A Fort McMurray Mother & Son Success Story
East Village Pub & Eatery
There is a place, in your neighbourhood, where everybody may not know your name, but the servers and bartenders probably do. East Village Pub and Eatery, in business since March of last year, prides itself on the way they treat their customers and on providing a great place to eat and socialize.
I spent a lovely hour visiting with Cheryl Desmeules and Mike Lambert, a mother-son duo with 52 years of hospitality experience between them, just as they were opening for the day. It was my first time in the place – I live downtown and rarely get up the hill – and I was intrigued by their story of having worked in multiple establishments over the years and opening up their own business.
“We started from ground zero,” reflected Mike. “We drew out our plans on graph paper, engaged a draftsman, and acted as our own general contractor. We were in here every day as things came together.”
With so many years of being on the operational side of restaurants and pubs, and having worked together for a good portion of those years, Cheryl and Mike make a great team. They knew firsthand what works and doesn’t work in the physical layout of the space and in the processes behind the scenes. I noticed right away that the booths were elevated, by almost a full foot.
“That makes things easier for people to socialize,” said Mike. “If you’re standing at the table, you can have a conversation with the people sitting down and look them straight in the eyes. We also have tall stools that you can bring over to booth when friends decided to join in the fun.”
With lots of space between tables, a comfortable atmosphere exists that encourages socializing.
“How everything flows is very important,” said Cheryl. “We wanted our patrons to be able to move around easily and not feel cramped.”
I was impressed by the long history that Cheryl has in Fort McMurray, having come here back in 1979. She mentioned names and places that are the stuff of local legend: Lucifer’s, Truckers, and Kaffe on King.
“I have to thank you then,” I said. “I met my wife at Kaffe on King.”
“Oh, did you come for the Thursday night jams?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I said, “but we actually went to the Kaffe on a blind date.”
Cheryl lights up when talking about family feel of the East Village Pub & Eatery, named in honour and reverence of the vibe of its namesake, a neighbourhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It’s also located in the “Broadway” building as part of the commercial development in Eagle Ridge.
“We have great people, most of whom have been with us since we opened,” she said, “and others who have been with me for much longer than that. Our staff is a big part of that comfortable feeling we are trying to create. They build a great rapport with our customers, which makes all the difference in the world.”
Cheryl and Mike are also owner/operators, which means they are interacting with the customers every single day.
Open daily from 11am to 2 am, East Village Pub & Eatery serves breakfast until 2 pm and features a great pub menu that was developed in their home, as the location was being constructed.
“Chef Chad (Wilson) would come to our house and try out menu items, long before we opened,” said Mike. “We are proud of what we have to offer, and how much the food adds to neighbourhood feel.”
We were joined by Chef Shane Cox halfway through our visit. Shane went to culinary arts school with Chad on Prince Edward Island before heading down to the U.S.A. for 11 years. An opportunity at East Village Pub & Eatery brought the two food artists together again.
“We serve an upscale neighbourhood pub style menu with an emphasis on fresh,” said Cox.
From chicken tenders made from real chicken breasts and breaded in-house to feature items like Brochettes, Maple Curry Chicken and Guinness Stew, every item was designed with the brand in mind.
“Everything on the menu speaks of comfort and a sense of family,” said Cox.
On weekend evenings this place is hopping (and often full), with live entertainment from the likes of Jimmy Wiffin, Friends of Jack and Tyler Whelan. Amy Hef was lined up to play the week that we had our visit.
The stage set off in one corner, East Village Pub and Eatery can accommodate quite a crowd, 254 friends and neighbours at full occupancy, with an additional 95 when the patio is open. Both Mike and Cheryl smile when I ask them how the first year has gone.
“It’s been great,” said Mike.
“So much credit goes to our staff,” said Cheryl. “This place is like a family; they are family. It’s how we operate.”
It’s a big family that makes the East Village Pub and Eatery operate, much bigger than I ever imagined.
“We had a staff of 80 when we started,” said Mike. “It’s not quite that many now, but these are great people, and a big part of our success.”
Even though they are still in their first year of operation, they have made sure to get involved with the community in a number of different ways.
“The second fireman’s campout fundraiser is coming up,” said Cheryl. “They actually do it on the roof at Tim Horton’s but we are proud to provide support to that amazing effort. We’ve also worked with Keith McGrath to do a great event for Santa’s Anonymous and helped out with Paws in the Snow.”
The reason to give back to the community is pretty clear in Cheryl’s mind.
“I have been in Fort McMurray for 36 years,” she said. “This community has given us so much. We are committed to giving back. We want to give back.”
Cheryl and Mike are a Fort McMurray success story. They learned about the nooks and crannies of the hospitality industry through many years of hard work, dedicated service, and a commitment to excellence. They also had a lot of mentors along the way.
“If there is one thing my mom is known for, it is that she sets a high standard,” said Mike. “We have a respect for the industry and our responsibility to our customers. We take it seriously and love doing it.”
I was intrigued to find out how they integrate “family” into the life of running a busy restaurant and bar like East Village Pub and Eatery. It’s not the type of business you can put on hold for a few days when personal stuff pops up; its demands are constant. How do they do it?
“We’ve been in this business a long time,” said Mike. “We understand how things work and what takes priority. This is what we know.”
“This business is like our family,” said Cheryl. “And as our family, it is our priority.”
As we sat there talking, drinking coffee and laughing, it was clear to me that this is a place where if they don’t know your name immediately, they soon will. Cheryl’s reputation and customer service excellence has brought many existing customers over to bask in the sense of comfort and fun that is evident at East Village Pub and Eatery. But, as they look to the future, their focus is not only on maintaining their existing relationships, but also building new ones.
Photos JKPeters Photography