40 years of home cooking

By Jason Viau

Homestyle cooking along with personable service is the key to the success of the family-owned restaurant celebrating 40 years in Amherstburg.

Since 1971 Speck’s has been Amherstburg’s one-stop-shop for affordable home-cooked meals with a slice of homeyness and a side of homespun friendliness. Sarah Beaudoin, 42-year-old co-owner, says the food is just as important as the conversation and that’s been their secret to success passed down by her mother, Irene Sprague.

“I think people come here because it’s more than just the food, it was the atmosphere and the conversation that they left with,” said Beaudoin.

The 40th anniversary was celebrated May 29 by friends, family and employees, past and present, who were treated to hot dogs, punch and cake.

Beaudoin was three years old when the adventure began and said this marks a huge milestone for their family and the community.

“I think they would be very proud that it’s still simple and it’s not this big extravagant thing because not much has changed in 40 years,” said Beaudoin.

Councillor Diane Pouget, 64, stopped by Sunday to congratulate her cousins Beaudoin and Lenora (Lennie) Robinson, 45, on their achievements.

“I love the atmosphere. As you walk in the door they make you feel so welcome, whether you’re cousins or not, they welcome everybody. I think that’s the most important part,” said Pouget.

Beaudoin and sister Robinson inherited the Bathhurst Street business in 2000 after their mother died. Both sisters said she had also instilled a passion for cooking and was their lifelong mentor which is why it’s important for them to keep their mother’s legacy alive.

“A lot of people questioned if we were going to carry on after my mom passed away and we were back open in about three weeks,” said Robinson.

“Sarah and I must be cooking as well our mom for the restaurant to go on for 11 years after she passed away.”

The building served a dual purpose as both a restaurant and a home for the sisters until they moved into homes of their own. Robinson was moved to tears while reminiscing about time spent with her mother.

“This was her life, this is what she loved to do. My mom lived to cook and to feed people. She loved to share her cooking with everyone, it was her passion,” said Robinson.

When her father Stan became ill and was unable to work, her mother was forced to find an income to raise her family but wanted to remain close enough to still spend time with her husband and children . She found the perfect opportunity when Carlos Bates, the previous owner, put his home up for sale. The restaurant was already established as Speck’s and Sprague decided to keep the name and the idea of simple down-home cooking.

“It was important (for her) to be able to raise her kids here,” said Beaudoin.

Sprague hadn’t had any restaurant experience and was previously employed at Stedman’s, a local “dime store,” which has since closed. It began fairly simply – Sprague used a card table to prepare soups and sandwiches, Beaudoin recalled. She eventually had enough money to purchase a grill and deep fryer.

“Its funny to think of it now but it worked … she just took little steps and then it grew,” said Beaudoin.

“We are very proud we are able to do this on our own without her. She gave us a stepping stone to be able to have this.”

A menu dating back to the restaurant’s debut in 1971 was displayed at the gathering. Coffee and tea for 15 cents and a roast beef sandwich for a mere 60 cents jogged memories for Kay Bertrand, 86. She was a waitress from 1963-67 while Bates was the owner. She remembers one snow-filled winter day when her boss told her to stay home because he assumed it wouldn’t be busy. At that point she was already prepared for work so she trucked through the snow from her home down the street.

“It ended up being the busiest day of the year. We sold out of everything …,” said Bertrand. Plus, she added, “I hated to miss a day because it was so much fun.”

Bertrand remains a regular at Speck’s. She and her retired children meet at the restaurant at least once a week and said the 40th anniversary marks a very special day.

“When I come in here it’s almost like coming back home. In fact, if I was younger I think I would apply for a job,” she said.

The sisters plan to keep Speck’s Diner in the family once they retire and have already begun training Beaudoin’s son, Noah, 5, in the business as their mother did when they were young.

“Even though she was still working, she was still with us,” said Beaudoin, something she says was important to her mother and to her.

“If I’m here on a Sunday chopping up coleslaw or whatever I make him fill the jams up and so I still get to spend time with him. I would like to pass it on to my son but I’d like him to be a Doctor too … but maybe his wife would like to do this or somebody else in our family.”

2 responses to “40 years of home cooking”

  1. Lenora Richardson says:

    Great article, well written, with just one error my last name is Richardson not Robinson.
    Thanks for coming and sharing in the special day celebrating our 40th anniversary at Speck’s.

  2. Heather Coghill says:

    What a great article — way to go Lennie and Sarah!! Was wonderful to read about such a terrific family passion. I must make a stop by next time I’m in town! 🙂