The Decade Issue: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Written by Chris McDonell

Ten years. One decade. At the risk of being too self-congratulatory, this sounds quite monumental. The reality, of course, is that this achievement for a small independent magazine is made up of thousands of seemingly trivial or insignificant individual moments. Each one of those actions, on its own, did not resonate loudly at the time. There was no dramatic event that marked a turning point, no grand gesture that changed everything, pointed us to a path for success, made a crucial difference to the business of publishing a magazine. It is also plain to me that this milestone has come only and entirely through the substance of those moments, and I would like to employ hindsight to celebrate some of them at this time of reflection. First, however, I want to explain the array of magazine covers across this page.

Today, the number one question I get is “How do we get on the cover?” I understand that. There is, unfortunately, no simple answer, although I always hasten to make clear that this space is never for sale. I asked our writers to focus on “ten” in this issue, and you will see the interesting results of that in the following pages. For my part, I resolved to pick my ten favourite covers. You must understand that I’ve been proud of each magazine, and I put every cover we’ve published on the front of this “Decade Issue” for that reason. I’ve chosen my Top Ten as a way to discuss and illustrate what each of these covers represents for Eatdrink.

Issue #3, with Chris and Mary Woolf literally flying the flag for their charming Woolfy’s outside St. Marys (they moved into town and now preside over Little Reds) shows pride and a celebratory attitude I love.

Issue #10 speaks of the value of real food, locally grown, in season. Farmers need to be appreciated. These are values that Eatdrink always tries to uphold and promote. I am grateful that those sentiments are now so popular.

Issue #21 offers an unusual view of London’s Black Trumpet. Sophistication, ambiance, presentation and design are also important, and when the food is equally impressive, we celebrate that. I also like that, at first glance, the reader is not certain of what they are looking at. Intrigue and surprise are good.

Issue #31 shows Chefs Bronwyn and Aaron Linley at the door of their Bijou in Stratford (Bijou remains a Stratford gem under new ownership and the Linleys moved about a block away and operate Linleys: A Food Shop.) This issue marked the first real “redesign” of Eatdrink but I especially love the casual intimacy and the textures in this photo.

Issue #36 was the first time we celebrated an Eatdrink anniversary, after five years. I like seeing proprietors in their business, and Rob D’Amico and Chef Dave Lamers in the front window of London’s Abruzzi remains one of my favourites. I was heartened to hear Rob extol Dave’s talents when I bumped into him just last week. Partnerships are challenging and I’m glad to see “front of the house” and the “back of the house” kitchen equally represented.

Issue #37 shows a charcuterie board from Stratford’s Mercer Hall. Artisanal foods and reclaiming some lost traditions have made the local culinary scene much more vital. We celebrate that. And sometimes it is good to just let the food speak for itself.

Issue #44 celebrates T.G. Haile and her Addis Ababa Restaurant in London. This cover presents an accomplished chef and restaurateur, and more. T.G. is a master of Ethiopian cuisine and brings a personal warmth to her work that is refreshing and uplifting, reflecting the diversity of our culinary community that makes us stronger and better.

Issue #47 features Andrew and Erin Jardine and three of their children (two more have since joined the crew!) As most owners can attest, a small business is a family business. This remains one of our “cutest” covers but we love to celebrate entrepreneurship and those smiles are so encouraging. The Jardines renamed the business The Village Meat Shop and continue to prosper at the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair.

Speaking of family, Issue #54 features Frank  and Liz Ihrig of Hessenland Inn, the second generation running the charming country resort and winery on the Lake Huron shore between Grand Bend and Bayfield. While celebrating his German heritage, Chef Frank also embraces the local terroir, balancing change and tradition in a way I believe is truly Canadian. We salute that.

Issue #65 celebrates a London business that similarly evokes ancient culture in new ways. I love the enthusiasm from The Tea Lounge partners Yixing Tang and Michelle Pierce Hamilton, and the inviting nature of the composition. Tea is hot (pun intended) and we endeavour to keep readers abreast of trends that we find positive, valid and interesting.

Perhaps “interesting” is the operative word. Eatdrink is 100 per cent reliant upon readers finding the magazine compelling. We work closely with photographer Steve Grimes, who does an amazing job for us, and several of these cover images (and 24 Eatdrink covers in total by my count) were shot by Steve. But too many photo­graphers to mention have also made superb contributions to Eatdrink. Good photos rarely happen by accident, so I recommend hiring a photographer. But what is the best way to get on the cover? Be interesting.

