Saturday, March 30, 2013

Art is in the Bakery in an Industrial Complex in the City Centre?

This afternoon my wife and I decided to go on a bit of an adventure to just to the west side of downtown Ottawa to investigate Art is in Bakery (250 City Centre Avenue, Ottawa) which is an Ottawa landmark amongst foodies especially for those enjoying the bakery cuisine.

Adventure? Yes, Art Is In Bakery (also known as Art Is In Boulangerie)  opened in 2010 in the current new location in an industrial plaza, bordering the O-Train tracks, where they have become well known for their breads and other baked goods. The Ottawa Magazine covered the opening and reviewed it.  As well the bakery does well on rankings (#11 in Ottawa) and the bakery has recently made the news with the announcement it will slow it's wholesale operation to concentrate on the retail side.   Yes, to run a retail operation out of a industrial plaza complete with walk up loading dock. Sounds weird and it is especially if you don't drive.

Getting there via public transit is interesting to say the least.  We took the OC Transpo through downtown to the Bayview Transitway Station. Now the fun part is if you are on the westbound side (north side of the Transitway) of Bayview Station you have to walk down the path to the O-Train tracks and back up to the eastbound Transitway platform then to the traffic light to cross Albert Street.  All of this just to exit the Bayview Station and get into the neighbourhood.  From there it is a short walk eastwards to City Centre Drive which has housing on the eastside and a large industrial complex on the westside that houses the bakery.  The main problem with this industrial complex is that sure it can be quiet on the weekend but the other businesses probably have large trucks coming and going during the week making approaching the Art Is In Bakery a little troublesome.

Once the front door is open though you are  welcomed by a front concrete warehouse floor busily full of tables brimming with people enjoying lunch at with the service counter running down the left.  The counter has a coffee machine, two cash registers as well as a counter and display case showing the days newly baked items brought out from the back.

We perused the display case and counter to investigate what to get.  We decided and then waited patiently for the single customer ahead of us to place our order.

The Order: 2 Hot Cross buns and a shortbread Easter Bunny Cookie.

Hot Cross Bun from Art Is In Bakery
We paid $7.07 for everything and left.  The breakdown was $1.75 each for the Hot Cross Bun and $3.00 for the drizzled chocolate covered shortbread cookie.  We couldn't believe the cookie was so expensive while the Hot Cross Bun seemed quite reasonable.   This brings up an issue my wife pointed out after we had left.  No prices were posted next to the newly baked items on the counter for customers to know how much an item is before buying it.  The only thing I asked the price of was the Hot Cross Buns and the employee had to type it into the cash register to find out it was $1.75 each.  The only prices posted, on large chalkboards hanging above,  are for the breads and sandwiches.  Nowhere to be found was the daily baked items pricing.  

The Hot Cross buns were perfect sweet tasting yet moist. The only downfall was I forgot to pick up a cup of tea or coffee to go with it.  Service wise the only quibble was they were not offered to be quickly heated to make them even better.  Warming them would have resolved the issue of the buns being made that morning and sitting until the afternoon for my purchase.  Minor quibble really, but to get the best out of the Hot Cross Buns they need to be warmed.  

The shortbread cookie was exquisite except for the before mentioned price.  The chocolate complimented the traditional dry shortbread very well.  The only problem was we never ordered a liquid either to go with the cookie. 

Overall, Art Is In Bakery is traditional bakery located an interesting location within an industrial location on a street called "City Centre Avenue".  With a name like "City Centre Avenue" it would be figured that the bakery would be downtown Ottawa within a hop from Parliament Hill.  Not so, it is located west of downtown and not even close to "City Centre" as most Ottawans would know it.  The food is top quality based on the reviews, photos I've seen as well as the couple of baked goods we had this afternoon to snack on.  Getting there can be tricky if you don't drive but hopefully will get easier as the lands around the Bayview Station and the O-Train tracks grows and matures.  Thus, Art Is In bakery may become part of a new city centre based around an industrial complex.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hope the Ottawa U's MBAs Don't Work at this Starbucks

I quite often pass by the giant Starbucks logoed lightbox mounted in the window of the University of Ottawa's Demarais building overlooking OC Transpo's southbound Laurier Transitway station. I wonder if this newish  Starbucks (55 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa) is any good?  Does it sate the caffeine addicted student clientele looking for relief?  Do the notoriously cash strapped student customers skip Starbucks' reputation of high brow and high priced over whipped caffeinated beverages?  There was only one way to find out.

Today I stopped off at the Desmarais building to find the Starbucks.  I entered Desmarais via the Laurier Street entrance and worked my way around to the Waller Street (Transitway) side to find the Starbucks.  A nice modern airy feeling with plenty of spots for students to pull up their laptops, enjoy some caffeine and work on projects either alone or in pairs. But during busier times I would imagine this Starbucks would quickly run out of seating room as there were approximately only seats for 20-30 people.

