Putting the family in family restaurant

Fifth generation now working at Aunt Gussie’s

By Casey Lessard

If you didn’t notice that Aunt Gussie’s was taken over by new owners a year and a half ago, Pat and LeeAnn Powers are content with that. The couple worked at the Ontario Street South restaurant for a couple of years before taking ownership, and wanted to make sure the transition was as smooth as possible.
“We’ve freshened it up,” Pat says of recent renovations, “and done our best to stay true to the tradition here.”
It’s become a family tradition to own the restaurant south of the Bluewater Motel. LeeAnn’s parents Bill and Janice Peckitt owned Pizza Delight during the 1980s.
“Originally this building was built by Bill’s grandfather, Stanley Martin in the late 50s and it was originally the Bluewater Restaurant,” Pat says, noting Stanley and Ella built the restaurant after building the Bluewater Motel.
“My earliest memories of this restaurant were in the summertime doing dishes,” Bill Peckitt says. “I was eight years old. It was exciting for me. I didn’t realize it was work. There was lots of action. It was a busy restaurant with lots of tourists. Lots of Americans were here; there were probably more American tourists then than there are today. Same kind of food. It was a family restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“At eight years old,” Peckitt points out, “I was wishing I was 16. There were some nice looking waitresses.”
“Oh, dad!” LeeAnn groans, before noting she, too, has also worked at the restaurant since she was eight years old.
“I remember sitting over in that corner building pizza boxes for like a penny a box. My brother and I would race to see who could get the most done.
“We lived here until I was in Grade 5 or 6. Our staff room is the room beside my old bedroom. I remember running with my bare feet in the stone parking lot to and from the swimming pool next door.”
Bill and Janice sold the Pizza Delight business to Tony VanDongen in 1990, and former Pizza Delight manager Pete Miller and Gus Merkies leased the building in 1995 to open Aunt Gussie’s. Miller bought the property in1998. The Powers took over in late 2006.
“I’ve been in the restaurant industry for the last 20 years,” Pat says, “and LeeAnn has all of her life. This was a great way for us to access what we had done for most of our business lives so far and for us, there was an inevitability about getting to Grand Bend. There’s something nice about the legacy idea of getting the business back in the family.”
The Powers hope it will stay in the family; their oldest Mallory, 14, is the fifth generation of her family to work at the restaurant.
“I started waitressing at Pizza Delight when Mallory was just a baby,” LeeAnn says. “When Mallory started bussing three years ago, the staff who had been working here since my parents owned it, took a double take.”
“It’s a nice spot. As busy as it is, it’s really fun. I like talking to people,” Mallory says. “I look forward to working here until I go to university.”
The Powers treat staff like family, and the staff return the favour. Some have been with the restaurant since Aunt Gussie’s opened in 1995, and one server, Jackie, started during the Pizza Delight era.
“Everyone gets along so well,” LeeAnn says., noting many took part in Winter Carnival activities on behalf of the restaurant..
The staff are also excited about the new menu, which lost three items but added 12 new ones.
“You can hear them going on about the new menu,” LeeAnn says. “For the ones who have been here since it opened, it’s exciting for them to have new fresh things to add to it.”
The Powers believe it takes good staff and loyal customers to run a successful business, and they have both.
“It’s a great business,” Pat says. “We just want it to stay the busy little spot that it is. This is the career for a lot of people in this community. We just want to support the family and have a decent go of things.”