Swiss Family Restaurant. This is the term our chef friend, Roberto Trevino, uses when he describes a family-run restaurant like ours. What does it mean? Well, you won’t find it in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, and it’s not on Wikipedia. I think Roberto use the term to refer to a traditional family run restaurant with quirky twists. That’s my family, and that’s eat@canebay, our restaurant. We work and raise our son on a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean where a magnificent beach meets a lush tropical forest. But it’s the quirkiness: A beautiful location mixed with, how shall I put it, a high level of “not normal.”
Restaurant life in the islands is a mixture of hard work, some luck and a heavy dose of bull force determination. Trailers are often waylaid by customs officials while perishable goods spoil on the docks until their lunch break ends or the mood strikes. And if the bureaucracy and island time doesn’t slay your menu, the food supply chain will. Imagine purveyors telling you they are out of pantry staples like eggs or flour. Well, that’s the day you have an eggless, flourless menu. Gluten Intolerants rejoice! All you can do is change the menu. That’s why I laminate everything and use chalkboard menus—simply wipe and rewrite. They call me the laminatrix; a laminator being one of my favorite purchases. And on top of all that, taxes are high and our power bill is ridiculous. But even with all these tribulations, we LOVE what we do! We LOVE being in the restaurant business, and best of all we LOVE that we can bring our son to work everyday!
Our son was born in a hospital like most babies, but he has been raised in the restaurant’s kitchen. At six weeks, he was in a bouncy seat on the line. At six months, he was in a backpack looking over my husband, Frank’s shoulder watching everything: chopping, prepping and plating. By four years, he was telling us the toilet paper has been 86’ed in home bathroom, and now at 11, he is a sometime sous chef, busboy and bartender; but only when the mood strikes. All his life he has heard mom and dad talk, breath and live restaurant culture. This has affected our son so much so that going to restaurants on St. Croix, or anywhere, can be difficult. Beware the server that waits on our table; he or she will be interrogated by our son on the freshness of the fish, the origin of the rabbit or the diet and living conditions of the chicken. He will try just about anything, but he IS a picky eater and expects impeccable service. He has even gone so far as to stop me before going into a restaurant where he had never been and asked: “Mom, do we know anyone that works here?” That’s his way of asking whether we are going to be taken care of. Like everyone, he wants to go out to dinner and be wowed!
Although he has aptitude and instinct, Mad Dog, that’s the boy’s nickname, would definitely rather be surfing or diving than helping his dad break down a 75 pound tuna. That said, if hard pressed he could catch and kill a lobster and make an amazing dinner. We have customers who have known him his whole life, see him and say, “You have gotten so tall and grown so much, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ironically he says “not a chef.” This week he wants to be a stock broker. I have mixed emotions.
That’s our Swiss Family Restaurant.