re VOICE – Douce Diner

Dawn – chef and owner at Douce Diner 

“I think everybody is really feeling the crunch. I would voice out to anybody that whatever works, just stick with it. I wish everybody the best, and it breaks my heart to see local establishments that weren’t able to sustain themselves crumbling down. I feel very blessed that we are still here and we didn’t have to close our doors.”

Dawn has always worked in the food & hospitality industry since the age of 15. Her first job was at Earls Restaurant in Saskatoon as a hostess, since then her love for food has taken her to various places in the world such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Venice, and Tokyo. Eventually she came back to Vancouver with her family, and she opened a 50’s inspired modern day diner, Douce Diner in 2019.

VOICE(V): “How did Douce Diner come about?”

Dawn(D): “There was a little cafe at this same place run by a lovely couple, Grace and David, prior to Douce Diner. The community loved them and my husband also loved coming here twice a month with our kids. We always had conversations with the former owners , “Whenever you are ready to give up this place, let us know.” As they were getting ready to retire, that conversation became a reality. We waited for 8 years to take over this place.
I have always wanted to do all day breakfast and brunch diner with a modern 50’s feeling. I have worked in the food & hospitality industry for over 30 years, and I wanted my morning hours to be the time for giving back to the community through this diner and I wanted evenings to be with my family.  The philosophy of Douce Diner has been adapted from my internship at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. The whole concept of Zuni Cafe was to stay true to the ingredient and use whatever is local and in season in sustainable manner. At Douce, we try to achieve just that and we know where our food comes from. We use a local bakery, Bad Dog Bread, down the street, our beef comes from Alberta, ham for our egg bennies is from Johnston’s in Chilliwack, and greens are from Glorious Organics in Aldergrove. Our menu is very small but well-curated. Each dish has become our signature dish.”

V: “How has your journey been through the pandemic?”

D: “As soon as the Covid hit this time last year, we pivoted pretty quickly. We started to run “Douce Coop Crispy Fried Chicken Meal” from Thursday to Saturday nights to feed your flock and it became a signature family take-away supper during the pandemic time. For Douce Coop, we usually work with a whole free-range chicken from Heritage Farms, and we butcher it and all bones go into stock to make home-made gravy. Family Meal Packs are perfect for 1 to 4 people, and all of the packs include free-range crispy chicken, in-house gravy, my fluffy home-made buttermilk biscuits, in-house hot sauce, zucchini pickles and a choice of 2 sides: shoestring fries, potato salad, or coleslaw. I was actually going to launch Douce Coop as a new business later on that summer but we quickly rolled it out for 3 months until August last year. When we were allowed to dine in, we have invested on plexiglass and sanitizers, and we have made the best effort to make the place feel comfortable for dine-in guests.”

V: “How are things different under the recent restrictions?”

D: “With this new restrictions, it felt like I was totally blindsided. I didn’t see it coming and I just placed a large order on Monday for Easter, like many other restaurants, assuming that we would be busy. I found out about the restrictions on that afternoon. Here we are, back to where we were last year and back to pivoting again. Pivoting is all we are doing right now, but we want to provide the same service and the quality of food no matter what is happening. We have also brought back Douce Coop.
I stay optimistic and keep things going because I am in no position to close our doors. We need to be innovative, keep integrity to our dishes and serve the community. People still have to eat at the end of the day, or in our case, at the beginning of the day, right?”

V: “How has community responded?”

D: “People have been very supportive of us through take-out. Also, I feel more and more restaurants are growing closer together and being more supportive. When I am not working at the diner, I would definitely do the take away once or twice a week with local restaurants. We do have to support people in our communities and protect our farmers. It is a part of giving back and sharing. I know right now hospitality industry is taking the beating, and we have to take care of each other because this isn’t the end of it. I would imagine there will be other viruses or other pandemics, and we just have to learn to be flexible. It is not just for business owners but for everybody.”

V: “What does Douce Diner mean to you? What does food mean to you?”

D: “After working for various positions at Earls Restaurant since my early 20s, I eventually ended up working in the kitchen and I fell in love with it. I loved the high tension, pressures of working behind the line, getting the food out and making the food look pretty. My approach to food is very clean, simple and staying true to the ingredient That is how I want to cook my food.
Douce Diner means integrity. It is the food which brings people together. We serve comfort food that is done well. I like surprising people with comfort of good quality food. That’s why I don’t mask my food with lots of sauces or make it too complex. Again, I stay true to my ingredient.”

V: “What’s your prospect for the near future?”

D: “There is some good thing that came out of Covid, and it allowed me to go beyond what I felt what the diner was about. I am actually looking for a location for Douce Coop. It is great to know that there is a room for concept like fried chicken on the North Shore. That’s what we will be dong in our next phase. In a meanwhile, Douce will always be Douce. We have a lovely outside patio that’s built in spring by my husband, Nino.( He is Canada’s foremost developer of passive homes.) We have our all day breakfast and brunch for pick up and delivery through Uber Eats. When the summer comes Douce Coop will not only be for family supper but it will turn into a great picnic meal that you can take it to the beach.”

The name Douce is a part of her name Dawn “Doucette”. D also stands for her signature double patty in “Double Douce Burger”.  What else does it mean? Whatever you choose to eat from Dawn’s diner classics, it bring you “Double” happiness.

Dawn’s top picks on the menu: Home Made Granola Parfait, with oats, almonds, pecans, walnuts, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds accompanied by thick yoghurt, lemon curd & seasonal fruits. Another pick is Breakfast Sammy, with a choice of avocado, smoked bacon or ham and smoked paprika aioli with eggs easy over, vintage cheddar& arugula. This is Dawn’s version of good wholesome breakfast!

VOICE Community: Bad Dog Bread, Two Rivers Speciality Meats