Hamilton

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

If you've attended a Soaring Spirits powwow, you likely know Christine Cayuga's cooking. The powwow runs this weekend and while Christine can't be there this year, she can also be found running the Gage Park Diner on Main Street.

'I don't think of it as my workplace, this is my home,' said owner Christine Cayuga

Christine Cayuga opened the Gage Park Diner in 2016. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

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

But the small restaurant, with colourful curtains framing the window and retro lettering across the glass, has become an Mohawk-owned community hub over the past six to seven years.

If you ask anyone who works there what their favourite thing about the restaurant is, they'll all say the same word — family.

"Two ladies might be talking to the server and the server might say something, and someone over in that far right corner might pipe up and say something — and the next thing you know these two tables become friends," said owner Christine Cayuga.

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

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

The diner is known for its all day breakfast but also has selections on the menu like sweetgrass tea, hominy corn and bison burgers.

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

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

"We've done all this kind of work our entire lives," said Tiffany Greene, Christine's niece, who also works at the diner. 

"That's how it started," said Amanda Cayuga, Christine's daughter.

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

"It's a really big thing for us, I'm glad it's taking place," Christine said.

'We realized we were good at it'

She and her family have been involved in every single Soaring Spirits powwow.

"We started to cook there, offering corn soup, ham and scone and strawberry juice," Christine said.

However, the family won't be there this year because they're attending a celebration of life.

From left: Christine, her daughter Amanda, and her niece Tiffany are some of the familiar faces at the diner. They say they want to operate the diner until "the wheels fall off." (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Over the years, as they continued providing food at the powwow, the Cayuga family started catering 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 mom.

Christine and Tiffany were both working at the restaurant where the diner currently sits — then called Auntie Boom's Retro Cafe — but it was about to close. 

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

'We're a village here'

On top of running the diner, Christine also works a second job as an office administrator.

Christine, Tiffany and Amanda aren't the only family members that work at the diner. One of Christine's sons, Devrin, has also worked there. Both of Tiffany's kids have, too.

"Just having this space gives Indigenous children confidence which you don't necessarily get," Amanda said. 

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

WATCH: How to make sweetgrass tea

Christine Cayuga shares how to make sweetgrass tea

15 days ago
Duration 1:41
Christine Cayuga, owner of Gage Park Diner, shows how to make sweetgrass tea.

As did David, a former staff member who passed away during the pandemic and was beloved by those who ate there.

"He was [six-foot-seven] I think … and klutzy as an ox, there wasn't a day he didn't break anything," Christine joked.

When customers weren't joking around with David or talking to Amanda about beadwork, they might have asked Tiffany if her dad hunted deer recently or if Christine made doughnuts. 

Christine said she's not shy to share recipes and show people how to make some of the food, either.

"It takes a village to raise a child and that's what we are, we're a village here," Tiffany said.

Christine shows off some of the diner's menus. Each title page has a different drawing from a kid who ate there. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Christine said she'll probably run the diner for another 10 years before giving herself a break.

"Do I hope that one of these guys will take it over? Absolutely," she said, referring to her family members.

While running a family-owned business offers a close-knit atmosphere, Christine said the family is planning to take a week-long break in August to unwind — but they won't be gone for too long.

"I don't think of it as my workplace, this is my home," Christine said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a reporter for CBC News in Hamilton. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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