The line though was about ten customers long. There were four Starbucks employees working the counter with two cashs open, one employee on coffee bar and one running.  The first little bit the line seemed to move forward somewhat at a decent pace until I was third in line.  Then for some reason one of the employees decided he didn't want to do cash anymore and went over to the condiment and lid section to wipe that down while ten customers waited in line.  Sure another employee was starting by washing their hands, but the line then slowed down again.  The hand washing employee seemed to disappear to the back only to be seen later restocking the front display case. Really? Management has two employees doing cleanup during a break in classes as students (read: this location's main customer base) are filing in looking to buy?  Really?

Eventually I get to the front and place my order.

The Order: 1 Tall Blonde Roast.

The runner came back with my coffee soon after paying.  I ventured over to the condiment and lid section to be a little more perplexed.  The old "which lid would fit my cup" query surfaced.  There were four choices to choose from.  Normally at a fast food location like Starbucks and McDonald's that offers this Price is Right type of game, I fail at. On the first attempt I usually end up choosing the wrong sized lid and wastefully throwing it out instead of putting it back like a board of health bandit. At this Starbucks the bottom two holders of the lids had faint writing telling which one it is.  It looked like someone, once upon a time weeks or maybe even a year ago, wrote in labels in chalk for the lids right on the lid stack holders.  These labels, of course, have faded over time and the top two have totally evaporated.   I made my guess and, success, I was right! I covered my cup and left.

Overall, this Starbucks is in a prime location right on a major street at a university coupled with a major transit station nearby.  Added to this the frustrating length of lines at the Tim Hortons location at the University Centre (85 Universite Private, Ottawa) with only one cash and two or three workers stuck in a corner and this Starbucks location a short walk away looks like organized heaven.  But the Starbucks service needs some fine tuning.  There needs to be overlap of employees coming on and leaving so that the cleanup of the condiment and lid station, restocking baked goods display and general tidyness of the tables is attended to.  Surely it doesn't take a University of Ottawa Telfer School of Business MBA degree to know this theory and put it into practice.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kettleman's Bagels is the Place to Be in Orleans

Today for a snack while out and a about I visited Kettleman's Bagel Co. (1222 Place D'Orleans Drive, Ottawa).  I had previously visited a Kettleman's Bagel Co on Bank Street near Landsdowne Park and enjoyed it immensely for their fresh baked bagels. So would the location in Orleans fare just as well?  I felt conflicted, sure I compare McDonald's franchise restaurants against each other in terms of service and food preparation, but could I do the same for a bagel franchise between a popular downtownish location and a more suburban locale? Heck why not?  Let's do it.

I arrived at 2 P.M. to bet he only customer in the store.  Was not to worried though as there were four employees working away.  Two were working the batter into the perfect circles getting them ready for the roaring wood fire.  Another was neatening up at the front waiting for my bagel order.  A fourth, I'm not sure what she was up to but was around as later should would assist in preparing the order.  I stood there wishing I could taste each and every single item on the menu just like an overzealous kid at Baskin & Robbins wanting to taste all 31 flavours.  Finally, I did narrow down my bagels to two choices.

The Order: 1 Garlic bagel with plain cream cheese and 1 Cinnamon Raisin Bagel

The Garlic bagel with cream cheese took a little while to acquire as it was sent over to the other employee who cut it in half and started spreading cream cheese.  The Cinnamon Raisin Bagel I asked her to cut in half so my wife could enjoy as well.

The Garlic bagel with cream cheese was a bagel connoisseur delight. The bagel was definitely garlicy and still warmish to the tongue from the fired up adventure it had just made into and out of the oven. The only quibble, I think the dough was circled a little to thinly and could have been a slightly more generous.  The cream cheese though was easily generous. A large amount of creaminess enveloped my tongue to challenge the garlic of the bagel to a delightful dual of supremacy.  My taste buds were the beneficiary of the dual with no victor pronounced.

I ended up with half the Cinnamon Raisin Bagel as well as my wife only wanted half.  The bagel was, understandibly, a little lacklustre compared to it's Garlic cousin due to the lack of cream cheese. The Cinnamon Raisin Bagel by itself was a great entry in the competition of bageldom.  I would easily enter it against  Tim Hortons' finest only to have Kettleman's easily beat it hands down.  Would Kettleman's out dual a bagel from the heart of Montreal?  Not sure yet. How about New York? Darn close to the goodness I've tasted at two of Brooklyn Height's finest during my days strolling the streets in New York City. The only downside is the Kettlemen's Bagel Co in Orleans is held back by it's scenery compared to the awesomeness of New York. But then again, putting a suburban strip plaza location overlooking a vast expanse of parking lot against the Manhattan Skyline really is not fair at all.

Overall, this Kettleman's is exactly the same quality of food and service  you would find at the other Kettlemen's located on Bank Street in south Ottawa. The added value of the Orleans location is it is not as busy during the day as the Bank Street location.  This is because of the Bank Street's location in the touristy Glebe neighbourhood as opposed to the more suburban Orleans location. But imagine the Orleans location is busier on the weekends due to the surbanites looking for a weekend breakfast out or a snack.  Orleansians could do worse, heck there is Place D'Orleans Mall right across the street with some food court food that wouldn't even light a fire to the goodness that Kettlemen's fire baked bagels posses.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

While on the Train, Pick up a Sandwich

For lunch on Friday I visited Subway (500 Terminal Avenue, Ottawa) for an old fashioned sub sandwich.  I had previously tried the Subway in the Alta Vista Centre and found it subpar.

