A couple of weeks ago I got an email inviting me to check out Jerry Food Emporium’s new Artisan Burger Line. A free lunch is a free lunch plus the bonus was that I was curious to meet both Jerry and his wife Elyse. The restaurant is a local institution but has evolved tremendously over the years. I first discovered it while going to college. The food was great, the pop was non-stop, and it was a great place to go after a ball game (games we usually lost). In the early years it lacked atmosphere while later it became famous for being redesigned by Meredith Heron of Restaurant Makeover fame. While the look has changed and the menu has evolved, the food has remained consistently good. I wanted to see what made the restaurant tick.
Some of the stuff I discovered may just be common knowledge but here it is anyway. Jerry got interested in the restaurant business through his dad who ran the first Dairy Queen Brazier in Saskatoon. Jerry learned early on that opinions are cheap and everyone has a meal or two that they can do well. What separates you from the rest is good business sense, experience and not to take on more than you can handle.
I asked Jerry and Elyse what some of their challenges have been. On the technical side it has been creating a product without compromise. They look to local sources as much as possible for supplies but have to balance that with with a desire to have light but flavorful ingredients. You see that in their ice cream and gelato where getting the proper foil between flavor and texture is something the have turned into an art form. I had a great time sampling all the choices they had available. I learnt that if you want a tangy or sharp taste like key lime or pineapple, then gelato works wonderfully. However, rich and creamy flavors (especially chocolate) work well in ice cream.
We discussed some of the failures that they have had over the years. One was a Viagra flavor ice cream. It was bluish green in color and their secret ingredient was Red Bull and lots of blue food coloring. Also there was a Guinness gelato which was attempted to please a particular audience. Lesson learned were not all flavors are good flavors and sometimes simple beats exotic hands down. With that in mind some of their most popular dishes include classic fair like the bacon cheddar burger and cookie dough and bubblegum ice cream. They have also found some unique tastes like the Paris burger which contains brie cheese among other things and Sicilian blood orange gelato and Saskatoon raspberry gelato. A personal favorite was also giandino chocolate ice cream which was absolutely wonderful.
I asked Jerry what advice he would give to budding restaurateurs. He said that I should call it expensive lessons he has learnt.
- They had tried doing a second restaurant in Calgary but the distance and the cost made it not feasible because you physically need to be there to see what works and what does not.
- He said to remember the times when supper hour yielded an empty restaurant, one needs to help keep humble.
- Stick with the stuff you are passionate about and do so unapologetically.
- Lastly, anyone can compete on price and the race to the bottom has final results. People will pay for quality but you must temper that with avoiding the arrogance that says you are amazing when you serve Chef Boyardee for your menu.
Now about the food. The food was excellent. I had chicken breast on a Ciabatta bun topped with mango salsa and pepper jack cheese with mushroom soup on the side. Everything was fresh and made on site which added extra wow to the whole presentation. Buns, ice cream, gelato and sorbet are made on site and done fresh each day.
When they opened on February 1, 1997 their focus was on quality and not decor thinking of course people come for good food more than pretty surroundings. I never asked but I imagine that idea was influenced in part by the Dairy Queen Braziers. While they got the food right, the decor has since caught up. For those of you who have never been, the restaurant is very open and since the makeover has an understated elegance that is comfortable and inviting.
One last thing, as a parent i hate it that many restaurants give a different standard for their kids menu while putting a bigger effort into the adult section. Jerry uses the same ingredients for the kids menu as for the adult. As a mom and having Mark and Oliver push aside their meals and tried to con Jordon and I into letting them have something off their plate, I appreciate their efforts. While Mark has been a long time fan, I am looking forward to taking Oliver there to let him experience how much fun a meal at Jerry’s is.