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The Neighbourhood Eatery by Garry Engkent

At first, it was just stray dogs, cats, raccoons, rabbits and other small animals…

We ate well. We learned how to cook and make our food not only edible but tasty. At first, it was just for us. Then we decided to be a little more daring, a little more exotic, a little more entrepreneurial. We opened a restaurant, small café really, in lower town where dark alleys were dangerous and unhealthy. The place was kinda abandoned, and we made a deal with the landlord to fix up the place for business.

Julie and I were going to feed the poor, the down-and-out, the destitute, the needy, the hungry. We weren’t going to be a charity and give the food away for free. We were going to charge a fair price, and make a little profit on the side. We called our establishment: The Eatery.

We understood what was truly wanting. We started modestly. In a neighbourhood. Inner city families, homeless kids, beggars and the like required sustenance. A hot meal a day. Something to fill their bellies so they could flourish. These poor people were starving.

At first, even the down-and-out were suspicious of our offerings. Most came to use our lavatories to test out our place. A few began to order our meals and pay what they could—from coins found on the streets, from begging, from outright pickpocketing. They ate, they lived without gastronomic consequences from the food. They felt nourished. The meals were better pickings than those fast-food joints all over the neighbourhood. They came back for more, and they brought their chums, pals, and groupies.

“It’s good chow, and you get more than your money’s worth.” That was how the word of mouth went out around the neighbourhood.

We thought everything was going well, until we started getting a “better” class of clientele at our tables.

“Y’know, this neighbourhood has really cleaned up,” the newbie customer, whose clothing did not reflect the standards of this neighbourhood, observed. “Used to be lotsa stray cats, dogs, rats, and wild animals running around. You serve tasty food,” the city slicker complimented. “Best ragout since my Mama’s.”

Julie and I smiled politely. We sensed there was more to the accolade from our uptown patron.

“I had the dishes tested. Your cuisine is made up of cats, rats, dogs and an occasional coyote. I should inform the Department of Health, the restaurant association… I haven’t yet.”

“And will you?” Julie asked simply.

“I could be persuaded otherwise.”

Only last week, Julie and I were afraid that we might have to forage farther out as we were running out of basic ingredients. Now, we have a new source! Our fridges and freezers are replete with blood sausages, ground meat, chops, roasts and soup stock all homemade. Excellent protein for hot meals.

The Neighbourhood Eatery has expanded its humble menu—to include something human.

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