On previous visits to this location at the Ottawa Train Yards I have had pretty good sub sandwiches with friendly service.  Friday was no different.

I visited at 12:15 to find the restaurant filled with people and a decent line up.  I thought twice about joining the line as sandwich shop lines are not known for moving that quickly.  I gritted my teeth and stuck to it.  Turned out I was right, I looked at my watch when I joined the line and after paying, 5 minutes total.  Not bad for a busy spot with about 20 sandwiches in front of me.  The place ran like clockwork with 4 employees manning the counter.

The Order: 1 12" Cold Cut Combo on 9 Grain Wheat.

The first employee inquired about what type of bread and cheese I would like before passing me over to the second.  The second employee added the meat and other toppings.  The third employee was tied up in making a salad for a bit.  Thus, he really wasn't used except to wrap the sandwich.  But it was nice to see the second employee ensuring I didn't get stuck in Subway sandwich prep pergotory by noticing the third employee was a little backed up due to the salad prep and helped to top a few sandwiches with vegetables. Finally, the fourth employee took payment and gave the ever usual fast food upselling query: "Would you like to make it a combo?"  I of course said "no" and skipped out the door.

At home, I unwrapped my sandwich and ensured it was made to Subway specifications, as in 12" long sandwich.  I did this as I had previously read that other customers had found Subway was giving them 11" bread instead of the advertised 12" or footlong.  Sure enough, my sandwich was a perfect 12"

Now taste wise, things also stacked up.  The mayonnaise was perfectly apportioned and not spilling out.  There was only 1 topping spilling out, the usual lettuce.  No other casualties that fell out of the sandwich were  noticed.  Freshness wise, all the ingredients tasted perfect.  I only mention this because at some Subway locations the toppings can get a little questionable especially when they taste like they have been sitting for a while.  Noticeably, it is usually the meatballs with the dried on tomato sauce.

Overall, the Subway at Ottawa's Train Yards shopping complex is a great place to grab a sandwich while on the go.  Good knowledgeable service with a decent turnover of fresh toppings ensures good sandwiches leave the place.  This has become my new favourite place to grab a Subway sandwich.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Yes Even T&T Can Be Overpriced

Sunday afternoon my wife and I were in the mood for a little adventure, to find the T&T Supermarket (224 Hunt Club Road, Ottawa) have lunch  at their food court and to resupply on dumplings.

We first took the OC Transpo's Route 98 down to South Keys Shopping Centre to take a look around to kill time in order to board the Route 116 that runs westwards along Hunt Club Road every half hour.

Easy peasy to kill time at South Keys Shopping with a Wal-Mart, Chapters, Loblaws and other stores strung out between OC Transpo's South Keys and Greenboro Transitway Stations.  We merely returned for the bottom of the hour to grab route 116 to head westwards along Hunt Club.

We arrived at 1:46 P.M., after OC Transpo's Route 116 was late picking us and dropping us off.  The schedule does need some refinement, but more on that later.

I've been to T&T Supermarkets in Richmond Hill (Weldrick & Yonge Street store), Thornhill (Promenade Mall) and in Vancouver (Metrotown store) with layouts being very similar in all of them.  The service is usually quite good with multilingual servers (English, Cantonese, Mandarin, etc.) available.

We walked across the parking lot to the large sprawling Asian food store and walked inside.  On the right side of the large store is the ready to eat area to pick up Asian style foods including sushi, BBQ Duck, and other items.  As well, just beyond a dedicated check out is a food court seating area.  

I joined the line at the Hot Food section where several Asian hot food dishes are laid out in cafeteria style display with usually a couple of T&T workers more than willing to serve you.  However, the 3 workers seemed preoccupied.  Sure the first worker was serving the family of three ahead of me, but the other two were more interested in resupplying the different dishes rather than serving the growing line behind me.  The family ahead of me was of course attempting to feed an army as rice was flying into various plastic take out containers along with various other Asian inspired goulashes.   Was about 5 minutes in line before one of the other workers started moving us.  By that time the line had grown to about twenty people.  I eventually placed my order.

The Order: 2 Item Combo: Beef Brisket with Chinese Radish, Rice and some chicken dish.

Some chicken dish? Yes another issue at this T&T, the lack of labelling.  At the Richmond Hill T&T store each dish is labelled with what is in it (i.e. beef brisket and radish) so that it is both easier for the customer to know what is in said dish as well as order it with the T&T employee.  To rub salt in the wound, the prices are higher at the Ottawa store than the Richmond Hill store.   The Ottawa store, for example, charges $6.49 for a two item combo whereas the Richmond Hill store for the same dish would charge $5.99.  But yet the Ottawa store can not label their dishes for the life of them?

