A TASTE OF HAPPINESS
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘This whole process has felt like a barnraising of sorts,’ notes Kristine Mathers as I reach eagerly for a second smoked eel open-face sandwich. ‘Except instead of erecting a barn, we’ve been busy resurrecting a Danish restaurant.’ I take a bite and nod. To acknowledge Kristine. And to affirm the food too: a lovingly – and lavishly – prepared spread that her older brother Jacob has put together for us. There’s the smoked eel, of course. Mild-flavoured. Seasoned perfectly. And Icelandic shrimp on white loaf. There’s also liver paté with sautéed mushrooms and bacon bits on rye. And homemade meatballs. And pickled root vegetables. And breaded sole. And chicken puff pastry. And roast beef with crispy onions. Any of these beautifully paired with a ‘Gose To Hollywood’ gose ale by the Belgian microbrewery, To Øl.
I’ve heard that Denmark is always near the top of the list of the world’s happiest countries, and maybe I’m beginning to see why. I take another bite and ruminate on the happiness. This is The Danish Place.
You may or may not know the spot already. Founded as part of a non-profit Danish cultural club in Puslinch, what was once known as the restaurant of Sunset Villa has been around for decades. Run for years by Kristine and Jacob’s parents, Anna and Benny, it has always been a place where local Danes congregate for eating, drinking and having a good time together. Kristine spent her childhood here – at the restaurant and the surrounding club. On its hiking trails. In its forests. And in its trailer park too – where her family lived most summers.
She has innumerable lasting memories of those days. ‘Mostly of my parents and their friends hosting fantastic parties,’ she recalls. ‘Eating and drinking and laughing together into the night.’ Kristina goes silent for a minute – gazing out into the packed dining room that surrounds us. ‘The place seemed idyllic then,’ she says, as if in a reverie. Shifting her focus back to me, she adds: ‘We’ve been working so hard to bring back that magic – to make it idyllic again.’ Her comments bring to mind the evocative Danish term ‘hygge,’ which entered our lexicon a few years ago, suggesting a particularly affecting Danish perspective on coziness, comfort, conviviality and contentment. A term that fits this place. Especially now.
In January, Kristine – with her brother Jacob and his partner Joanne – officially took the reigns of The Danish Place and went to work to create their own vision of a community hub: a cozy, congenial place. For other Danes who may or may not have lost their connections with their cultural community. And for a new generation of folks who may not have any connection to Danish culture other than a penchant for a unique culinary experience – and, of course, the desire for some hygge.
‘We began ripping up the old carpet before we’d even signed a contract with the club,’ Kristine exclaims. ‘We were just so excited to get working on the restaurant.’ She rhapsodizes about the tremendous support they’ve had from friends, family and local businesses. The barnraising. New tables throughout the restaurant by Bryce at 3 Crow. Beer by Royal City Brewing. Coffee by Planet Bean. Freshly-baked bread by Grain Revolution. Branding by TOQUE. A small army of local business owners helping these newly-minted entrepreneurs realize their dream.
‘When we finally re-opened this past March the restaurant did better over the first weekend than it used to do in all of March and April combined,’ Kristine tells me, beaming. ‘And what’s more – the average age of diners has probably dropped three decades.’ Signs that Kristine’s vision of introducing the place to a whole new generation is coming to fruition.
Indeed, memories will continue to be made here. By members of the Danish community, of course. And by others too. Folks like me who, before this day, had never even encountered smoked eel, for example. Or Icelandic shrimp, for that matter. I put the last bit of sandwich in my mouth and chew. And reach for another. Relaxed. Contented. Enchanted.
By this Danish space. The Danish Place.