By Pat Forrest

Thirty years ago this September, the Thunder Bay 55 Plus Centre on River Street opened its doors to the city’s seniors. It quickly became the go-to place for older adults in search of learning and social opportunities. It also gained a reputation as a great place to eat.

Since 1994, the River Street Café has been independently operated in the centre by a volunteer board, a small contingency of staff, and a host of volunteers. A not-for-profit food service, all income generated is used to pay wages, food, equipment, and supplies. In agreement with the City of Thunder Bay, the 55 Plus Food Program board of directors also contributes a yearly amount towards the centre’s operating budget.

The mission of the café’s board, staff, and volunteers is to provide nutritious, homemade, affordable meals to their 55-plus clientele. A glance at their monthly menu with its mouth-watering options makes it clear that the mission is being accomplished. Hot lunches such as maple glazed chicken with twice-baked potato and salad, fish cakes with hearty potato salad, and vegetables and chili in a bread bowl—all at the low price of $8.25 each—were in high demand for sit down meals pre-COVID-19 and are growing daily in popularity now that they are available for curbside pick-up only.  

An open house event at the River Street Café in 2012

The city’s supervisor of community programming (older adults), Dana Heinrich, says that the role that the café played in many seniors’ lives became clear after the first pandemic lockdown. “During the first lockdown, we opted to close the café. When we were able to open, our seniors told us what a void that closure created in their lives,” she says. “For some, our lunch was the only hot meal they were able to enjoy and they missed it with no other comparable options available. It’s not just something that is nice to have; for some it’s very important to have.”

Hot lunches are not the only tasty and comforting foods available at the café. There are also baked items such as whole pies, muffins, loaves, and cookies. Seniors can pick up frozen soups and even full meals as a take-out option to heat up later. There are also themed meals such as a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas, a baked ham dinner for Easter, and Irish stew for St. Patrick’s Day. Tuesdays are pancake breakfast day and on Thursdays, it’s French toast, each for $4.50. The café has also hosted a Hawaiian luau and a British high tea with crumpets and real china cups, to name just a few other special events. 

To place an order, call 684-3260 and keep an eye on the River Street Café Facebook page for updates and specials.