We proceeded back to the store aisles to find a bottle of water to drink with our warm Asian goulash and came back to the check out near the food court.  Upon exiting the check out we noticed the food court was pretty busy and not very clean.  Yes, Asian places are a little questionable for cleanliness sometimes, but at T&T nothing more than a cloth is usually needed.  Compared to the Richmond Hill T&T the Ottawa one was a well travelled dump.  There was garbage left behind on trays and questionable sauce left on tabletops along with misdirected noodles.  The employee responsible for the food court? I found him later when we were leaving, he was more interested in playing with his IPhone than doing the job he was hopefully being paid only minimum wage for.

The food tasted subpar.  The beef brisket with radish was just a little above room temperature.  The beef tasted lower in quality than at the Richmond Hill T&T store.  Basically it was just satisfactory and nothing special.  The chicken whatever, I have no idea what it was supposed to taste like due to the aforementioned  lack of labeling.

Not a great visit to T&T as it is more expensive and the food is subpar, but the fun was about to happen, the return home.

We went out to the OC Transpo bus stop and waited 40 minutes for a bus to arrive.  Yes it turns our Route 116 only operates hourly eastbound to Greenboro and South Keys stations on Saturdays and Sundays.  Not sure where the rest of the buses are going westward operating half hour service, but they certainly are not returning Eastward on the same route.  Thus, getting back into town from the busy intersection of Riverside Drive and Hunt Club Road is pathetic.  There is definitely demand there with three lanes of constant traffic crossing Riverside Drive heading eastward and another 3 heading westward.  Really it is quite odd more service isn't added so there is at least 30 minutes between buses.

Overall the T&T hot food section in Ottawa needs help.  Perhaps it is the lack of competition that has allowed things to slip at the Ottawa store.  Really there is not much competition in the Asian grocery store section compared to Toronto or Vancouver.  Added to poor food quality and higher prices, the store is hard to get home from via transit on weekends due to OC Transpo's ridiculous scheduling of one bus an hour on a major arterial road. If your looking for Asian food, better to head to Ottawa's Chinatown where at least there is better food and a more frequent bus that can return you from whence you came.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mediocre St. Laurent McDonald's

Today I grabbed my McDonald's coupons and headed to 1795 St. Laurent Blvd to a McDonald's I had never been to.  Thought it was a great idea even in the densely falling snow figuring nobody would be there at 11:45 A.M. on a Friday.

Was I ever wrong!  The place was crawling in so many kids you could easily open up a daycare centre complete with playroom.  Right, the Friday of March Break.  Heck, even McDonald's character Birdie showed up to greet the kids.

I walked up the counter and waited as the first in line with four cash registers open. I was signalled to by a cashier that she was ready.  I handed over my 1 can dine for $4.99 coupon and ordered.

The Order: 1 Big Mac Meal (Big Mac, Medium Fries & a Coke).

She handed my change back and said in a monotone stern voice, "have a nice day".    It sounded like this McDonald's restaurant was trying to incorporate the latest lame customer service idea from corporate head office where each employee is supposed to say to the customer "have a nice day." Not a bad concept really on paper, but in real life with a minimum wage employee who is merely counting the minutes until break/lunch/end of shift delivering the line, the sincerity is lost.

I waited at the counter  for my order which was filled by a manger pretty quickly.  I've noticed at most McDonald's now that processing of food orders has been better stratigized.  First there is the cashier who takes your order, cash and sets up your tray.  Next the runner goes from the kitchen to your tray ensuring everything is filled correctly.  Works pretty well when the kitchen is running at peak efficiency and the runner knows what they are doing like today.  But I've had disasters in the past that ended up with runner being to uncoordinated to fill the orders or simply not being there leaving the cashier to fill everything if they even bother to notice.  Not here though, peak efficiency was the order of the day and I was off to the condiment stand.

The condiment and drink stand was a disaster.  The Coke dispenser was definitely in need of a change of Coke syrup.  It tasted like a bad club soda.  Nasty.  The ketchup containers were absent off of one of the two dispensers.  Gathered everything I could find and off to the tables.

Right the tables....  only one in the entire place sandwiched between a stroller and another set with grandma and grandkids.  No problem, the mom with the stroller was pretty nice ensuring I had enough room.  The grandmother though on the side came with a grandfather who insisted on rearranging the newspaper I brought with me to read during the meal while squeezing between the tables.  Not sure who the designer was of the new renovation, but these two separate tables should not have been that close.  It looked like the jammed the table in where it was just short of space to do so. Of course, Birdie had to visit the kids at the table which was a mixed reaction.  One of the kids squirmed against the wall figuring Birdie would grab him and take to the skies while the sister was a little more into and gave Birdie a hug.

The entire restaurant though needed a complete mopping and sponge down.  Not the best time to visit due to the large number of kids running around and parents trying to keep control of their little ankle biters with their SUV strollers.

The food was average mediocre food. The fries were decent temperature but that should expected considering the number of customers being processed and new batches required constantly.  The Big Mac was fine as well.

