Done like dinner: Where do K-W restaurant staff go to eat after work?

After 10 to 12 hours on their feet working with food and cooking dozens of dishes, where do restaurant staff go to eat after hours in Kitchener-Waterloo? Food columnist Andrew Coppolino put that question to cooks in the region.

Chorus of calls for 24-hour Thai food

Restaurant staff around Kitchener-Waterloo differ greatly on where they like to go eat after a long shift in the kitchen, but many would like to see a 24-hour Thai outlet in the region. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

As restaurant customers, we can choose what, where and when we want to eat, and we have a host of venues to select from.

That's not necessarily the case for the people who may work in the very same restaurants we like to patronize.

After a long shift in the prep kitchen and behind the stoves that can stretch to nearly 12 hours on their feet (and sometimes six days a week), where do cooks in Waterloo region go to grab a bite after work? 

Their choices are often limited, but a few common themes and restaurants popped up in my informal survey.  

"If I'm alone, I might grab a Munchie sub from Pepi's," says Taco Farm's Nick Benninger. "If Nat and I take the family, it's often to Pho Tran. It's delicious, not expensive and fairly wholesome healthy food. We feel zero guilt for not feeding the kids ourselves."

Benninger then adds that he wishes there was a 24-hour Thai restaurant here. "How great would that be?" he asks.  

That seems to be the general consensus: when their hours match, several local cooks and restaurateurs go for Thai-Vietnamese dishes like pho noodle soup or middle east shawarma.

But they also hit two popular venues, one new and one old. 

"If I go home, my go-to is making a quick plate of pasta, which my wife loves. Usually, though, I go to Arabella Park or Ethel's Lounge for drinks and food after work," says Brian McCourt of Graffiti Market.

If she's worked late and wants to go out to eat, Ambrosia Corner Bakery owner Aura Hertzog seconds McCourt's vote for Arabella in Belmont Village, to which she adds another popular bar.

"I've really enjoyed going to Grand Trunk Saloon lately," Hertzog says.

That sentiment is echoed by Amédé Lamarche, a long-time cook and now culinary instructor at Conestoga College who gives two thumbs up to the Saloon.

"They have great cocktails and down-to-earth food. It's a very easy place to be," says Lamarche. If he's at home, though, and has the ingredients, he'll make a poke bowl (recipe below).  

Quick service options

On the one hand, while Tim Borys chef and co-owner at The Lancaster Smokehouse will visit Arabella and the Grand Surf Lounge, he also finds late-night snacks at a quick service restaurant that has dozens of locations across the country.

"Well, it's Popeye's," says Borys, noting the salty, crunchy element. He adds with a laugh, "It's the perfect food."

The Rich Uncle Tavern's executive chef Ben Lillico heads to near Wilfrid Laurier University for what he calls a "down and dirty" grilled cheese at Meltwich, while Jaret Flannigan of Guelph's Wooly Pub and a Kitchener resident chooses Arabella Park and occasionally visits Graffiti Market or White Rabbit.

King Street Trio chef Kyle Rennie might make a BLT sandwich with Jarlsberg cheese and a soft fried egg, or whip up pasta carbonara at home (recipe below), if he doesn't head to Waterloo's new Loloan Lobby Bar to sit and sip and watch the activity.

"I might also go to Proof Lounge after work," Rennie says. "I love sitting at the bar because it's really comfortable, and the food is always good. The bartenders are talented and funny, and I can catch up on news and watch whatever sports are on are television. And best of all, the kitchen is open late."

In New Hamburg, Jake and Humphreys' Bistro co-owners Janet Duncan and Klaus Ristanovic recall ordering pizza in the days they were with The Waterlot.

"Klaus ordered it to the apartment, but we were always late to receive it because of the next glass of wine in the restaurant kitchen after work. The pizza delivery guy got smart and started to check at the restaurant first," Duncan says. 

Wait staff choices

We can't ignore front-of-house wait-staff, the restaurant employees who are on duty for 10 to 12 hours and often the last to go home.

Paige Henderson runs the front-of-house at Kitchener's Swine and Vine Charcuterie; she likes to visit Arabella Park after work, but she also frequents Waterloo's Jane Bond.

"There's a nice, casual atmosphere. They serve good vegan food, and the staff are great," Henderson says.  

For Chris Kim of Public Kitchen and Bar, Grand Trunk Saloon or Arabella are top choices. 

"But there's also White Rabbit and Cheese's Murphy as go-to late-night stops, and now Harmony Lunch is open late," says Kim, who adds that he used to go to Crabby Joe's for "half-price apps super late."  

Kim says there are "not a lot of options food-wise late at night," adding the after-work restaurant culture has changed dramatically. "That's in part because of the drinking and driving laws."  

Stay-at-home recipes

Perhaps you don't want to venture out for a late-night nosh? In that case, here are two go-to recipes to make at home for after a long day, one a little more complex than the other.

Amede Lamarche's Poke Bowl

Ingredients for the tuna and rice

  • 1 cup sushi rice
  • 1 cup water
  • Seasoned rice vinegar, as needed
  • 300 grams ahi tuna, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • Sririacha, to taste

Ingredients for the garnishes

  • 100 grams corn kernels, blanched
  • 100 grams edamame, blanched and peeled
  • Avocado, thinly sliced
  • Zucchini, seeded and julienned
  • Crispy onions, optional
  • Togarashi spice, to taste
  • Kimchi
  • Pickled ginger

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Juice from one orange
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons sesame oil
  • Wasabi, to taste


  • Rinse sushi rice thoroughly until the water runs clear.
  • Cook the sushi rice in the water, either on the stove top or in a rice cooker. Once cooked, transfer to a bowl and season generously with the rice vinegar. Set aside to cool. Combine mayo and sriracha (as spicy as you like). Just before serving, combine with the diced tuna.
  • For the dressing, combine all ingredients except the sesame oil and whisk until homogenous. Slowly drizzle in the sesame while whisking. 
  • To serve, allow everyone in the family to make up their own bowl using rice as a base, then their preferred garnishes. Top with tuna, dress with wasabi citrus vinaigrette and shake on some togarashi and enjoy!

Kyle Rennie's Spaghetti Carbonara (serves 4)


  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 oz. guanciale (or bacon or pancetta), small dice
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 tbsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • Lemon juice, to taste


  • Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl and add cheese, salt and a good helping of black pepper (lots of pepper and cheese is the key to this pasta). Beat with a fork to combine all ingredients.
  • Heat olive oil on medium heat. Add diced guanciale and cook until the fat has rendered, and the guanciale is crispy. Keep fat in the pan. Add shallot and garlic clove and add a pinch of salt. Turn to low heat and cook shallot until translucent.
  • Add pasta to boiling water. Stir and cook to al dente. Put your pan on medium high heat. Add a 3-oz. ladle of the water your pasta was cooked in, to your pan. This starchy water will help the sauce coat your pasta. Add pasta to your pan and reduce until water is mostly evaporated away. Remove garlic clove.
  • Add hot pasta with bacon to your mixing bowl containing your beaten egg and cheese. Toss vigorously. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs slightly, creating a creamy, cheesy sauce as you toss in the bowl. Add parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Grate some fresh Parmesan on top and serve.

>>Back to: Where K-W cooks eat after-hours


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.


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