STONY MOUNTAIN -- According to the Currency Act of Canada, it is a criminal offence -- punishable by up to 12 months in the hoosegow -- to "use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada."
Don't tell the authorities, but when the Summit Caf© opened in Stony Mountain on May 9, it did so with a floor fashioned entirely out of pennies. (Yes, we know pennies were taken out of circulation Feb. 4. But according to government-types, the penny will retain its value indefinitely.)
"We have had many repeat clients who work at the penitentiary and they haven't hauled us off to jail yet," says caf© owner Nadine Dannenberg. "We hope it's because they love our food too much."
A couple of years ago, Dannenberg's sister, Josee Wiedmer, was trying to figure out how to affix pennies to a craft she was working on. Wiedmer went online to see what other people had done. That's when she spotted a picture of a New York City bar called the Standard Grill that had thousands of pennies glued to its floor.
"After my husband (Carl) and I purchased the restaurant last fall, one of the first things we had to do was figure out (new) flooring," Dannenberg explains. "Josee approached me with the penny idea and I was like 'hands-down awesome, let's go for it.'"
Dannenberg spent much of last winter collecting coppers. First she drove from bank to bank in Winnipeg, buying nearly every roll of pennies she could find. Friends and family members also got involved, ponying up their coin jars.
"At one point I had 13 boxes (of pennies) in my trunk," Dannenberg says. "I actually drove around for a few weeks with all of them back there -- only because the boxes were too heavy to carry into the house."
Work on the floor began in April. The project took three days to complete. Teams of six rotated in and out every couple of hours, Dannenberg says, not so much for the sake of their backs as for their fingers.
"Each penny had to be slid into place, one at a time, and it got somewhat tedious," she says, demonstrating her press-and-push technique. There were no rules about how many heads versus how many tails.
And no, not all of the pennies were minted north of the border.
"My father actually blames the American coins for creating rifts (in the floor)," Dannenberg chuckles. "They're a little bigger and thicker than the Canadian ones, we found out, so whenever somebody used a bunch of American pennies in a row, it screwed the lines up."
The pennies were glued down in stages; once everything was in place, two coats of epoxy sealed the deal.
The Summit Caf©, located at 123 Main St., in Stony Mountain, celebrated its grand opening on Canada Day. To mark the occasion, the owners staged a "Guess how many pennies on the floor" contest.
"We had a huge variety of guesses from 'a lot' to somewhere in the 10,000s to millions," Dannenberg says. "It was so much fun watching people trying to count certain sections of the floor; there were some real serious players."
The grand prize winner didn't miss by much. Her guess of 198,300, which netted her a free dinner, was only 935 off the mark. (That said, the official amount -- 197,000 and change -- is an approximation, as well. To arrive at her answer, Dannenberg counted the number of pennies in one square foot, then multiplied what she came up with by the total area of the room.)
"It's funny -- not everybody even notices at first," Dannenberg says when she is asked how customers react when they step in for the first time. "Sometimes they'll sit down, look around, do a double-take then go 'Oh my!' "
As for the caf©'s fare, well, it only made cents, err, sense for Dannenberg to tap her French-Canadian roots while planning the menu.
"We call it comfort food with a twist," she says, citing dishes like croque-monsieur and chocolate marquis as time-tested, family favourites. "But the plan is to keep reinventing ourselves and keep things interesting."
For more information on the Summit Caf©, and to view the full menu, visit summitcafe.ca