Looking Back

Most people don’t make a big change in their life and start a new business because everything is going well at the time. I was no different, and after a handful of negative experiences working for others, the time was right to take a long-simmering idea and try to make it happen. I spoke of my plan for a London food and drink magazine to my friend Cecilia Buy and she suggested that I might want to have a more regional focus and include places such as Stratford. Eatdrink readers know how integral that advice has been to this publication. I will take credit for being smart enough to listen to Cecilia. From the get-go, I have leaned on her, at one time or another, for almost every job there is to do around here. Officially, she is the Managing Editor, which is true, but she continues to wear many hats. Thank you Cecilia.

I knew that I needed expert writers, people with the background to help us aim Eatdrink at sophisticated readers. I turned to Bryan Lavery, a highly respected London chef/restaurateur, local food advocate and published writer. Bryan took the assignment of gathering the community “buzz” and contributing an article every issue as Writer at Large. Big jobs, but his role continually expanded, from Editorial ­Advisor to Food Editor to Social Media Editor to salesperson to trusted advisor with involvement in every critical aspect of the magazine’s contents. Thank you Bryan. The magazine could not have grown to what it is today without you.

Early on, Chris McDonald, who had once produced a London food publication (and by dint of our similar names lent me some unearned credibility because people thought I was her), offered helpful guidance. So too did Cathy Rehberg from Stratford Tourism Alliance, who continues to support our efforts here. Thank you both.

One of the best decisions made at the inception of Eatdrink was to publish in a digest-sized format. For that, I’d like to acknowledge Artscape, a local arts magazine at the time. The commitment to glossy paper and full colour printing was somewhat bold, but seeing a working prototype made it easier to see the wisdom in it. We’ve also been fortunate to work with several outstanding printers. Impressions Printing, M&T Printing and (currently) Sportswood Printing have helped us look great despite ridiculously tight turnaround times. I recommend all of them.

One of the problems of our small size is the requisite need for a tight design — and brevity (not my strong suit). I face that here, so cannot extol the contributions of so many writers beyond stating that we have been blessed, and I am thankful. I must give a shout-out to our beer writers, Dave Hammond (aka The Malt Monk) for many great years, and Wayne Newton. Our wine writers, particularly Shari Darling, Kim Miller, Rick VanSickle and Gary Killops, have always kept this column full of great information. Cookbook reviewers Jennifer Gagel, from the outset and for many years, and Tracy Turlin have brought an infectious enthusiasm to the magazine that I truly appreciate. Darin Cook’s book reviews have added some intellectual heft while being engagingly entertaining. Thank you.

I must give special praise to Jane Antoniak, who helped grow our advertising base as a salesperson and our readership with her writing. Despite other heavy commitments, she continues to help us here. Thanks for sharing your ideas and your zest for life with us Jane.

Creating a publication that is worth ­reading is the first task. Then we need advertisers, for without them, Eatdrink would need a very different distribution strategy. The magazine industry, generally, is in good shape compared to newspapers and phone books, despite loud claims that the printed word is outdated. We’ve gone to tremendous effort to make Eatdrink work digitally. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts are reaching more people than ever. Online readership is up, ad views are way up too, so I’m thrilled with the new website we launched early last spring. But we still print 20,000 copies of every issue and they get picked up by eager readers who like to hold Eatdrink in their hands. Most magazine consumers, studies prove, look at the ads as much as the articles. No other medium can make this claim. Our readers are passionate about food and drink; they like to eat well at home and dine out regularly. We are proud to help them find what they are looking for.

We are grateful for our customers, and thank every one of them for their business, trusting us to deliver their message and generate value for their investment. Looking back, I am especially grateful to those who took a bit of a leap of faith with us as we were just getting off the ground. Blackfriars Bistro, David’s Bistro, Downtown London, Katana Kafe, Michael’s On The Thames and Willie’s Café in London, Bradshaws, Foster’s Inn and Stratford Tourism Alliance in Stratford, and The King Edward in Ilderton stand out for me as early and tremendous supporters that helped us get to where we are today. Thank you very much.

My family has seen me spend too many late nights with Eatdrink, yet remain enthusiastic supporters. My undying appreciation goes to Sue Gordon, the greatest love of my life, and to our incredible sons Quinn and Isaac and daughter Tara. I continually (inaccurately) assert that I will get better at managing my time in this business, and you graciously put up with that. Thank you with all my heart.

Looking Forward

It’s satisfying to take a short pause and appreciate where we’ve been, but it’s time to get back to work! We strive to make every issue the best one yet, and our upcoming Holiday Issue will be no exception. We hope you enjoy this “Decade Issue” and quickly discover that this is not just a trip down memory lane. Most of our writers have worked around our “ten” theme to inspire you to explore new tastes, destinations and discoveries. As I have always said, “There is no shortage of great stories to tell.” We look forward to proving that again and again.

About the author

Chris McDonell

Eatdrink founder and publisher Chris McDonell brings integrity and a widely diverse background in publishing to the task of making Eatdrink a vital part of the food and drink scene in Southwestern Ontario.