by Brent Eades
Cheryl King glanced around the restaurant she’s owned on Ottawa Street for the past thirteen years, the Daily Scoop Café. She gestured at an older couple walking in the door.
“There’s two of my favourite customers right there. They’re the cutest couple. They’ve been with me for years and years. Every day at 11:00 o’clock for lunch and on Sundays at 8 for brunch.”
She looked at the couple for another moment. “And when the pandemic hit, they said we’ll support you every day, and they did. Wonderful people. We have regulars from all over. People drive from Arnprior, even Orleans. We had a couple that used to come in from Barrhaven with their kids all the time — Father’s Day here was a big thing for them.”
Longtime patrons of the Daily Scoop will understand such loyalty to what has become a local institution. The long, narrow restaurant by the traffic circle is usually packed with regulars from opening to closing. You can count on seeing the same groups at the same tables, month after month and year after year. It’s that kind of place.
But the Daily Scoop will be shutting down for good this month after Cheryl received the shocking and unexpected news that her landlord has decided to terminate her lease. He advised her, in a letter he dropped off at the restaurant, that new tenants had committed to a long-term lease on the property. She had two months to move out. This was on November 24, a month before Christmas.
Worse, Cheryl had spent a considerable amount on upgrades to the restaurant in the past year, after making it through the economic ravages of Covid lockdowns. “Believe me, we paid our rent during the pandemic. He forgave me one month because he could get that through government programs. But I still paid my taxes that month.”
Cheryl says she understands that business is business and that a landlord would be tempted by a tenant committing to a long-term lease instead of the month-to-month arrangement she had. Still, she says, after thirteen years of unblemished tenancy she thinks she deserved better: “Thirteen months’ notice would have been great, even six months would have been OK.”
But two months isn’t enough. Refitting another property in town so soon would be just too costly, especially after the stresses of Covid. She said that even a basic kitchen exhaust fan can cost $25,000, one of many expenses. Profit margins in the restaurant business aren’t high – Cheryl said that it was the ice cream side of the business that helped her make it through most years – and high inflation rates are cutting those margins even more. “My last case of 24 lettuce heads cost me $170,” she said.
The hardest part for Cheryl of closing the Daily Scoop is not how it will affect her directly — she had been considering retirement in any case — but that she can no longer pass it on as a legacy to her daughter Nicole, who runs the kitchen and manages the restaurant.
“I wasn’t all that keen on cooking at first,” Nicole said. “But over the years it’s become a passion. I just wanted to make food that was fresh and good, food that our customers would really enjoy. And the restaurant was what my mom planned to pass on to me.”
Cheryl also feels bad about the staff who will lose their jobs.
“Over the years I have had the pick of the litter, I’ve had the greatest staff that anybody can ask for. They’ve all been hard-working and they’ve all done their job. They were friendly, they welcomed people in here. They were just great,” Cheryl said. She nodded at longtime employee Abi with a smile: “And she’s my adopted daughter, as I like to say.”
As for her own future, Cheryl is still thinking about that. “I’m going to miss all my family here — maybe I’ll join the Civitan. Over the years I’ve thought of it but I just haven’t had the time. Now maybe I will, because then I’ll be able to see a lot of my customers, because a lot of them are Civitan members.”
Whatever direction Cheryl’s life takes, there are many of us in town who will be very sorry to see the end of the institution that she and her daughter Nicole built. They will be much missed.