They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That said, there was a free breakfast the morning of December 31 in Mistissini. From 8-11 am Adels Restaurant served 350 free breakfasts to honour founder Charlie Brien, who passed away in 2002. His daughter, Annie Brien, said that Charlie had done one in the late 1990s and they did one when he passed on.
“My cousin Ashley Iseroff was visiting me and suggested it,” said Annie. “I told him it would be a nice thing to do.”
The family and 10 people who volunteered their time had fun at the event, she said, adding that they are thinking of making it an annual event. “It’s a way to thank everyone for their continued support for Adels and to honour the memory of our dad,” Annie said.
Isseroff said that the restaurant gave him his first job. We can only imagine him starting out washing dishes and working up to making french fries in the hope of being promoted to waiter so he could earn a little extra with tips.
Personally, I remember Charlie Brien once telling me that the secret to his great french fries was to let the potatoes age a bit, which makes them crisper.
The restaurant was packed, and people were taking the time not only to eat but to wish others the best in the upcoming year. It had the feel of a community coming together as they did in the old days.
Charlie started out selling tea, pop and sandwiches to construction workers in the community. He set up a prospector’s tent after buying a TV and gas-powered generator. In the afternoon, he would put on soap operas for the ladies (and some men) and with a Coleman stove make and sell tea and donuts before the TV was switched to hockey in the evenings. It was a place the community could gather to gossip, meet up and simply be together. The free breakfast on New Year’s Eve recalled the atmosphere of those early days.
Charlie deserves to be honoured as one of the first real self-made Cree businesspeople in Mistissini. When he started there weren’t any grant or loan programs for Cree entrepreneurs. He built a business from the ground up. He took the log cabin the Band gave him and turned it into a restaurant.
In those days there were no permits or red tape to worry about. As there was no road when he bought restaurant equipment and a pool table, they had to be paddled in from the beach about 16 kilometres away or brought in by winter road. In the late 1970s, an economic development agency helped Charlie expand Adels. But when he was asked if he needed more money he said no because he had saved up most of the cost of expansion. He was a man who knew what he wanted, what he needed to do and how long it would take him to become debt-free.
He also was a person who loved and believed in his community. The Adels free breakfast is a continuation of those values and shows his generosity is something he passed on to his family.