Overall, this McDonald's was mediocre.  Mediocre food that was just o.k. Mediocre customer service that I could tell would rather not be there.  My big mistake though was attempting to visit the closest McDonald's to Ottawa's Science & Technology Museum on the Friday of March Break during lunch time.  Add to that, a fresh new set of McDonald's coupons had been dropped in mailboxes across Ottawa, things were bound to be busy.  I bet, if I had visited at any other time, this McDonald's would have risen to good but definitely not very good to excellent.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

OC Transpo Condoned Timmies Run

The actions of the driver in summer 2012 in this video are endorsed by OC Transpo management.

A similar issue happened to myself yesterday ironically with a different driver at the very same stop the above video occurred. I boarded the Route 8 OC Transpo bus bound for Gatineau heading north on Alta Vista Drive at the Dorion Drive stop which happens to be in front of the Tim Hortons location at the Alta Vista Centre shopping plaza. The Route 8 bus was in service and about three minutes ahead of schedule with at least ten fare paying passengers aboard.  Normally a bus like this with proper space to wait, like the bus bay at this stop, would wait out the two minutes before resuming the route back on scheduled time.

Not so with the bus scheduled to leave Dorion Drive at 9:16 A.M.  The bus driver boarded the passengers and then got up and left for the Tim Hortons location.  Sometimes bus drivers get up and go if they have to use the washroom in emergency situations.  So I watched carefully, if I saw the Gary Bettman look a like driver return empty handed, nature called urgently I could understand.   Sometimes one cannot spend the two minute drive to nearby Hurdman Station which has employee washrooms.  The driver though returned with a large Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim To Win contest coffee cup in hand.  I rolled my eyes that the driver thought it was appropriate to exit the bus, walk across the parking lot and visit Tim Hortons for a coffee while at least 10 passengers were aboard.  I shook my head realizing the possible liability issues if anything were to happen.

Later on that day I came across a Twitter posting about this blog post about waiting for over an hour for a Route 1 OC Transpo bus. I decided to tweet OC Transpo about my issue.  Here is where I thought my open and shut case turned into an interesting adventure of what OC Transpo bus drivers are allowed to do.

I reported the Route 8 Tim Hortons issue to @OC_Transpo (the official Twitter feed of the City of Ottawa's OC Transpo Transit system) on Twitter:
A couple of minutes later this (duly favorited) reply came back:
I was a little floored about the response. In my case the Route 8 bus driver didn't delay us as the bus was 3 minutes ahead of schedule but leaving the bus running while obtaining a coffee while on duty seemed to present an issue of liability.  With that I replied:

I also inquired if the City of Ottawa's Transit Chair, Councillor Diane Deans, knew about this policy:
No response as of yet from either Councillor Deans or OC Transpo about her knowledge of OC Transpo condoning a Tim Hortons coffee run mid route.

Before OC Transpo could reply to my other question, another Twitter user forwarded me this story by CFRA about off duty OC Transpo drivers grabbing a coffee at the Tim Hortons on Belfast Road.  Ironically that Tim Hortons happens to be a two minute drive from the Tim Hortons location on Alta Vista where Route 8 seems to be having issues. I followed up the tweet to clarify that the issue I was talking about was an in service Route 8 bus with fare paid passengers aboard.

Finally a reply came back from OC Transpo on my query about condoning a bus driver leaving an in service bus with passengers aboard to grab some java:
Yes, right from OC Transpo, a bus driver with a bus in service and passengers aboard can disembark, grab an extra large double double from the Tim Hortons, run back and get the bus in gear as long as he/she is no more than 5 minutes late.  That is because the driver would be adhering to OC Transpo's 0-5 minutes late standard.

I then questioned with two tweets if this policy had been passed by the City of Ottawa's Transit Comittee and if the City's insurance agent know about the Tim Hortons run policy?  No reply came forth.

Instead OC Transpo then followed up with tweet about a washroom break in Toronto:
To this I of course replied to OC Transpo that my incident was not a bathroom break as the driver returned with a coffee to an in service bus.  Also, I suggested that if it was a bathroom break of a non-emergency variety but couldn't make it to the end of the route that Hurdman Station was two minutes away with both fellow OC Transpo drivers and Supervisor on seen to ensure safety of passengers on the bus. To this reply I got:
This was also followed up by another tweet by OC Transpo on the issue about drivers washroom breaks:
I was in no mood to go through it as I had provided OC Transpo with all the details in my Twitter conversation. If OC Transpo was really interested in following up with the driver to solve the problem they could easily do so.

In my experience with York Region Transit (YRT) usually what comes of calling in with a complaint about a driver is you spend 5 minutes on the phone waiting for someone to pick up the phone, another 10 minutes to explain the problem and for the Transit Customer Service Operator to record the information.  From there the customer either never hears back or gets some lame excuse that the driver has denied doing anything of the sort.  Unless there is photographic evidence of the incident, there is nothing that can be done.   So why would I waste my time with OC Transpo doing the same thing when I wasn't in the mood?  Hence my reply:
On the issue of adequate drivers washroom breaks I replied that this issue was a OC Transpo, driver and/or Union issue and not a customer problem.  OC Transpo replied that this issue is always a topic of conversation and GPS study with adjustments being made whenever possible.

