After a year-and-a-half of shut-downs, partial re-openings, and more shut-downs, it’s no surprise that this moment in history has been a struggle for many people. On a positive note, this slow-down has created a lot of free time and has allowed us to reflect on life and reconnect with old friends. After hearing that an old friend of mine had left the city to open a restaurant in cottage country, I immediately reached out.
Meet David Gonçalves—you may remember him from the Avó Beatriz article. To borrow from Noel Gallagher’s colourful lexicon, David is a dude. A dude is that guy who is always happy to see you and always in a good mood. If you ever heard anyone complain about a dude, you’d know it’s the other person with the problem. A dude can do no wrong. I am not a dude.
When I finally spoke with David, we did our best to catch up—exchanging bullet points of what had gone on our lives over the last 20 years. He married Ailsa (who has an adorable Scottish accent, BTW), they have two young boys, and they all share a love for the outdoors, boats and ATVs. This love for the cottage-life convinced the couple to liquidate their assets in the city, open a restaurant in Bobcaygeon and move their family to the Kawarthas… and did I mention that neither of them had any restaurant experience?
As crazy as that idea may seem, I understood where they were coming from. It’s all about the quality of life, and if it means working harder to attain those goals for the family, that’s what needs to be done. “I’ve never been afraid of working hard. I’ve had some difficult jobs in my life, but none as demanding as this one,” David says with a (tired) smile.
It was 2019 when Gonçalves’ purchased a restaurant at the bottom of Bolton Street in Bobcaygeon, overlooking Lock 32 of the Trent-Severn Waterway and across the street from Bigley’s. They christened it Grāz Restobar, opened their doors, and had a successful first year. They were now restaurateurs. In a perfect world, the steady stream of cottagers and loyal locals would’ve continued to pour in. I could stop writing this article here, and we could go directly to the end of the story, where David prepares Portuguese mussels that we eat before raising a glass of beer from the Old Flame Brewing Co. to toast our friendship. Instead, the globe got infected, which turned everyone’s life upside down.
“If Covid hadn’t been part of our lives for the past couple of years, we would’ve been on top of the world. Unfortunately, we’re just working to survive. We’re too stubborn and too stupid to quit.” And that’s not a bad thing. I would assume that statement is felt by many, if not all, small-business owners. They’ve invested in the future, and now because of circumstances that are out of their control, they are at risk of losing everything.
As I said before, David is a dude, and dudes find the most favourable solution to any situation, so when the government shut down all restaurants, David and Ailsa went into construction mode and remodelled the bar and one of the two dining rooms. “Electrical work aside, the two of us and one of our cooks did all the renovations. When we finally reopened, it was a big surprise to our regular customers.”
On my first visit to Grāz, four of us showed up for dinner on a Saturday afternoon this summer. We were seated at a table by one of the garage doors, and I ordered the Jalapeño Burger and a pint (this time, it was something from the Bobcaygeon Brewing Co.). When David visited the dining room to do his rounds, he came straight to our table, “I thought I heard a familiar voice! How’s dinner?” It was fantastic. This was possibly the best burger I had ever tasted.
“Our food isn’t ridiculously fancy, but it’s all made from scratch, and it’s delicious… at least that’s what our guests tell us [laughs]. We serve staples like burgers and sandwiches and ‘fancier’ meals like prime-rib and seafood rice. Right now, the only thing holding us back is staff, or shall I say lack of staff. We have great people working here, but unfortunately, we don’t have enough people to allow us to stay open for seven days. In 2019 we had a stack of applications taller than the Toronto phone book; we had two applications this year. It’s like people don’t want to work in 2021.” So, what does a dude do in a situation like this? A dude adapts. “We need to give our staff time off, which means we can only open four days per week— Ailsa and I work seven days, but that’s the choice we made.”
Despite the setbacks, I predict a sunny future in Kawarthas for the Gonçalves clan, as they continue to serve us scrumptious food with a “hint of Portuguese.” I look forward to the day when I can enjoy my meal on the rooftop patio overlooking the Bobcaygeon River, but we’ll have to wait a few years before that plan goes into action (fingers crossed).
My visits to Grāz have reinforced a few things. 1: Many times, success escapes us because we’re afraid to get our hands dirty and do some hard work. 2: A good friend is a person who answers the phone after not speaking with you for 20 years, and the conversation continues as if you had spoken yesterday. 3: David is still and will always be a dude. Cheers.
4 lbs mussels (cleaned and debearded)
8 tomatoes, peeled and deseeded
4 tbsp olive oil
1 diced onion
1 green pepper, deseeded & chopped
2 jalapeños chopped
3 tbsp all purpose flour
4 cups white wine
parsley, finely chopped
salt & black pepper to serve
Heat oil in a saucepan over a medium low heat.
Add chouriço and sweat gently until the red oil is released from the sausage.
Add onion and garlic, and cook until soft.
Add the diced green pepper and jalapeños, and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Stir in the flour and cook for a few more minutes.
Add wine and stir until mixture has thickened.
Add mussels and cover the pot with a lid. Steam mussels until they have all opened.
Stir in tomatoes and parsley.
Add salt and pepper if necessary.
Serve with a spoon and crusty bread or garlic bread to soak up the broth.
WORDS: DAVID GANHÃO
PHOTOS: MIKE NEAL