to do this.” He and a friend began planning a trip to the far end of South America. Itinerant, rambling, backpacking, over the course of six months they traversed North and Central America.

While crossing the forest and swampland of the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia on foot an army patrol stopped them and sent them both back to Panama. They boarded an old boat. “It took us 18 days to make 150 kilometers.” Back on dry land on foot again they were picked up by an army patrol again, who this time escorted them over a mountain range into Colombia, warning them about rebel FARC forces.

“We had no problem,” said Olivier. “We don’t know if we saw any FARC. We don’t think we did, but if we did, they were the people giving us crackers and coconuts while we walked.” They made it as far as Ecuador.

Four years later Olivier flew back to Ecuador, to the same spot where he had stopped four years earlier, and bussed and backpacked to Tierra de Fuego. “When you take off like that,” he said, “every single day is brand new. I used to run away when I was a kid, for fun, knowing I’d be coming back, just to get lost.”

It’s an unfailing good idea to see more than you can remember.

Setting foot outside your house, even going to the grocery, is always at the crossroads of promise and peril. Anything can happen. You might find something yummy. You might stub your toe on the stairs. Going halfway around the world, suspecting what might and often does happen, some people go right back home.

Other people don’t worry about the potholes in the road. They cut the string on the tin can telephone, kicking the can down the street.

“For me, it’s a mosh pit. I’m going to jump,” said Olivier.

“I’ve been close to being robbed, been in accidents, been in an earthquake. I was taking pictures in Morocco when an old man made a fuss, got all his friends involved, and it turned into a big ordeal. The cops came, threw me into a no window unmarked van and took me to a no window concrete building.”

The police went through his camera. “They asked me my story ten times and finally just laughed it off. They let me go. I didn’t know where I was, so when I asked, they dropped me off at the beach. I’m good with orientation whenever I’m in a city on the water.”

When he started taking pictures he wasn’t a good photographer. “I’m still not the best photographer,” he said. What he is, camera-in-hand, is a good street photographer. Street photographers shoot unmediated encounters in public places. Olivier Sauve’s pictures are clean clear straightforward. He specializes in on-the-spot portraits.

“I get right up in there, so I can get the right shot, no holds barred, from prostitutes on a shitty side of town to someone’s face after they’ve just burnt the body of their husband and now want to jump in the fire with him.”

After photographing a festival in Kathmandu, Nepal, back on Prince Edward Island he had large-scale reproductions printed on canvas and installed a show at Victoria’s Lobster Barn. “It’s a big open room and they had all the wall space. It became a gallery. We sold some pictures.”

Many of his photographs have been assembled in a self-published book. “So many people I’ve known for years, they stop at the Landmark to eat, and ask me about my winter, where I went.” But, in the meantime, he has six or seven tables he is waiting, letting everyone know what the specials are, making sure the soup stays hot, mixing Mohito cocktails and tossing Caesar salads.

On top of that something might need to be suddenly washed, JR is doing something else, and the show at the Victoria Theatre across the street starts in an hour. “The book helps. Here’s where I did this, take a look through it.”

Flipping through his pictures of the Kumbh Mela, India’s festival of faith, where he mixed for a week with tens of millions of pilgrims, for whom a colossal temporary city of tents roads hospitals toilets police stations is constructed, diners soon find their drinks and seafood specials delivered and their questions answered.

One of Olivier’s favorite countries in the world is Spain. One of his favorite areas in Spain is northwestern Spain. His favorite aspect of northwestern Spain is the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage routes that lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He has hiked the Caminos a half-dozen times over the course of a half-dozen years.

“It’s religious, although some people do it for exercise, to just prove they can do it, or because they’re at a crossroads. It’s a beautiful walk. I make sure to pack light, but I’m still packing smarter than my last time.”

