The Hamilton Spectator
Maple Leaf Pancake House, Tally Ho stand the test of time
Owners optimistic of future despite shortage of cooks
George Vergos loves hearing stories about couples who met at his family’s restaurants and went on to enjoy happy marriages.
The Vergos family owns and operates two iconic west Hamilton eateries, Maple Leaf Pancake House and Tally Ho, both located just steps from each other on Main Street West, near McMaster University.
Over the years, Maple Leaf has become a regular meeting place for a casual breakfast after a night out, a place to catch up with friends or a Sunday lunch after church.
Tally Ho has been famous for its roast beef sandwiches for over 45 years, available for quick-service takeout or dine-in.
The two restaurants have endured many challenges, including COVID-19 restrictions that limited dine-in activities.
While things are better now, one remaining obstacle is the retention of cooks at Maple Leaf.
“We’re always looking for cooks,” said Vergos, who runs the day-today operations at Maple Leaf along with his wife, Jennifer, and his mother.
Cooking requires a certain skill set, Vergos noted. Cooks must be versatile, skilful and detail-oriented. That’s especially the case in a breakfast restaurant, where eggs, waffles and pancakes are cooked to order in a variety of styles.
“A breakfast cook is the hardest to find,” Vergos noted. “It’s not just deep frying.”
To deal with the shortage, Vergos has followed the lead of other restaurateurs by raising wages and continuing to work hands-on in the kitchen.
“You have to raise the wages. There’s no minimum wage here,” Vergos noted.
According to the Restaurants Canada 2022 Foodservice Facts report released last September, foodservice employers continue to lag other industries when it comes to pandemic job recovery. In June 2022, there were 171,715 job vacancies in the Canadian food service industry, a threefold increase from pre-pandemic levels.
According to the report, 77 per cent of restaurateurs surveyed reported increasing wages to attract more staff and 72 per cent increased the number of working hours by ownership and management-level staff to help offset staff shortages.
While Vergos notes the current shortage of cooks is worse than it’s ever been, he’s happy taking on more hours in the kitchen.
“I love it. We work together and it’s like a family,” he said. “If you love your job, it’s not a job.”
Along with cook shortages, Vergos has faced the effects of inflation, driving up the cost of everything from steaks to coffee cups.
But he’s hesitant to pass on those increases to customers.
“You can only go up so much,” said Vergos. “You want to give the quality, but I’m not here to rip people off.”
In an effort to simplify the dining experience and build efficiencies in the kitchen, Vergos recently streamlined the Maple Leaf menu from four pages to two, focusing on staple items like pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs and omelettes, plus some recent additions like breakfast wraps, meat skillets and a veggie skillet dish.
Maple Leaf also offers an array of house specials and lunch items like burgers, sandwiches, new-and-improved French fries, a Philly cheesesteak and more.
Over at Tally Ho, the recipes have changed little over the years, Vergos noted. Diners with a healthy appetite will gravitate toward the double beef basket, with steamed roast beef piled high on a toasted sesame seed bun with gravy, fries and coleslaw.
Shandi Walker, a server for nearly nine years at Maple Leaf, recalls hearing about Tally Ho’s roast beef sandwiches from her dad.
Walker, who was living in Peterborough at the time, tried the food at Tally Ho at the urging of her dad, a Stoney Creek resident. A few years later, she moved to the area and started working across the street at Maple Leaf Pancake House.
When asked what she likes about the job, Walker noted, “It’s very family-oriented. We have so many regular customers that keep coming back. I like that it’s very authentic and we keep everything the same.”
‘‘ I love it. We work together and it’s like a family. If you love your job, it’s not a job.
GEORGE VERGOS OWNER