By Mariam Baher
It’s the 1970s, with no sense of time; you find yourself propped up on a red leather stool, gulping on a thick chocolate shake crafted with the perfect ice-cream to milk ratio, just the right amount of whipped cream, and topped off with a bright red maraschino cherry…all for the cost of only a buck or two. Except it is not the Seventies, it’s 2019. That vision seems too good to be true, right? Wrong.
The easy-to-miss, plain corner store stands lonesome amongst the buzzing urban streets of Leslieville. The simple, low-key building free of any flashing signs, fancy décor, or elaborate storefront is the ugly duckling amidst its colourful surroundings. Washed-out grey block letters that were black decades ago hang on for dear life on the side of the store that read “Gale’s Snack Bar.”
This hidden gem of a diner allows people to take a break from their hectic everyday lives.
I peer through the rusted windows on the side of the old brick establishment only to find myself looking at chipped green plastic blinds, the same green as the backsplash on the walls of my grandma’s antiquated bathroom. I turn the corner of the cold, grey street and walk up the four slanted slippery steps trying to maintain my balance…phew, was I ever glad there were only four of them. I find myself standing on what seems to be less than half of a porch, in fact even less than and that!With little space to move, a washed out, wooden door stares right at me. I reached out to knock on the door but to my surprise it’s open. Instantly, I’m engulfed with a pool of emotions and a feeling of nostalgia for an era I haven’t lived in. Based on movies I’ve watched, songs I’ve heard, and books I’ve read, if any place resembles the 70’s, it’s this place.
The diner is filled with a mouthwatering aroma, which makes me reminisce about last year’s Thanksgiving. Indulging in these memories, I notice a woman the customers call Eda standing behind a bar counter stretching from one wall to the other displaying cut-out coupons free for anyone to grab. The dim-lit diner provides a sense of calmness that perfectly complements Eda’s warm, positive personality. Her energy and charismatic personality is as infectious as the energy of a child on Christmas morning. Her joyous smile stretches from ear-to-ear, failing to diminish when taking orders and conversing with each individual customer, asking each about their families and how their day has been going so far.
Eda is one of two owners and employees at Gale’s Snack Bar. Now in her mid-60’s, she was just ten years old when she started working at her parents’ snack bar. “I’ve been working all my life here,” says Eda over the buzzing sound of her hand blender as she whips me up a glass of her legendary chocolate milkshake.“I’ve been working all my life here,” says Eda over the buzzing sound of her hand blender as she whips me up a glass of her legendary chocolate milkshake.
Subtle clinking of cutlery hitting the now-antique dishware, accompanied by the humming of an old fridge, echoes in the small space as minutes melt into hours and people chatter amongst themselves exchanging small talk.As Eda counts her changelisten, A frazzled, hunched old man sinks peacefully in one of the three well-worn leather booths in the diner. “Hey Murrel, just the regular today?” greets Eda.
Murrel pulls out a loaf of bread from his faded, worn out navy-blue satchel and hands the bagged loaf to Eda. She disappears in the back for about ten minutes and comes back with a generous amount of sliced turkey sandwiched between two slices of the multigrain bread.
“I don’t even eat off the menu,” Murrel says. “I supply my own bread because I want highly nutritious bread, but of course I pay the same price.”
Money appears to mean little to Eda. However, she comes across as rich in the relationships she has built with the people that choose to give the old, quaint establishment a chance. Her service and ability to connect with people goes beyond what you would expect to find at some 5-star restaurants.
Eda knows all her regulars by name and says she enjoys the company of fresh faces just as much as the familiar ones. “This is a place for people who have lots of time on their hands. Two days ago there were a group of ten people coming through the door and I told them: The bigger the group, the longer the wait, it’s just me and my dad,” says Eda.
Time is not an issue for Christina Walsh, another regular of Eda’s. “If I want something really bad, I don’t mind waiting. It’s so worth the wait,” says Walsh. “The club sandwiches are to die for, $2.75 plus tax, you’re full…I don’t eat ‘till the next morning!”
Walsh is a bubbly and charismatic woman, who says she appreciates Eda for providing her with a welcoming, warm, and genuinely caring space. “This is my sixth time I’ve been here this week. I check-in with my day when [Eda] is not too busy [and] we chat a little bit,” says Walsh.
Despite her charming and outgoing personality, her infectious smile disappears and her bright eyes dim when she talks about her social anxiety. “I can come eat here all by myself and not look stupid… I need things close to home because I do have really bad social anxiety, like I had a meltdown just before I got here,” Walsh explains. “[Eda] is so supportive, I can just go to her and talk, and bawl my head off if I need to.” Walsh adds that the diner welcomes her and allows her to feel important within her community. “When I’m here I can be light, I can be humorous, I can be funny, and leave some things at the door. We all need places to be able to leave stuff at the door, to just come in and have a good time.”
Walsh ends our conversation in a sing-song voice, having found her spot for that day’s meal.
“This is my favourite place to sit here in the back,” she says. “A couple was just leaving thankfully as I was coming in so I got my favourite spot!”