Two years ago a teacher from PEI’s Holland College, where Olivier graduated in 2008, contacted him about the Camino de Santiago. “We’re going on a study tour to Spain. I’d like to pick your brain,” he said. In the end Olivier became the group’s guide translator chaperone. He booked the busses, the hotels, and planned the route. Four teachers and he led a group of thirty students for two weeks from Madrid to Barcelona to Pamplona, and finally on to the Camino.

“No one got into trouble and no one got sick,” he said.

Olivier Sauve has made himself into an expert on the trails, hostels, and eateries of Spain. “I know where to find a chunk of bread, fish, dessert, a bottle of wine, and where to get to sleep by 9 o’clock.” He speaks the language and his two cents are worth their weight in Euros.

He has since started making plans to lead other groups on the Camino, but groups on a smaller scale, four five six people. One of his game plans is corporate team-building, bird-dogging businesspeople on an adventure travel trek. Another is path-finding youth-at-risk. “Kids who are screwed up, getting expelled from school, whose parents are done,” he said. “I would take them for a month and bring them back different, better.”

No matter where he has gone global-wide he has come back to Victoria. “I travel all over the world, where no one knows me, but I live in a tight-knit community where everybody knows me. This is home, our own little bubble.”

Olivier Sauve isn’t somebody who sits at home, but home is where everybody feels most at home.

He bought a lot in town last year and plans on building his own house in the next couple of years. “I’m a Victoria villager, finally, after thirty years.” After being by-passed by the Tran-Canada Highway in the 1980s, and slowly but surely downsizing, the community is again growing. “All my friends live here, they’re all having kids, young families.” Although his plans also include starting a family, he admits he has an inherent underlying literal problem.

“I don’t have a girlfriend, not yet, not right now,” he said. “I’m looking, sending out surveys, and it’s going to happen.

“You never know what’s going to walk into your life.”

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate. 

cropped-349660c0479d61fd4376b3e0dc1f14871.jpg

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Advertisements

Making the Landmark

 

345156-eugene-sauve-proprietaire-landmark-cafe

There are thousands of moving parts to restaurants, from good food in the larder to wage and safety regulations to the spaces in the parking lot. Keeping a restaurant running is an exercise in controlling chaos. That’s why Calvin Trillin, the New York City food writer, has said he never eats in a restaurant over a hundred feet off the ground or one that won’t stand still.

Restaurants can be a Ruth’s Chris with a formal atmosphere or a gastropub in Toronto or a clam chowder shack in southern California. All restaurants, from fast food to fine dining, need stoves and ovens and grills to prepare food. And no matter what kind of a restaurant it is, unless it’s a market stall, a street takeaway, or a food truck, it needs chairs, tables, and booths.

“There was a neighbor of mine up the road in Crapaud, a farmer, who had built tables for a little church fair,” said Eugene Sauve, the owner and chef of the Landmark Café in Victoria, a seacoast town in the Atlantic Canada province of Prince Edward Island. “I asked him if he would consider building tables and a whole bunch of chairs for me. A week later he said, I’ll do it for two thousand.”

A dozen some tables and forty chairs were made. It was 1988. “I didn’t have a formal plan, but it was all visually in my mind,” said Eugene. “I knew I wanted a big round one. The tables and chairs in the front and back dining rooms are still the originals. The big round one is still in the front.”

The Landmark Café, in the centuries old building that had been Craig’s Grocery Store, opened when long-time Victoria resident Hope Laird drove her three-wheeled bicycle through the grand opening ceremonial ribbon. “When we were kids we used to call Craig’s Store the Landmark,” she said. “Say meet you at the Landmark and all the kids would meet you there.”

“So, that’s what we called it,” said Eugene Sauve.

Restaurateurs open eateries because they are conversant with the business, are self-motivated, and are usually people with people skills. They are foodies who want to match a menu with what they love. Sometimes they are people who just like getting their hands wet and dirty, like to be on their feet all day, and like to work long, long hours.

Opening your own sit-down means pulling up your pants, pilgrim. It takes gumption and hard work the long hours you are on your feet. It takes nerve, too. 50% of all restaurants go south within three years. After a decade more than 70% have closed their doors. Why do friends let friends open restaurants?

