By Paula Roy –
He may have only been a restaurateur for two and a half years, but Sam Souryavong has developed a loyal following certain to outlast the closure of Sam’s Café at the Fairmont Confectionery this week. Sam broke the news via Facebook on January 16 and is bittersweet at the prospect of closing his beloved little spot.
“It’s the right time to take a break,” says Sam, who hinted at the prospect of future food venture in the Facebook post. “I have been running the café with the help of my sister, Sandy, who used to have a Vietnamese restaurant in Markham. She needs to return to Toronto to care for our ailing mother and I also want to spend some time with family. It’s been very demanding for us, running the café and the store.”
Having previously worked in the real estate industry, Sam said getting unexpectedly laid off five years ago influenced his new career path. “I needed to figure out what to do with my life, and I decided that since I love to cook, I should go to cooking school and open a restaurant.”
A native of Laos, Sam chose to attend the Wandee Culinary Art School in Bangkok because he had a strong familiarity with Thai food and felt he could capitalize on its popularity in Canada. His hunch was correct.
The menu at Sam’s Café was not extensive, but it was packed with flavour and included both Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
“I didn’t make a lot of changes to the menu, although I did add a few things over time,” says Sam, citing Pad Thai as an example. “At first I didn’t feel I could serve it because I thought my stove was not hot enough to prepare it the way I like. I experimented a little bit recently and am very pleased that I put the time into trying to perfect it. It has been very well received so I am glad that I got a chance to serve my version of Pad Thai.”
Sam says that ironically it’s just when he feels that he is getting better and better as a cook, that suddenly it’s time to close. “When I went to chef’s school this was exactly what I imagined I wanted to do. For me, the café wasn’t about money and profit. It was about making interesting, reasonably-priced food, and having a wonderful chance to forge connections with the people I was serving.”
While he enjoyed the cooking, Sam says that what he has liked even more has been the support from neighbours. “They have just been so encouraging and they are not shy to share their appreciation. They have followed us on Facebook and helped us to advertise on social media by posting pictures on Instagram and tweeting about the food; one customer even showed me how to open a Yelp account. Everyone was so willing to help and wanted to see us do well.”
It’s been a busy week of goodbyes for Sam, with many long-time customers from all across the region coming in to express their sorrow and best wishes. “By noontime on the day we announced we were closing, half our freezer supply of house-made curry sauce was gone.”
Sam confirms he is hoping to open a new food business in the area. “My partner and I have enjoyed living in Hintonburg for 15 years and his parents are near Cornwall, so we are very much at home in Ottawa. I have always wanted to learn more about vegetarian dishes so I am hoping to have time to do this during my hiatus.”