There’s nothing better than sitting down to a plate of comfort food on a cold winter’s night, or any night for that matter.
In North Bay, a neighbourhood restaurant aptly named Hit The Spot more than fits the bill.
“We’ve been here since 1999. My wife Tammie and I started it back then. We owned the convenience store next door at the time and started this as a second business. As of now, we only have this business,” explained owner Rene L’Ami about his 150 Mountainview Drive restaurant.
“It is basically all comfort food, your fries, hamburgers, pogos, poutines. We do offer some healthy options as well, like salads and sandwiches, things like that.”
Without question, the number one seller on the menu is their pogos.
L’Ami holds the pogo batter recipe close to his chest.
“It is a highly coveted secret. I tell no one about what goes into it. It is all homemade, so it is not like the typical thing you get in a box. So yeah, it has a distinct taste that nobody else really has,” grinned L’Ami.
The pogo has a slightly salty taste.
“And we do use different spices in there.”
The spice-flour mixture is a winning combination that keeps customers coming back for more.
“To date, we’ve probably sold close to a half million pogos, so it is definitely our signature item,” L’Ami proudly shared.
The burgers are also made by adding a little spice to kick the flavour up a notch, and the fries are all freshly cut.
“We use the same type of potato all the time, and the same type of grease so there is continuity with the flavour. We don’t blanch our fries, a lot of places in town do blanch their fries. They do that for speed, so they have them half-cooked and ready to go. We don’t do that,” L’Ami pointed out.
“You have to wait an extra minute or two, but you know they’ve gone from raw to cooked.”
When it comes to burgers, customers have their choice of the standard hamburger, cheeseburger, or bacon cheeseburger.
The restaurant is strictly take-out, however, there is the popular option of enjoying your meal at the picnic tables once the warmer weather returns.
During its first few years in operation, the business was open year-round. However, the owner eventually cut back on the number of months the doors stayed open, only to rethink his decision in recent years.
“We had the store next door and this (restaurant) was fully staffed. But it wasn’t quite busy enough to actually stay open in the wintertime, so we decided to close for a few months in the winter. We did that for 10 or 12 years, but in the past couple of years, we’ve reopened again in the winter time, basically to try to hang on to key staff so we’re not laying people off, and we can hold on to our employees and be ready for the next season,” L’Ami said.
Hit The Spot offers weekly and monthly specials, a draw for busy families and individuals.
“I think the appeal is the freshness. You know what you are going to get, it is a homemade feel. It is all cooked from raw, it is not processed the way some of the big chains are. The buns are made fresh every day.
And there is a sense of familiarity, seeing familiar faces.
“When you come in, hopefully, you’ll always get a smile and somebody is polite to you and it is like a small community type feel like, this is our spot in our area” L’Ami reflected.
His business is all about repeat customers, and building a relationship with the locals.
“We do get customers from all over town, but it really does service this community. There is not really a lot here in Birchaven and around, probably because there’s not a large enough population to be able to sustain a lot of places, but it is a nice little niche in this area for those people.”
Keeping the community in mind, many staff members come from the neighbourhood.
“I certainly try. I’ve had lots of different hiring strategies in the past, hiring different ages. I like to try to stick to students, university students, and young people. I find it keeps me young. They come in to work and they have a smile on their face most of the time, I really enjoy it,” L’Ami said about his hires, who learn transferable skills.
“They’re dealing with money, they’re dealing with food prep, they’re dealing with stress. There’s no doubt in the kitchen when it is busy, it is stressful. They’re learning customer service. So these young people are gathering lots of skills for life and to be able to cope.”
The restaurant is currently open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, and closed Sundays.
However, starting March Break, Hit the Spot will be back open seven days a week, which also means the return to its soft-serve ice cream.