The Opening Week of LEE Restoran

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

(from left to right: Annika, Kristjan, Sirli, Janno, Eliise, exchange student)

On May 1st, 2013, on the first day of 293 Wallace, the restaurant we created in Hope, British Columbia, this quote by Lao Tzu was put in the kitchen.

8 years and one month later, I’m torn between whether this is yet another inaugural step of a thousand mile journey, or if that single step has long since blown over and disappeared, leaving me well on the path. 

(the building we are located in is owned by the Scottish Club of Tallinn)

The past few months have been about strategy, brainstorming, and creating theoretical structure. There were many questions. Is this recipe scaleable? Is it feasible for our staff? Do we need more structure here? Another training program there?

How do we share our expectations with a group of ever changing and fluid individuals? What beautiful combination of natural intuition and precise hard skills are we looking for, and how do we create an environment in which those who join our team will be empowered to contribute their own genuine perspectives while feeling like their personal growth is being tended to?

Will our guests even like the food?

(lightly poached trout with roasted sunchokes and fermented potato sauce. the trout comes from Pähkla, a village in Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia)

Leib Restoran successfully pushed the idea that working with local Estonian ingredients and building relationships with farmers around the country would create an exciting place to eat. The food was fit for the Estonian palate, with bold flavours, a healthy amount of starch, and a nod to the traditional, like mannavaht, leib, and a potato dish reminiscent of traditional potato salad. The food also brought that little element of surprise that made it worth coming back to explore. 

When Kristjan and Janno closed this restaurant in September of last year, they shared their wishes for a breath of fresh air in the space. Annika and I were chosen to contribute our thoughts.

(setting up)

Early renditions of menu ideas were confused. We were pulling too heavily towards a certain influence, whether it be Nordic (from our time in Copenhagen) or Southeast Asian (my roots). We wanted to do something that reflected the flavours we enjoyed from travelling and exploring the world, but we needed to bring them to guests who had deep trust in a space and structure that was already successful.

Bringing new ideas to this restaurant sometimes seemed like trying to steer a ship with a single paddle. A ship, I will add, that was headed in a good direction and didn't necessarily need to change course. But with trust from our leaders and a vision that grew clearer with each passing day, we worked to create something that expressed who we currently are.

Lee Restoran was born with the intention of creating a space for our guests to share in a meal together, choosing many different dishes off of our menu and exploring a variety of flavours in one sitting. "Lee" is an ancient Estonian word describing a communal fireplace, where communities would come together to connect and eat together. It's a beautiful idea, one that resonates with my belief that food is a perfect medium for building relationships.

(beautiful asparagus from Erto farm, located 2 hours from where we are)

Opening week was a blur. Menu tasting with wine pairings. An 80 person private event. Full staff tasting with in depth explanations of the inspiration and techniques of every dish. Soft opening. Then, there we were, deep into it.

I must say that four years is a long time in between services. My legs didn’t seem up to it. My mind didn’t seem up to it. And yet, those who have done it will understand the beauty of a group of people who believe that creating something that can be used to connect people is worth all the hard work. Various tasks at home were left undone as all waking hours were spent in our new project. 

But that’s part of it, isn’t it? When you find something you want to invest into, you find little time to care for much else. So I can’t be anything but thankful to have found a purpose here in this new country. Let’s see where this thousand mile journey goes. 

If you want to check out what we do, click on the links below:

Lee Resto Website

Lee Resto Instagram

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