It was time for lunch after my extensive interview at the Balmy Beach Club, and all I had to do was walk up the street and head into the first restaurant that presented itself to quench my hunger. The Garden Gate Restaurant, affectionately nick-named "The Goof", is a true institution in the Beach, and the restaurant's sign is certainly one of the most frequently photographed landmarks in this area.
I sat down in this busy place and looked over the menu which contains a wide selection of Chinese and Canadian specialties, all on offer at a very reasonable price. The restaurant was bustling with activity, and people were just streaming in for lunch. Since I had another appointment in the afternoon I was looking for speedy service, and sure enough, the waitress approached me promptly. I ordered the special of the day: "General Tso Chicken" features hot chunks of boneless chicken, sautéed with the chef's special sauce. I started my meal with a steam won-ton soup, a great way to warm up on a freezing winter day. The General Tso Chicken was very tasty, with a crispy texture and spicy sauce, and the portion was so generous I actually had to take half of my meal home.
All the waiters were very busy, but I just had to find out a bit more about this culinary institution in the Beach, so my waitress connected me with the owner: Raymond Lee. I could tell right away Raymond is a rather shy individual and not one who enjoys the limelight. In addition he was tied up with some work at the back of the restaurant, but he graciously took a few minutes and sat down with me to answer my questions.
Raymond has co-owned the Garden Gate Restaurant for about 15 years now with a partner. Before he became co-owner he used to work here, so he has a personal long-standing history with this restaurant. Way back in high school he worked part-time in the restaurant business already. After graduation he went to Brock University and completed a degree in business and economics and started to work in accounting with companies such as Famous Players and Petro Canada. Raymond describes his situation with the words that "he was a small clerk in a big corporation", but he always wanted to be his own boss.
In 2006 Garden Gate underwent a major restoration: everything was changed, a new kitchen was installed – the main reason for the renovation. The bar and all the furniture are new. The only original components left are the floor and the ceiling tiles. Of course, the treasured street sign has stayed intact, although the façade of the building has changed and was replaced by big full-length glass windows.
Raymond describes his restaurant as a "Canadian – Chinese restaurant" because he features both Canadian and Chinese fare. The restaurant opens early in the morning, and the Canadian breakfast is extremely popular. Sandwiches, pork chops and steaks are also offered along with a long list of Chinese specialties. The restaurant is fairly large: it can hold 70 people inside and 30 people on the patio.
"The Goof" has about ten staff members today, and one of them is Hazel, who with 54 years of service, has been here forever forever, and has become a treasured neighborhood institution in her own right. Hazel usually comes in Wednesday to Saturday from five to ten pm, so I did not have a chance to meet her, but Raymond added that she works here because she wants to be here. She has fun interacting with the clientele, and the patrons love her.
Prices at the Garden Gate Restaurant are extremely reasonable, and portions are plentiful. The restaurant also offers takeout and delivery and is open 7 days a week from 8 am to midnight. Raymond succinctly summed up the philosophy of "The Goof" for me: "Friendly service, good prices, good food".