Last February, people all over the world mourned when they learned Philip Seymour Hoffman had died at the age of 46.
While film buffs remembered Hoffman as a gifted actor who commanded the screen in movies such as Boogie Nights, Charlie Wilson's War and Doubt,those who knew him personally mourned a father who left behind a son and two daughters.
Here in Winnipeg, the owners of Saucers Café read the reports of Hoffman's death and pictured the actor at his usual table, talking on the phone with his family for an hour or so every night before turning his attention to dinner. The Academy Road nook became Hoffman's home away from home when he was in Winnipeg 10 years ago filming Capote. Hoffman went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of author Truman Capote.
"Later, when he was finished eating, he'd stay and chat with the staff about everything under the sun. He was very down to earth... very personable," said Saucers co-owner Stuart Deacon. "He was living close by on Wellington Crescent. He told us he didn't really know the city too well but felt comfortable here."
Deacon and his business partner, Dave Schultz, get a lot of that. There's the woman from St. Vital, for example, who dines at Saucers a few times a month and refers to the 60-seat charmer as her living room.
"She'll come in, order a bottle of wine, have one glass and tell us to put the rest in the fridge till she comes back next time," Deacon said.
Schultz and his original partner opened Saucers Café 15 years ago this September. Deacon started cooking at the café in 2001 and graduated to co-owner four years later.
In 1999, Schultz was a manager for the Grapes restaurant chain, a position that was a step or three up from his first service-industry job — grilling steaks at Bonanza when he was 16.
One evening, Schultz decided to drive home from Grapes' Kenaston Avenue location via Academy Road. Schultz, a graduate of Red River College's Hotel & Restaurant Management program, had been thinking about opening a place of his own for a while and that night, as luck would have it, he spotted a "for sale" sign in the window of a tiny, seven-table bistro called Grin.
Grin was a coffee-and-dessertspotrun by the same people responsible for Fusion Grill, situated immediately next door. Schultz got in touch with Scot McTaggart, Fusion's owner, and within a matter of days the two worked out a deal. In 2002, Saucers more than tripled in size when it moved a few doors west to its currentdigsat 570 Academy Rd., the former home of a grocery mart called Dunn's.
From the get-go, Saucers' bread-and-butter has been its selection of gourmet sandwiches and soups. No typical deli fare here. Choices run along the lines of a turkey-asparagus melt (oven-roasted turkey, asparagus, tomato, pesto mayonnaise and provolone cheese on ciabatta bread) and a California club wrap (avocado, roasted red pepper, red onion, jalapeno peppers, arugula and cilantro on a flour tortilla).
Schultz recalls how he came up with the idea for Saucer's most popular item, its peanut Thai wrap.
"I was having lunch at a restaurant — the name escapes me — somewhere in California. The special was a Thai chicken pizza, and I thought to myself, I could take all those same ingredients(roast chicken, peanut sauce, lettuce, tomato, bean sprouts, carrots and vermicelli noodles)and roll them up in a wrap. It worked —it's been our No. 1 seller since Day 1."
After the kitchen put the peanut Thai wrap on hiatus a few years ago, Schultz and Deacon were bombarded with angry emails from customers threatening to boycott their establishment until they reintroduced it.
Saucers owes much of its success to the fairer sex. Although the demographics have changed a bit lately, Schultz says it's still not uncommon to wade through the room at noon and spot one man for every 30 women.
"Academy (Road) kind of lends itself to that, I think," says Schultz, who grew up in Southdale. "We have a fair number of hairdressers, dress shops and boutiques nearby; in the last decade, it's really become a shopping destination for women from all over the city."
"And I think it works out pretty good for the business owners, too," Deacon goes on. "There's a bridal shop not too far away from us. Whenever ladies shopping for dresses are having trouble deciding what they want, the employees there tell them to leave their cars out front, go for lunch and come back in 90 minutes after they've had time to think about it."
There isn't a wall of fame at Saucers yet. If the owners -- both married fathers of two -- ever get around to constructing one, they will have their hands full making room for pictures of every celeb they've fed through the years.
Schultz and Deacon have prepared meals for prime ministers (John Turner owns property in Lake of the Woods and has popped in for takeout on his way out of town), presidents (Saucers catered a meet-and-greet with Bill Clinton when he visited Winnipeg for a lecture series) and kings (that would be blues legend B.B. King).
Also, if you want to be a Jets captain, you'll have to eat like a Jets captain.
"Andrew Ladd comes in all the time," Deacon says, mentioning Toby Enstrom and Zach Bogosian as other familiar faces. "A couple of days after Ladd and his wife had their last kid, he was here with the whole family ordering his usual -- our pulled bison sandwich."
To mark Saucers' 15th anniversary, Schultz and Deacon are currently kicking tires around town with an eye toward opening a second location.
"The biggest problem is figuring out a way to duplicate what we've got going on here," Schultz says, noting one of the things he cherishes most about his business is its eclecticism. It's typical, he explains, to serve cake and coffee to one table while people at a neighbouring booth are working their way through a full-course entrée and bottle of wine.
"We get people from all over the city, but in our minds, we're still that place around the corner that people from the neighbourhood can stroll to," says Schultz. "So before we can seriously think about opening another Saucers, first we have to find the perfect spot.
"Or I guess I should say, the second-most perfect spot."