“I remember having nightmares opening this place,” said Eugene. “All my friends were saying, you’re crazy, you’re wasting your money.”

What Eugene Sauve’s friends didn’t know was that he had worked in restaurants since he was 16-years-old and had an outsize appetite, to boot. A business centering on an all-you-can-eat buffet made all the sense in the world. “Growing up I played a lot of hockey and I was always hungry,” he said.

“But, my father was very formal. He was a banker. He would come home from work, go upstairs, get out of his suit, come down, sit down, and only then was supper served. So, I volunteered to help in the kitchen. I had three sisters, but they weren’t interested. My mom was an amazing cook. One night dinner would be Japanese, another Italian, another French. Every time my mom turned her back in the kitchen I was eating.”

In the early 1970s Euene Sauve’s father, Eugene, Sr., was transferred from Quebec to British Columbia. He was the first French-Canadian to become vice-president of a major bank in western Canada. Eugene’s sisters, as they grew up, went into banking, following their father.

“I was the only one who got away,” said Eugene.

His father had been football player in high school and later joined the Navy. “After his military service he became a loan officer in a bank. Sometimes loans would only be ten or twenty dollars and he would literally hound guys for fifty cents. It was right after the war and every penny counted. Since he had also once been a boxer, he was an ideal collector.”

After leaving home in the mid 70s Eugene Sauve was on the road and staying in a small coastal town in Portugal. It was where he found out for himself what was good food, the kind of food he describes to this day as something that “snaps and cracks.” It was the kind of food 27 years after opening the Landmark Café he continues to procure and make and serve.

“The fishermen would come in, take a little nap, get dressed up, and walk around the plaza, drinking coffee and booze. Their women would go to work, sardines on the barbeque, dipped in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, with a big crusty roll. Those are my images of good food, simple.”

There’s a difference between good table manners and good food. No one needs a silver spoon to eat the best food.

By the 1980s, although his wanderlust had not, and has not to this day abated, he found himself living, working, and newly married in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “Julia was from New York, performing in a modern dance company.” He was soon working in the performing arts and the father of the first of two children.

But, his children didn’t grow up in PEI’s capital city. Charlottetown is the province’s largest city. They grew up in Victoria. It is one of the province’s smallest communities.

“Erskine Smith, the director of the theater in Victoria, phoned me in April one day out of the blue,” said Eugene Sauve. “He said, I’d like to have you at the Victoria Playhouse, would you come out to talk?”

The seaside town that is Victoria, once known simply as Lot 29, was founded in 1819. Besides landing fish, its livelihood was shipping potatoes and eggs to Europe and the Indies. There are fewer than 200 year-round residents. Summer is what animates the former seaport of family-run fine and folk-art galleries, artisan chocolate and coffee shops, and the Victoria Playhouse. The Landmark Café is kitty-corner to the theater.

The town in April is quiet wet cold. “I had a half-hour, I walked around, and I instantly felt something here, something about this place. I got the job, and a month in someone at the theater says to me, there’s a house on the corner. I think the guy wants to sell it.” By the end of the summer Eugene Sauve and his nascent family were living in Victoria.

Two years later he approached Annie Craig about renting her grocery store to him for a seasonal café to serve the theater’s playgoers.

“She had the post office, a bit of pension, although she wasn’t making a living at the store. But, she said no,” said Eugene.

Two months later he approached her again. “This time I asked her if I could buy it. She said no, again.”

Annie Craig spent winters knitting sitting in a rocking chair in the back corner of the store. “Under our carpet you can see where she wore the floor out, rubbing her feet as she rocked,” said Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. “She wore through the tile and into the wood.”

The Craig’s Grocery Store building was almost two hundred years old. It had been gambled away in a card game and had once been sold with the bill of sale hand written out on the back of a pack of cigarettes. Before it was a grocery it had a history of cobbling, butchering, and bootlegging.

