I started having ideas of starting Dock Lunch around late Spring 2012
I started talking about it. I know and hear of a lot of people that talk about the great ideas they have but never amount to anything. There’s this party they’re going to throw or this record they’re going to make or this great screenplay they’re going to write, and it never comes to fruition. I’m one of those people that once I give voice to something, I have to follow through because my word is good. That’s how we roll in my family; you are nothing without your word. So once I had the idea, I started articulating it and then I knew it was a done deal. It took longer than I thought though. I had some pretty low points where I was feeling really down on myself because I was like wow, you said this thing, and you started this thing and you’re not finishing this thing. So it took two years.
I do have some mentors yes, Michael Soramonkez is my unofficial landlord in this space. He doesn’t own this building but he works as a free agent for the people who own this building. He’s been a real great help in terms of how to adapt to the development that’s happening around me. I’ve also joined the MPBIA which is the Mount Pleasant Business Association. Neil Wiles is the executive director there and used to own the Hamilton Street Grill – he’ been a great mentor. He is a wonderful restauranteur. David Dupre’s sits on the board and owns Rumpus Room, Uncle As, the Rickshaw and the Emerald. He’s been mentoring me even before I was open – he always said don’t ask too many questions, dealing in the city is like doing a dance, you just have to learn to dance. Probably my biggest mentor is Simon Cotton who owns The Reef, he’s one of my closest friends and worked for him for fifteen years. He also said don’t ask too many questions. Michelle Sprool who owns Scout has been great support as well. When I opened the restaurant, I noticed people were coming in with gifts for me; plates from their mother’s estate, old silver and it was amazing to me – I would go to work at The Reef and mention that another person came in with another gift for me and he said well, you just joined a really special Club in the city. Owning a cafe or restaurant is a club and you’re part of a community now and you’re going to see people really want you to succeed.
I don’t really doubt myself ever. It’s a problem. I never have apparently – my mother claims I never have. It can make me somewhat inflexible, so I may be working on that a little bit. At the beginning when I had those long walks home on a cold October where I wondered ‘am I going to do this?’, I did a lot of self reprimanding like finger-wagging with myself; sitting myself down and admonishing myself and being like ‘just pull up your socks. Get her done.’ I didn’t want to be one of those flakes that talked about something they never did.
It kind of happened piece by piece. Not really a process. The Dock Lunch identity is a mismatch of a few things; me, my family, the people who owned this building before its current owners; Max and Jade Cocoa and their bizarre family and their basement full of paraphernalia, which was two hundred years worth of junk and treasures. They’re the reason I’m still in this space and they contributed a lot to how it looks. The font was designed by my ex who had helped build the window and then it was hand-painted by the last living hand sign maker in Vancouver who does things by hand. A man named Alfred – he was very old. The colors are Pennsylvania colors which is where my mom is from. Pennsylvania has these sort of colonial white houses with dark green trim with flourishes or red brick. So I really tried to do the room in white with green trim with accents of brick-red just for my mom. The name Dock Lunch came from a diner in the United States. My Pappy used to take me there. When I was a little girl, he would take me and my siblings to a little floating diner just outside of Fort Lewis in Washington, where he and his veteran buddies would hang out, smoke their pipes, tap their canes and eat BLT’s and French fries. The name came after him.
I would say it’s fifty-fifty. Instagram is the only marketing tool we use but I don’t know how much it actually translates into business. A lot of our business is word of mouth, but I also see the value in Instagram, so It’s quite important to us. It’s where we post our daily menus and share events. I’ve also have come to realize that ‘likes’ do not mean bums on seats. They’re just likes. Supporting us is coming here and spending your money and physically being here.
Totally spontaneous. Most the time we don’t know our menu until nine o’clock when we see each other for the first time that day. I’m like, what do we have? What do we got? What’s in season? Who’s open? Is soul food Farms coming? Can we call Windsor? Then I’ll take my cart, everyone in this neighbourhood sees me. I have a little wheeled cart and I’ll whip around the neighbourhood for an hour. Sometimes I can do it in twenty minutes; You haven’t lived on Main Street if you haven’t seen me with smoke coming from my nose and ears, pushing people out of my way to get the days ingredients.
The intimacy, the spontaneity, the unstructuredness and the fact that it doesn’t fit into any mold. It clearly wasn’t branded or designed by an external company. I really think it actually exists in defiance of almost any other model. The fact that we’re still going is a miracle – I think people feel something though, when they walk in the door, that there’s no game plan, there’s no ulterior motive. It’s not an intensely commercial enterprise or too trendy. They just really respond to the uniqueness and honesty of it. There’s a real genuine warmth in here. The cooking is very comforting and so are the people who work here. Me, Scott, Britt, Rihanna; there are no fakes here. There are no robot servers. It’s just good people being themselves – which doesn’t always translate to the best service you could possibly have, or the best food you can possibly have, but we’re all doing the best we can and just being ourselves. I think that attracts a certain kind of clientele.
When I feel overwhelmed, I start seeing the devil AKA dirt in every corner. I start seeing things that are out of place and I attack them probably with too much zeal. It’s not fun for the people who are here at the time and it’s also not fun for me mentally. When I’m not here, I unwind by going out. I don’t eat out that much, but I go outside and do things; I become more active politically. I don’t know if that helps me unwind but it is something that is completely different than this. It’s something that really allows me to completely detach.
My advice would be to absolutely unflinchingly be yourself. It sounds really trite but I hear a lot of people these days who are so concerned about their brand and being everything to all people and I think you should just be your one thing to a few loyal people. I mean, it depends what your aim is. If your aim is to open something like Dock Lunch, be your thing to a few loyal people who get who you are and what you’re doing and appreciate it and value it. That would be my advice; completely be yourself. Don’t follow trends and use your true voice. Be caustic, be witty, be up, be down but talk in your real voice no matter who you’re talking to you whether it’s your staff or your health inspector or the customers or to the people who are following you on social media. If you aren’t using your true voice, you become indistinguishable from everyone else who’s out there.