Watson's: The little bistro that could

Becky Hartmann, left, and John and Chrissy Watson. (Lindy Mechefske/Supplied Photo)

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Every now and then a story comes along that warms the heart. This is one of those irresistible stories and it has a surprisingly touching community and social media connection, too.

This past August, John and Chrissy Watson opened Watson’s Bistro – a small, independent, “mom and pop” operation, located on Highway 2 east of Kingston at the foot of Abby Dawn Road, just before the Treasure Island Marina.

Between them, the Watsons have more than eight decades of experience in the restaurant industry. In Chrissy’s case, she started waitressing at age 16 and now, just shy of 40 years later, she’s gone from the front of the house to the back. She’s the very talented and capable cook at Watson’s Bistro. John, who started working in a restaurant when he was 17 years old, has 48 years of experience – cooking in and managing a variety of restaurants. At Watson’s, he’s the front of house staff member – greeting and serving customers – a job he is clearly comfortable with. Daughter Becky Hartmann drives in from Amherstview to help out as needed. This is a true, old-fashioned family business.

In the small, simple, immaculate kitchen, there’s no sign of using the microwave. Instead, there’s a pot of homemade potato soup simmering on the stove and pans of homemade chili and stew on the other burners. Watson’s also offers shepherd’s pie, various sandwiches including pulled pork, homemade lasagna, and daily specials – such as chicken pot pie. “We planned the menu around our favourite family foods,” says Chrissy, who is busy deep-frying fish for the lunch special: a bowl of homemade soup and a fish sandwich. While the fish cooks, she grills a bun and preps the tartar sauce and coleslaw. Daughter Becky is helping out wherever needed, washing dishes and running hot food to customers. John is manning the till, chatting as people come and go. Watson’s is a thriving little affair – a gem of a place.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, mere weeks after opening their business, John and Chrissy were already contemplating closing. Despite all their best intentions, business was terribly slow. Customers were few and far between. It wasn’t for either lack of hard work or good food. They advertised homemade local meal delivery for seniors or people who don’t have time to cook. And when she wasn’t cooking meals, Chrissy was busy baking instead. “Baking is my real love,” she says. Her butter tarts are wickedly delicious, and she makes scores of other desserts, too, including a large array of goodies for pickup orders. Still, the bottom line was that there simply weren’t enough customers to sustain the business. The couple contemplated cutting their losses and closing up shop.

But then suddenly, for what seemed like no reason at all, customers started appearing. More and more came. Many of them mentioned seeing posts on the Greenwood Park (GWP) Facebook page, encouraging residents of Greenwood Park to drop by the bistro and have a meal – to help save a local business. Other posts followed.

Soon everybody in Greenwood Park was either heading to Watson’s or making plans to go. Scores of comments appeared on the GWP Facebook page: “You will never be disappointed with a meal at Watson’s,” someone wrote, and, “We Watson-ed tonight!” or “The lasagna was yummy and the banana cream pie looks amazing. Too full to report on that yet!” “Watson’s Bistro on Highway #2, best fish and chips, hands down!” proclaimed another. Enticing food photographs accompanied the posts.

When I ask John about the response from the Greenwood Park Facebook page, he can scarcely believe it. “People suddenly started coming and they kept coming and, at first, we had no idea why. Eventually we realized that they had all seen us on this Facebook page. It saved our business!” he says.

It’s a lucky thing for all us that Watson’s will keep producing their wonderful home-cooked dishes and delicious baked goods. Don’t leave without a butter tart – or rather a “butter tart mini pie” – they are wrapped and ready to go at the cash register. Plain. With nuts. Or Raisin. Sinfully delicious. You might not have room after finishing your meal at Watson’s, so take one home for someone you love.

Watson’s Bistro is located at 1691 Highway 2. It seats about 14, with more room on the patio during the summer months. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday. For more information including the menu, specials, and an upcoming visit from Santa, plus meal deliveries (great gifts for seniors or busy working families) and customized holiday baking (at $1 a piece with options including lemon squares, brownie bites, mini cherry or blueberry cheesecakes, mini butter tarts, date squares, peanut butter cups, hay stacks, and carrot cake squares) visit Watson’s Bistro on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Watsons-Bistro-2472625239630405.

To win a copy of Out of Old Ontario Kitchens, send a photograph of your favourite old recipe and a line or two about where the recipe comes from to: mechefske@yahoo.ca. All replies will be entered in a draw and a winner will be chosen at random and announced in an upcoming column.

Lindy Mechefske is the award-winning author of Out of Old Ontario Kitchens (2018), Sir John’s Table, and A Taste of Wintergreen. Contact her at lindymechefske.com.