Thunder Bay Restaurant – Be prepared to serve yourself…and get a hug!

Thunder Bay Restaurant
I ventured inside the Thunder Bay Restaurant and it reminded me of a place on that popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

THUNDER BAY – FOOD NOW – Well folks today’s review was a trip that I will never forget. A few loyal dining group members told me I had to go check out the Thunder Bay Restaurant, and that I would not be disappointed, well they were correct, I totally enjoyed doing this review.

Thunder Bay Restaurant is located a few steps down from the corner of Bay and Algoma Street, two shops over from Janzen’s Pharmacy. This review will be a bit different then the ones I’ve written before, you will see as you read along.

I ventured inside the Thunder Bay Restaurant and it reminded me of a place on that popular Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives … old memorabilia on the walls, the old fashioned booths, and the original antique till, but not just the looks, the atmosphere was something I have never seen before.

I sat down at the first table and watched as two customers got up and got their own coffee and condiments from behind the counter, I thought how odd is that… then I heard a voice from the kitchen yell out, “hey dear did you want to look at a menu?” I was kind of surprised by the cook yelling at me from the kitchen at the other end of the restaurant; I looked and said “yes please”. She replied well they are right there on the counter beside you. I thought hmmm the waitress must be on a smoke break, so I grabbed the menu and looked it over and decided to have the everything omelet.

Thunder Bay Restaurant Denise
Customers say, “Denyse is fantastic and its truly her spirit and her homemade food that brings them back, they don’t mind waiting if its busy, they show their love and support by continuing to come back year after year”

The cook then came out of the kitchen and was delivering a meal to a customer and then said to the other customer, “your meal is next, I just need to dump the water from the potatoes”. I thought ok, this was definitely a bit odd. As I sat I talked to the two other customers of the restaurant and they said they are regular customers, I thought ok, that’s why the cook was talking this way… they replied “oh no, Denyse (who is the cook) talks like that to everyone”.

I did not know what to make of this review at that point, but I was a bit worried.

Denyse returned with the other gentleman’s order and then proceeded to my table. She begins to ask me what I wanted to order, and I tell her the everything omlette but no mushrooms please. She responds “well then you don’t want the everything omelet now do you” I was a bit taken back at first, I replied “I don’t like mushrooms, so could you just leave those out” she laughs and says “I’m just teasing you hun don’t be so serious”.

The 'not everything omelette
“Well then you don’t want the everything omlette now do you” I was a bit taken back at first, I replied “I don’t like mushrooms, so could you just leave those out” she laughs and says “I’m just teasing you hun don’t be so serious”.

She asks if I want coffee and I tell her no just water please, she responds back with “well I guess I can get you a water, if it was coffee I would have told you to help yourself”. I kept thinking ok, this was a big mistake coming here, this lady was very outspoken and she insulted me not wanting mushrooms and wanted me to serve myself; what did I get myself into!

Well, after a few short minutes the two gentlemen told me the cook “Denyse” is the owner, the cook, the waitress, and the cashier, there is no one else. I thought to myself, well that’s just crazy; no one can run a 10-12 table restaurant all by themselves. The two men laughed and said “you should come on a Saturday or Sunday when the place is packed”, I said packed, they said ‘oh yeah, Denyse is what makes us all come back”.

The Thunder Bay Restaurant has been in business for over twenty years with Denyse at the helm, on weekends she does have family and some friends help her out as the restaurant is usually full to capacity. Denyse told me “hey isn’t that what friends and family are for, too help you when you need it most.” Denyse is truly a sweet lady so don’t let her aggressive tone fool you, it’s all in the nature of her job as a one woman dynamo.

As I sat looking around I noticed a photo on the wall from the Readers Digest, it was a article called My Favorite Diner, the Thunder Bay Restaurant made it into the Readers Digest, the two customers told me that Denyse is fantastic and its truly her spirit and her homemade food that brings them back, they don’t mind waiting if its busy, they show their love and support by continuing to come back year after year.

As Denyse was cooking my breakfast, I went to the back and talked to her, I had seen enough to realize this would be ok; I stood at the doorway of the kitchen and interviewed Denyse. She told me she tries to use as much fresh local produce as possible and that she makes almost everything in the restaurant herself, except the perogies and the sausage, she says “I’m only one woman and I can’t do everything myself” and laughs.

Denyse told me she will be turning sixty five this year, so I asked her if she would be slowing down any, she replied “hell no, I hate shopping, I don’t watch TV and I would rather be useful and here in the restaurant with my friends”. When you leave the Thunder Bay Restaurant, Denyse insists on a hug, not just from the people she knows, but every customer, you may enter as a stranger but you leave as a friend.

On the floor stands an antique type of machine where you can place money in and it falls into a box below, it wasn’t until my breakfast came to the table that I found out what that antique box was. Denyse explains that if I didn’t eat all the food on my plate, I would be fined twenty-five cents for waste, I thought wow, never heard of that before, she smiled and said “don’t worry it all goes to charity”. Everyday Denyse fines people for the waste on their plates and at the end of the month she donates the money to a certain charity. Denyse told me that last month the money was going to go to a certain charity but due to the severe flooding in Thunder Bay, she donated that money to the flood victims instead, Denyse says it was what was important at the time, the other charity will be here next month, Denyse truly has a heart of gold and it shows in talking with her.

The restaurant sure is different from any place I’ve ever been to in my lifetime, but it sure was a pleasure meeting Denyse and listening to her stories. The customers love her and respect her for running a business alone most days, and give her the highest compliments.

Oh and if you think your going to leave a tip… don’t even waste your time, Denyse will chase you out of the restaurant as she says, my tip is the hug, you paid me to cook your food, I did that, you hugged me and thanked me and that is all I need. She hugs everyone as they leave and says see you next time. If you choose you can leave your tip in the charity box or as Denyse calls it, “the penalty box”.

Please note that the Thunder Bay Restaurant does not accept Debit or Visa, Denyse says in the beginning, she was asked if she wanted it, she replied “sure that would be great”, but when she found out the banks would be charging her to offer this service she declined; as she wanted to keep her prices low and didn’t feel it would be an issue by not having this service available, Denyse was right, her prices are good and you get what you pay for, in fact; I believe you get more then what you pay for, you not only get a homemade meal cooked for you from a lady who truly loves cooking, but you get that entertainment value for free. Denyse is truly one fantastic lady. At 64 years old, she is an inspiration and shows no signs of slowing down.

If you haven’t tried the Thunder Bay Restaurant, I suggest you go down and get your fix of Denyse and her amazing personality along with some good comfort food. Just don’t expect to be doted on hand and foot as Denyse is the only person working, greeting you, taking orders, cooking your meal, taking your cash when you pay and hugging you good bye, truly she is amazing.

Kim Berly

Thunder Bay Restaurant
276 Bay Street
Phone: 807-344-2922

Kim Berly
Kim Berly

Kim Berly was born and raised in Thunder Bay. She grew up in Shuniah Township and attended Hillcrest High School. She shared, “I am 43 years old, married 24 years and have 3 grown children, and 2 grandchildren. I’ve always enjoyed trying new restaurants and decided why not create a on-line group where people could discuss their experiences at local restaurants”.

Kim will be writing for NetNewsledger.com sharing the local dining treasures in our community.

Interested in joining the discussion? Join the Thunder Bay Dining Group on Facebook!