The spirit of Jack and Lois Bowden lives on in their grandson Eric Bowden’s diner, Jack & Lois. “They were two of the best people. I dedicated this restaurant to them,” explains Eric. Whether it is the eclectic décor that Eric terms “colonial Hawaiian,” the Hawaiian-inspired mural in the back patio, his grandmother’s artwork, the commissioned portrait of his grandparents, or even the arborite tables and Victorian damask wallpaper that harkens back to his grandparents’ house, Jack and Lois are forever present.
Eric teamed up with chef Shane McCartney to create the restaurant’s test menu after years of observing the discerning palates of crews whom he worked with in the film industry as a set decorator and assistant production coordinator. “I realized that I knew what people would like to eat,” Eric says.
Since the restaurant is billed as a creative gourmet diner that serves fresh local products prepared using the kitchen’s own recipes, current executive chef Dez is given carte blanche to dream up daily features. Eric also dabbles in the kitchen. “I’m always tinkering with recipes,” he admits. With past chef Murray Parro, the two created a menu that features such favourites as The Chancellor, a juicy breaded chicken sandwich, and The Black Mamba Burger, a vegetarian’s indulgence.
With a dogged determination of being “100 per cent accountable for successes and mistakes,” Eric has persevered. The restaurant was Eric’s biggest challenge as he learned how to build a trustworthy staff and finance the space on his own. “Thank goodness for manager Molly Babin,” Eric insists, as Molly has helped him establish the restaurant’s rhythm in day-to-day operations. Even his grand opening was no easy feat, with a blizzard barrelling in one minute prior to opening doors at 4 pm in the middle of winter in 2012.
But it is his grandparents’ spirit of generosity that forms his core values and is most evident in his business approach. The restaurateur aims to “give people big quantities of fresh food at a great price where they’re always made to feel welcome.” Whether it is the free homemade kettle chips or the meals and glasses of wine he comps when his kitchen has erred, Eric insists that “when times are good, you spread it around. It is important to give back to the local community,” Eric insists, adding that the diner gives donations to women’s shelters, children’s breakfast charities and various other organizations.
He is particularly proud of the fact that he employs locally from his waiters to his catering partner, Foldhouse Catering. “I serve community food in the sense that people know that we’ve purchased locally and crafted it in the kitchen,” Eric explains. “I’m employing 15 to 20 people, who are feeding the community, live in and give back to the community.”
Taking inspiration from his earlier days working in set decoration, Eric continues his love of the arts by creating a vibe of belonging that is both comfortable and original. Whether that is walk-in movie night Tuesdays, or featuring art installations on the patio, playing his customers’ LPs, or even supplying tables with a self-designed art deco style “menuzine” that is about the community, Eric describes his restaurant as “an honest place. If there’s something not right, we’ll fix it,” he declares.
As one of Hamilton’s top ranked sit-down restaurants and featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here!, Eric is appreciative of the accolades. “What you see is what you get,” Eric states. What customers get at Jack & Lois is a taste of generosity, belonging and creative community food.