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‘It felt like people were preparing for Armageddon’: Stittsville café serves hundreds after tornadoes eliminate power

People lined out the doors of the Main Street Café in Stittsville Saturday morning after tornadoes in Ottawa left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power.

Jen and John Monk, graduates of Algonquin and owners of the café, guessed they served between 200 and 300 people before closing at 12:30 p.m. The café, which seats roughly 80 people, posted a sign on the window announcing that they ran out of food due to the power outage.

“It feels like we were living a dream,” said Jen Monk. “It felt like people were preparing for Armageddon.”

Monk was thankful to customers for their kindness and patience.

“This community is like none other” said Monk, explaining how regulars at the café came in and immediately began pouring coffee and setting tables.

Erin Gillies, Monk’s sister, began waiting tables and passing out coffee to the customers waiting to be seated. Her husband, Ryan Gillies, a weekend staff member at the café, jumped on the line to help make toast and sandwiches.

“We all hustled that day,” said Monk, explaining the café was already shorthanded on Saturday and that her husband was home with their kids.

“As stressful as it was in here, it was more stressful witnessing the sheer panic,” Monk said. “It was broken out there.”

Located in a small strip mall across from a gas station that also had power, Monk watched the line trail down the street as people waited to fill up their gas cans.

Monk said she felt grateful that amidst the chaos, panic and stress they could be doing something for people by giving them a warm meal.

Paul Therien, cook at the Main Street Café, prepared food until 1 a.m Sunday morning. Monk explained that they could not have possibly prepared for Saturday’s demand but they knew what to expect for Sunday. The café remained open past its standard business hours to accommodate the equally high volume of customers.

“I love these people that come in here,” Monk said.

A graduate of Algonquin College’s journalism program in 2005, Monk worked for a community newspaper and as a political communications assistant.

“Writing will always be my first love,” Monk said, but she had always wanted to own a café or restaurant and it allows her to be social while providing the financial stability that writing did not.

“It’s a perfect extension.”

John Monk graduated from the same program in 2001 before working for the Ottawa Sun. In 2014 he started working for the Main Street Café and loved it. Exactly one year later he and his wife bought the café.

“Even though I don’t live here, I feel at home in Stittsville,” he said. “I feel blessed to be in the position I’m in.”

Apart from getting married and having children, the Monks claim purchasing the café was one of the best decisions they had ever made. It’s not always easy owning a business as a young family, between long hours and early mornings, but they cherish being home to tuck the kids into bed every night.

“We bought this for them,” said Monk, hoping they will take over the family business one day.

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