Finally, OC Transpo replied to my issue of the in service Route 8 at the Tim Hortons:
I made one final tweet on this issue summing up my learnings of the day:
During the above conversation with OC Transpo, I tweeted the Ottawa Citizen's City Hall Reporter David Reevely who confirmed he hears about this issue every now and then but has not heard anything untoward happening on a bus in similar circumstances.

Later, I did turned to Google for a little assistance to see if others had been through it.  I laughed when I found the video at the top of this post with a different driver at the exact same location the summer before my incident.

Generally, should bus drivers, no matter if they work for the TTC, YRT, GO Transit, and/or OC Transpo be able to grab a coffee?  Yes and No.

Yes: If the driver is on a schedule break or is not scheduled to drive a bus with passengers aboard.

No: The driver is using an in service bus with fare paying passengers aboard.  This obviously presents scheduling and liability issues if something were to happen.

As for issues around lack of breaks for drivers due to late buses, that is for transit agencies, drivers and/or unions to resolve during bargaining or consultations and not an issue of fare paying passengers. After all scheduling of employees for shifts and turn around time for drivers were both issues during the last driver strikes at OC Transpo and YRT that with a new contract were resolved.

For emergency washroom breaks, sure by all means drivers can feel free to check into a Tim Hortons or other coffee shop to use the facilities.  Just do not exit with a coffee in hand as that shows possible ulterior motives and how much a driver really cares about the fare paying customers they provide service for.  Ulterior motives? Yes the optics show the driver is more interested in the caffeine fix rather than ensuring the safety of passengers on the bus by keeping watch and/or possibly making an effort ensuring passengers reach their destination by the scheduled time. But lets remember that emergency calls of nature do happen.

In the end, though the most burning question through this entire post, Was the driver winner?  The bus driver did not win at the Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim Contest. But he was a winner for working for OC Transpo who pays their employees to grab coffee while operating an in service vehicle with fare paying passengers.  My only follow up request, could we get drive thru next time?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Starring at Starbucks

Stopped by Starbucks (81 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa) for cup of coffee.  Didn't even know this location was there.  But that is to be expected despite the large Starbucks symbol out front at the corner of Metcalfe and Slater Streets,  it is across the street from another Second Cup and kiddie corner to another Tim Hortons location.  In fact add another coffee shop to the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Metcalfe and Slater, it could be renamed "coffee shop corners".

I visited at 12 Noon from the Metcalfe Street side and was greeted by a sign that said "line up here" on top of a met post with the felt customer que strung to another one.  I thought it was funny I was supposed to start there but the end of the line was on the other.  But it did make since there was five customers in line waiting for their caffeine fix.

With only one Barista working the cash things were not moving too fast.  Two other Baristas were like a mirage in the back making other customers drinks.  So hopeful, yet so far from the coffee. Worse, the first lady in line wanted to know every last detail on the ground coffee package she wished to purchase.  Questions to the only Barista on cash seemed to flow a trickle.  The Barista kindly explained each answer in a calm manner as the other customers started to fume. Fortunately a white knight arrived, washed her hands, put on her Starbucks green apron and bubbily took up her post at the cash.  HUZZAH!

The line started to move as the new Barista cheerfully took orders, filled coffee and moved customers needing specialty coffee to the other two Barista's at the prep area.  The other Barista finely sold the ground coffee to Question Lady and CHARGE! The green aproned Barista team was back to full strength and rocking the line. I moved quickly up the line to place my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Blonde Roast Coffee.

I paid and left laughing at the situation I just left.  I enjoyed my coffee, it tastes just like a lighter side of regular Starbucks coffee but not as good as Tim Hortons serves nearby, but it is right up there.

Overall, this Starbucks is not too bad.  Sure customer service line ups were a small hitch but the staff made up for it with an additional Barista coming in to save the day.  The coffee is good and the inside of the restaurant itself looked pretty clean and appealing with free WiFi internet and decent seating.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Hu Tieu Mi Gia: There's Oil in there Pho

Friday evening my wife and I headed over to just beyond edge of Ottawa's Chinatown to investigate a well reviewed Pho Place by Ottawa magazine's Anne DesBrisay.

Anne, a longtime local restaurant reviewer,  formally of the Ottawa Citizen, tends to make excellent recommendations on where to eat and where to avoid.  On the Ottawa magazine's  website she chooses weekly lunch spots throughout the Ottawa area.  Usually she lunches with different people to find out her accompaniment's recommendations and see if they are true.  For Hu Tieu Mi Gia (121 Preston Street, Ottawa), Anne was accompanied by some Carleton University students who had recommended breakfast.

