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Julia’s Favorite Restaurant in Waterloo Region…

The story of how a restaurant came to live in my heart

I don't know about you, but food - thinking about it and eating it - occupies a lot of my time. It's what I love most about travel and, truthfully, what I love most about staying home. My favorite restaurants perfect the formula of what makes a meal fantastic - food, ambiance and service.

Julia at 8 years of ageJulia at 8 years of ageIn my hometown of Waterloo, there's more than a couple restaurants doing this well. One restaurant (and its offspring) has taken up permanent residence in my heart. It's a travel story - through my life rather than around the world.

I grew up in Kitchener, with Chicopee Ski Hill my backyard, playground and life-lesson classroom and Fairview Park Mall my teenage stomping ground. Between the two sat the iconic and never-entered landmark, Charcoal Steakhouse. In my family, there was no such thing as extra money for dinner out - eating at McDonalds was a rare, rare treat.  

Fast forward to graduation from high school and my skinny, fresh-faced boyfriend taking me to Charcoal (it was my first visit). During dinner, he dropped to his knee beside me, took my hands in his and asked me to share the rest of my life with him. I looked at the ring and then around the restaurant and then into his nervously worried eyes. I began to cry.

proposal with a YES!proposal with a YES!That moment, shared with a group of strangers, dinners and servers, is one of the many perfect moments I've been blessed with in my life. My husband and I married, brought four children into the world and now live on the same street I grew up, a few doors away from my parents. While Charcoal has remained a physical landmark in my life, my husband and I didn't return to dine there again for 20 years - kids and a mortgage happily consumed our income.

While I was busy growing up and raising my family, Charcoal didn't remain just Charcoal. During the 90's the restaurant was completely overhauled and transformed into the Charcoal complex. From there, one restaurant blossomed into another and the Charcoal Group now boasts more than a dozen restaurants and hundreds of employees.

The true test of restaurant love

iconic Charcoal logoiconic Charcoal logoThe Charcoal group of restaurants includes Charcoal Restaurant, Del Dente, Martini's, Moose Winooski's, The Bauer Kitchen, Wildcraft and now BeerTown. Over the years we've enjoyed them all for intimate dinners and random milestones, both personally and professionally. The Bauer Kitchen hosts a Thursday evening casual networking event. I love that when I arrive, they make vegetarian apps a priority. Wildcraft hosted the introduction of Canada's first 140 Conference - what an incredible night that was.

But sometimes the best test of a restaurant is when things go wrong.

My last birthday we visited BeerTown to celebrate with our parents and kids. My guilty pleasure is a menu item that no one else in my family enjoys and sadly it's much too large for one person. I decided to use my birthday as an excuse to indulge without guilt. An unfortunate incident interrupted my ability to enjoy it fully. I won't bore you with the details but it warranted multiple visits from the staff to apologize.

Beertown of the Charcoal groupBeertown of the Charcoal groupIn the end, BeerTown graciously waived the bill for the entire table and supplied us with a beautiful array of desserts. As well, my husband and I were given a generous gift certificate to use at another time.

Does any of this make the Charcoal group of restaurants the best in Waterloo? No. But it does make me a solid supporter of the brand and more than willing to visit their restaurants - and recommend them to friends.

Charcoal's family of restaurants are part of my life, from the iconic bull to the sweet memories that make up my life's tapestry. I'll never tire of travel and the rich experiences it offers me but it's always nice to come home to the familiar.

Thank you, Charcoal for being part of my familiar.

Have you been to any of Charcoal’s restaurants? I’d love hear what you love about them! Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook – and let’s continue the conversation!

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Thanks for the comment, Anonymous - I'd feel a lot more comfortable chatting with you if I knew who you were :-) The question is fair but I would prefer not to go into detail. I will say that it was a mistake that should not have happened. But, we are all human and humans make mistakes - even ones that shouldn't happen. How I was treated after the mistake - both at the restaurant and on the phone the next day - more than made up for the error. Had they not admitted right away that it was an inexcusable error and tried to cover up, my feelings would be much different. Sometimes the best test of any product or service is when things go wrong - I want to know there's someone at the company listening to my needs. Charcoal answered the call with kindness and generosity. For the record, the compensation was lovely but it was the staff and how they treated the situation that won me over. Julia

What happened at dinner that made them compensate you to such a degree?

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