Annie Craig called back the next spring. “You know what, I will sell to you,” she said.

“How much?” asked Eugene Sauve.

“Twenty thousand. I’m going to be firm on that,” she said.

“You got a deal,” he said.

“20 grand,” he thought after hanging up the phone. “Where am I going to get 20 grand?”

Entrepreneurs need capital to get going, but banks don’t like lending to start-up ventures. “They have no historical income,” said Tom Swenson, chief executive of a western American bank. “If you are proposing a start-up business, you are de facto proposing something that doesn’t meet typical bank underwriting standards.”

If it’s a food-related business, they like it even less, because restaurants have high rates of default, no matter how much people like eating the food or how well known the chef might be. Pessimism is the default setting of most banks. Many start-ups look to their families for cash.

Eugene Sauve looked to his father, who was family, and a banker, too.

“My father lent me the 20 grand since I was determined to open it for exactly that,” he said. “But, I had to bring him in as a partner. It cost me 50 for 20 the six years he was my partner, which was pretty darn good for him, which is why he was a banker.”

He stuck to his budget by buying end-of-the-roll carpeting for $75.00, cadging at no cost paint that had been returned because it was the wrong color, and doing a lot of the heavy lifting himself. “A buddy of mine was an electrician. I worked with him. That‘s how it all fell together.”

His first stove was an old 4-burner Enterprise. The galvanized range hood came from a bakery going bankrupt. He was the chef, sous chef, and dishwasher. The kitchen had no air conditioning. “It used to be so hot in here it was unbelievable.”

The Landmark Café in Victoria opened in the summer of 1989. In the movies they say things like, “If you build it they will come.” In real life not everything is scripted. “The first day was really scary,” said Eugene. “I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to walk in.”

But, if you build something good somebody is going to pay good money for it.

“The best Caesar salad I have ever experienced. The flavors were amazing. And the seafood pasta was melt in your mouth delicious.”

“I had been searching for a great seafood chowder. After four other places this was the best I’ve had on the island so far, just delicious.”

“I usually go with the flavorful Acadian meat pie, but yesterday I tried the special, a fish burger. It was delicious.”

When you’re serving people delicious food they don’t complain.

Not much beats delicious. Sunshine and fresh air are delicious. Kissing is delicious, tastier than sex. You don’t have to think about rotisserie chicken to know that it’s delicious. Authentic fresh yummy ingredients like island beef, island fish, and island produce are what make the Landmark Café a landmark when Eugene Sauve brings them to the table.

A decade-and-a-half later in the mid-aughts the family, son Oliver and daughter Rachel having joined the labor force, expanded the Landmark Café. “We lifted the whole building, since we had a problem with storage and there was no basement, which we needed,“ said Eugene.

“We added 40 seats and that changed everything, since we were turning people away. The air conditioning in the kitchen got done, too. I’m the chef here, anyway, and I need to stay cool. That way we serve more food and everybody’s happy.”

For all the changes and renovations, the original chairs and tables built by Crapaud farmer George Nicholson nearly thirty years ago are still what many diners sit on and eat at in the Landmark Café. In the course of time, however, things happen, chairs and tables sometimes taking the brunt of it.

Opening the restaurant one morning after a stormy night Eugene Sauve found a note addressed to him.

Dear Eugene,

Please accept my sincere apology for the disorderly behavior I displayed last evening. Enclosed is a cheque that I hope is sufficient for the purchase of a new table. It’s been awhile since I’ve let myself loose like that and I’m only sorry it was at your expense.

Signed, Pam

The next day Eugene Sauve wrote back.

Pam, the table is going to be fixed with a little glue. There’s no problem. You are always welcome here.

Love, Eugene

Who doesn’t want to stop and eat and drink and kick back somewhere where the chair is sturdy and the table is always set for you?

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate. 

cropped-349660c0479d61fd4376b3e0dc1f14871.jpg

Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.