With Anne's recommendation in hand noting it was a Vietnamese Noodle House, we visited for an a couple of bowls of Pho and maybe something to nibble on.  We arrived at 4:30 P.M. after taking OC Transpo's Route 85 from  downtown that lets you off almost right in front of the restaurant across the street from the City of Ottawa's historic Plant Recreation Centre.  Upon entering the restaurant, we had two wait about a minute for someone to click in that there were customers.  We looked around to find no other customers were there.  But knowing this place was only open since May 2012, perhaps it wasn't that busy for Friday dinners or perhaps the Carlton students who rave about this place were not around or had other adventures to be on. Eventually we were heard breathing in the front of the restaurant, welcomed and indicated we could sit anywhere we wanted.  We chose a table near the front window and had a seat.

We were soon brought a pot of tea and two tea cups.  I poured the tea to find it room temperature.  My wife later on opened the pot to find it only half full.  These two discoveries left us to believe the pot had been reused from a previous table and not cleaned and refilled.  The only time it was refilled was when we were half way through our meal.  Normally at other Asian places the tea pot is filled with hot tea before it is brought to the table.  We normally drink most of the contents in the tea pot during a regular meal at an Asian meal.  So a room temperature tea pot is not too appealing.

After finished perusing the menus we waited for the server to return.  While looking at the menu I noted there was no option for Pho with beef balls, rare beef in beef broth without the beef tendon ingredient. This was strange as I have yet to find a restaurant specializing in Vietnamese food without this option.  So for a "Vietnamese Noodle House", I found this odd.

The Order: 1 Rare Beef Pho, and 1 Rare Beef, Beef Ball and Beef Tendon Pho and 1 Vietnamese Chicken Sandwich.

We continued to sip our room temperature tea that tasted mediocre.

The Chicken sandwich arrived first, which is what we had expected to enjoy as a appetizer.  The sandwich was not cut in half leaving us to complete this task with a regular table knife.  No option of having it cut in half before serving was presented.  The sandwich itself was the best Vietnamese sandwich I had including at the nearby Co Cham. The chicken was freshly cooked and augmented the traditional Vietnamese vegetable toppings.

The Pho came about 10 minutes later which was pretty average for a traditional Pho restaurant.

The Pho overall was subpar. The beef broth was oily.  Oil spots could be found floating on the surface of the Pho.  The rare beef was also not as good as other Pho restaurants in the nearby Ottawa Chinatown.

Added to the above, in my wife's bowl of Pho, a small piece of plastic was found.  The plastic appeared to be a cut off from a wrapper from the food.  Not sure how a piece of plastic ended up in the broth and not in the trash.

Overall, this restaurant wasn't even mediocre.  We are not sure if Anne DeBrisay had a lucky meal or we had a not so lucky meal.  With so many other Vietnamese restaurants in Ottawa, especially in the nearby Chinatown, we probably will not return to Hu Tieu Mi Gia.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

These Chippies are Fishy Not Chocolaty

Today for lunch I visited the Rideau Centre Food Court to investigate the Elephant & Castle owned The Chippy (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa).  I was unsure of what to expect as it appeared to be a high end fish and chips place in the food court.

The first thought, when seeing the name "The Chippy", brought me images of a food court outlet Cookie Monster would worship at.  After all Cookie Monster does believe that the number 1 cookie in the world are the "Chocolate Chippy".  But sadly, no there are no chocolate chippies at this "Chippy", heck not even a cookie in sight.  Only fish and chips kind of chippies.  Somewhat of a disappointment I guess for any googly eyed blue fur wearing monster. 

I arrived at 11:30 to find the Food Court just starting to build for the coming noon hour lunch rush.  A tip for the Rideau Centre Food Court, come before noon if you want to eat there.  Otherwise you will be lucky to get a clean table.

There was nobody in line at the counter staffed by two employees so I was able to order right away.

The Order: 1 Chippy Value Meal (2 Pieces of Fish and Fries) with a Medium Coke.

The order was put together quickly by both employees who seemed to work in tune. No problems with the service in putting the order together nor should their be, I was the only customer at the counter and they did not seem to be run off their feet yet.  It was still early.

I grabbed my ketchup, napkins and straws.  The interesting part of the condiment station is unlike the A&W counter across the food court, The Chippy lets customers gather their own condiments instead of placing them prequantified on the customer tray by the counter's employees.  The Chippy doesn't skimp on condiments either.  Customers are free to dispense their own ketchup into healthy sized plastic ketchup cups.  As well, napkins are also available to the customers to manage themselves instead of being placed on the tray.  The only complaint, the napkins are a little thin and are more likely to be seen used as a wrap around the bottom of a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone.  Thus, I compensated by taking slightly more napkins than normal at a fast food place.

Next I ventured over to a clean food court table.  

The Chippy loads the fries and fish into one open top cardboard container with the fries on the bottom and the fish on top.  The Medium Coke comes in fountain dispensed form into a clear plastic glass you put a straw in.  The Coke is about the size of a regular 355 ml can of coke in terms of volume.

