Four years, two months, 17 days. That’s the time it took from the day partners Eric Bowden and Holly Vaughan got possession of the building until the day Pete & Kay opened.
Eric and Holly are no strangers to obstacles in the restaurant business. As the owners of the former Jack & Lois Diner on James Street North, they’ve met their fair share of challenges opening a restaurant, including zoning, renovations, and unexpected costs. Through all the struggles were lessons, and ones the partners reminded themselves of as they began the venture of Pete & Kay. It’s clearly been a long time coming.
Those who’ve visited Jack & Lois could easily feel the cozy, nostalgia-invoking atmosphere. Named after Eric’s paternal grandparents, the restaurant was filled with furniture and decor from the real Jack and Lois. Art hung on the wall that was painted by his grandmother and her sewing machine was a key element of the “home away from home” design.
“I had the best times as a child at my grandparents’ place,” Eric shares. “I wanted to carry that feeling into the diner.” With Pete & Kay (Eric’s maternal grandparents), many aspects of the interior were brought over to furnish the new dining spot. Portraits of the relatives, vintage furniture, and whimsical but classic wallpaper patterns were brought in. The washrooms are even marked with paintings of the great-grandparents.
Another aspect of the design involved their new neighbourhood. Holly and Eric reached out to the Westdale community for old furniture and photos to use in the restaurant. “We want to create a gallery wall of relatives,” Holly explains. This is just one way they hope to become a part of the cherished area of Westdale.
Even further than the decor, guests will find the same home-cooked food they’d come to love from Jack & Lois. While some of the favourite menu items (by customer request) have moved over to Pete & Kay, the new menu also features higher-end entrées, including more pastas, beef tenderloin, and an expanded wine and cocktail list. “The restaurant has the same comfort level our customers enjoyed — just with a few upgrades,” Eric says.
The menu development is due in part to the new kitchen staff brought in, lead by Chef Carrie, supported by her two sons, Cam and Griffin, as well as Chef Brandon. This family has brought an extended palette that helped create a menu with good prices, big portions, and of course, delicious from-scratch cooking. Can’t decide what to try? Holly’s favourite dish is the Tenderloin Benny, and Eric loves The Mac Daddy burger.
Pete & Kay has another feature that makes it unique — the Jack & Lois Lounge upstairs. Used for guests dining day to day, it can also be rented as a private space for up to 55 people and can be used for a wide range of activities. From business meetings to baptisms, to movie or games nights (it comes equipped with a projector and screen), the options are endless. They’re also looking forward to movie nights outdoors in the summer, in the tradition of the Jack & Lois back patio.
“We hope to be a sort of community centre in Westdale,” says Eric. Currently planning trivia nights, theme nights, and vintage game nights, they’re open to anyone and everyone’s ideas in using the upstairs space. Another way they want to incorporate the people around them is by putting out a call for family recipes. They will then create a weekly feature based on the recipe and bring the family in to see if they did it justice. Eric and Holly believe in encouraging the exploration of other parts of the neighbourhood. With The Westdale cinema reopening, diners can enjoy free appetizers at Pete & Kay when they take in a movie Monday to Thursday.
Four years after Eric signed the lease on the building, Pete & Kay finally opened in December 2018. Since it’s their second time operating a restaurant, Eric and Holly reflect on lessons they’ve learned in the business. Number one? “Be present at your business.” Eric says being physically on site is extremely important. Managers and owners can’t assume they know how things are running — they have to be there. Another lesson that seems obvious but isn’t always followed is to have a trustworthy accountant. Not only that, you need to “sit with the bookkeeper and understand the process, including point-of-sale, timesheets, payroll deductions, and food costs.” Eric reminds business owners, “the CRA doesn’t take excuses; make sure your paperwork is in order.” Lastly, make sure you have a solid lease and good relationship with your landlord. “Having a proper five plus five lease is very important.”
One practice they began at Jack & Lois and continued at Pete & Kay, is listening to customer suggestions. At Pete & Kay, Holly created vintage-inspired comment cards to encourage guests to share opinions in constructive ways. Many things have been adjusted, fixed, or added because of these cards, so they’re a valuable way for the customer to have their thoughts heard.
Four years, two months, 17 days. Pete & Kay Diner is (finally) open in Westdale. Stop by for a meal — you won’t be disappointed!
Special note: Holly and Eric would like to send out a very special thank you to David and Danna Horwood and their three children for their help in making this dream of Pete & Kay come true.
Will you be visiting this new diner in Westdale? Let us know in the comments!