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City’s oldest restaurant faces uncertain future

After four generations of family ownership, there may be no one left
to keep The Commodore afloat

Owner David Gee at The Commodore. The photos behind him tell the history of the restaurant and Edmonton.  (Kieran Fong)

By Kieran Fong

THE COMMODORE, a family-owned Edmonton restaurant, has been in business for for 80 years – and this may be the end.

Four generations of the Gee family have run the downtown landmark, which sits right next door to Audreys book shop, but the current owner’s daughter is not sure she wants to take the reins.

David Gee is at the tail-end of his career. During an era where fast-food and chain-owned restaurants have conquered the city, the Commodore stands out as one of few family-owned eateries left in the city. Gee estimates that 80 per cent of the restaurant’s customers are regulars.

“We’re embedded in the neighbourhood,” he says. “You come in, everyone kind of knows everybody. Seeing all the people over the years, some of them are third and fourth generation.”

Gee eagerly shows articles written about his restaurant – it has been featured in everything from the Food Network’s 12 Greasy Spoons from Coast to Coast to the exhibit Chop Suey on the Prairies: A History of Chinese Restaurants in Alberta at the Royal Alberta Museum. David’s family worked alongside him before COVID. His daughter Meagan, his mother Wilma and wife Sunny all worked full-time.

Meagan, who is a trained chef, seemed like the logical heiress, but she’s been out of the family business for two years and isn’t sure she wants to return, Gee says

‘I should have
taken more pictures’

Plastered across the wall of The Commodore are pictures of the restaurant’s history: A black-and-white photograph of Gee’s father Wally hoisting his son. A framed menu from 1971.

Gee also loves showcasing photographs of local artists, and Edmonton folk musicians regularly perform there.

There are no QR codes at this restaurant. The Commodore is a time capsule. Looking at the avocado-green countertops under the coffee machine, you’re transported to the 1970s. The oldest object is a milkshake machine from the 1950s. The menu features such typical diner food as chicken-salad sandwiches, and hotcakes and eggs.

Most items cost less than $10.

Several high-profile guests have visited the restaurant over the years, including scientist David Suzuki, sports announcer Chris Cuthbert and author Pierre Burton.

“I should have taken more pictures,” Gee says. “Tommy Banks –  he used to come in quite a bit. But I never asked him for a picture. I should have, but he passed away.”

He guesses he has around 120 pictures on the walls.

At 62, Gee won’t say when he’ll retire but, when a 65-year-old customer recently asked him about packing it in, Gee brushed him off.

“I said, ‘Well, I got another 23 years to go.’

“And then he looks at me, and he says, ‘Bullshit.’”

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