The fries taste wise were pretty good fish and chip place fries.  The only issue was they were room temperature and were obviously premade and left to sit too long without adequate heat.  I noticed later after finishing my meal that the fries were placed in a stainless steel bowl. I'm guessing these were the ones that were already fried and were waiting to be scooped up as the fries looked golden brown.  The bowl was left to sit on the counter though.  If this restaurant specializes in fish and chips, keeping fries adequately heated in a professional grade french fry area like McDonald's should be expected.

The two pieces of fish were average tasting at best.  The fish was at least warmer than the fries but taste wise was pretty average that could be found at any run of the mill pub.  Size wise one of the two pieces of fish was excellent, the other was about the half the size.  For a restaurant claiming to specialize in fish and chips, the fish was mediocre.

Overall, The Chippy is a mediocre food court fish and chips place.  Nothing special but nothing terrible.  Sure the fries were a little lacking in temperature but that is easily fixed.  For $7.50 before taxes for two pieces of fish and a Coke I wasn't expecting much.  Not a terrible place to eat lunch at an urban mall but I wouldn't take guests from out of town with so many restaurants nearby.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Which Line is Shorter at Tim Hortons?

A couple of times this week I have stopped off at Tim Hortons (100 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa) to grab a coffee.

This Tim Hortons location is three blocks from Parliament Hill and one block from the City of Ottawa's Main library.  Thus, it is   pretty well as the middle of downtown as you can get. The location serves pretty well standard quality fare but has service issues that leave you scratching your head.   Yesterday's visit was a prime example of the visits I had all week.  

I arrived at 11:45 A.M. on Thursday to find the place with a moderate amount of customers.  Upon entering this Tim Hortons it is a little different.  The location uses the flexi ribbon system between metal poles to guide customers to the front.  The difference is that unlike other Tim Hortons locations, the flexi ribbon system is set up to so the customer must choose the cash they wish to be served by after entering the store.  At other Tim Hortons locations, including the nearby Tim Hortons locations at the Rideau Centre, customers get in a common line for all cashes and the first available cash when the customer gets to the front of the line is where the order is placed.

But at this location, the customer must choose which cash to be served.  It was like going to the casino to see if you were going to be a winner.  There were three choices to choose from on Thursday with all 3 cashes open.  I choose the first one on the left and got in line behind a gentlemen in a suit.  He was behind a lady already at the cash.  Seemed promising as the other two cashes had at least one more customer in line.   Sadly, like shopping at Wal-Mart, I have a knack for finding the wrong cash line to get into.   This one turned out to be first the lady and then the gentlemen separately ordering lunch combos.  This meant that drinks and food had to be gathered.  With one cashier and no help on this cash it meant the cashier had to fill the order herself.  The only help there was that the prepared sandwiches came from the bakery.   I peered over to the third cash, the lady that arrived after me had coffee in hand and was leaving.   Shortly after I finely gave my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee.

But my troubles were not over yet.  The lady from the bakery happened over to drop off some of the prepared sandwiches to previous customers still waiting for their order to be filled.  The cluttered area near cash 1 and the pick up area for prepared food didn't help matters.  Thus, my cashier had to help juggle some trays out of the way and rearrange some other items to make way for service.  Literally there was a lot of unnecessary stuff on the counter that could easily either be disposed of or placed elsewhere.  Some of this detritus included a small bucket with water in it and rag that appeared to be used for cleaning tables and counters.  Extra coffee cups were seen on the counter instead of put away in the stacks.   It really seemed to hinder serving customers the prepared orders as the sandwiches couldn't be brought over in groups by the runner placed down on the counter and then distributed to the customers.  Not to mention it made the work area of a food establishment look untidy.    Eventually my cashier poured my coffee and I was off.

Since visiting this Tim Hortons, I've pondered about the way this location ques it's customers.  Lining up at individual cashes at a Tim Hortons is frustrating for the customer.  If the customer chooses the wrong cash a significant frustrating wait ensues.  This stems from a couple of reason mainly due to other customer choices which include:

1. A Large order that takes additional time to fulfill. Example: Ordering a dozen donuts takes additional time to fulfill as the customer selects each donut individually and then the employee must find the correct donut flavour and add it to the box.  Then comes the usual question from the customer: "How many more do I have to select?"  

2. The customer gets to the cash and has no idea what they want or has to inquire with their kid. This is perhaps the most annoying thing in fast food.  People who stand in line waiting to be served only to go up to the cash to order and return a blank look to the cashier or can't make up their mind over the options.

There are probably other time consuming annoying orders that would obviously cause issues in single options to go the cash.  Tim Hortons locations usually let the customers get into a single line served by all the cashes as well as augments the individual cashes with an additional employee during busier times to prepare drinks and gather additional items like donuts or muffins.  This ensures that if one cash is tied up by a customer in one of the above scenarios at least the other cash can help out in moving the customers through.   Sadly though this location at 100 Metcalfe Street, doesn't take advantage of that.

Overall, this Tim Hortons could easily improve customer service by rearranging their flexi ribbon to have a common que for all the cashes.  This would speed up flow of customers and prevent frustration on having to wait additional time for either customers or employee issues in processing orders.  Otherwise the food is average for a Tim Hortons location.

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