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How this family went from cooking at powwows to owning Gage Park Diner in Hamilton


At first glance, the Gage Park Diner looks like any other storefront on Main Street in Hamilton.

But the tiny restaurant, with colorful curtains framing the window and retro lettering on the glass, has grown into a Mohawk-owned community center over the past six to seven years.

If you ask anyone who works there what their favorite thing about the restaurant is, they’ll all say the same word: family.

“Two ladies might be talking to the waiter and the waiter might say something, and someone in that right-hand corner might step in and say something — and the next thing you know, those two tables become friends,” the owner said. Christine Cayuga.

Christine, from Six Nations of the Grand River, lives in the city and has run the restaurant at 975 Main St. E. since 2016.

The Gage Park Diner is located on Main Street, directly across from Gage Park. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The restaurant is known for its all-day breakfast, but also offers menu selections like sweetgrass tea, corn hominy, and bison burgers.

The front page of each menu is also different, each with a unique drawing made by children who have eaten there.

Christine may not be a world-class chef, but people who attend the Soaring Spirits powwow know all about Cayuga family cooking.

“We’ve done all this kind of work our whole lives,” said Tiffany Greene, Christine’s niece, who also works at the restaurant.

“That’s how it started,” said Amanda Cayuga, Christine’s daughter.

Soaring Spirits is an annual event full of dancing, singing, ceremonies and more. It will be held this year on June 25 and 26 at Battlefield Park in Stoney Creek.

“It’s really something important for us, I’m glad it’s happening,” said Christine.

“We realized we were good at it”

She and her family have attended every Soaring Spirits powwow.

“We started cooking there, offering corn chowder, ham and scone and strawberry juice,” Christine said.

However, the family will not be there this year as they are attending a celebration of life.

How this family went from cooking at powwows to owning Gage Park Diner in Hamilton
Left to right: Christine, her daughter Amanda and her niece Tiffany are some of the familiar faces at the restaurant. They say they want to run the restaurant until “the wheels fall off”. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Over the years, while continuing to provide food at the powwow, the Cayuga family began serving and cooking for other events and groups in the area.

“We realized we were good at it, she’s really good at it,” Amanda said, pointing to her mother.

Christine and Tiffany both worked at the restaurant where the restaurant is now located – then called Auntie Boom’s Retro Cafe – but it was about to close.

Tiffany, a single mother with two children, needed to keep her job, so Christine took over the lease.

“We are a village here”

In addition to managing the restaurant, Christine also has a second job as an office administrator.

Christine, Tiffany and Amanda aren’t the only family members working at the restaurant. One of Christine’s sons, Devrin, also worked there. Tiffany’s two children too.

“Just having this space gives Indigenous kids a confidence that you don’t necessarily get,” Amanda said.

Despite being a small but mighty team, they all find time to interact with customers.

WATCH: How To Make Sweetgrass Tea

How this family went from cooking at powwows to owning Gage Park Diner in Hamilton

Christine Cayuga explains how to make sweetgrass tea

Christine Cayuga, owner of Gage Park Diner, demonstrates how to make sweetgrass tea.

So did David, a former member of staff who died during the pandemic and loved by those who ate there.

“It was [six-foot-seven] I think… and klutzy as a beef, there hasn’t been a day that he hasn’t broken anything,” Christine joked.

When customers weren’t joking with David or talking to Amanda about pearls, they might have asked Tiffany if her dad had been deer hunting lately or if Christine was baking donuts.

Christine said she’s also not shy about sharing recipes and showing people how to make some of the food.

“It takes a village to raise a child and that’s what we are, we are a village here,” Tiffany said.

How this family went from cooking at powwows to owning Gage Park Diner in Hamilton
Christine shows some of the restaurant menus. Each title page has a different drawing of a child who ate there. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Christine said she would likely run the restaurant for another 10 years before giving herself a break.

“Do I hope one of these guys takes over? Absolutely,” she said, referring to her family members.

While running a family business provides a close-knit atmosphere, Christine said the family plan to take a week off in August to relax – but they won’t be gone for too long.

“I don’t think this is my workplace, this is my home,” Christine said.


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